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CLIMATE CHANGE: Today, the Poor – Tomorrow, the Next Generation

Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Nov 27 2007 (IPS) - Although climate change threatens the international community as a whole, the heaviest human costs are borne by the poor, who have contributed least to the problem, according to the United Nations.

That is the conclusion of the Human Development Report (HDR) 2007-2008, which focuses on climate change and was released on Tuesday by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

We are keen for the world to wake up to the fact that climate change can dash hopes for development progress, in general, and advances against poverty in particular, Cecilia Ugaz, a UNDP expert and coordinator of the draft report, told IPS.

The launch of the HDR on Climate Change at this time comes at a crucial time, as next week the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meets in the Indonesian city of Bali, from Dec. 3 to 14, said Jean Fabre, deputy director of the UNDP office in Geneva.

"The debate in Bali will be of fundamental importance, because the context of the negotiations for a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012 will depend on its outcome," Fabre told IPS.

The Kyoto Protocol was approved in 1977 and entered into force in 2005. It laid down the practical commitments assumed by states party to implement the Framework Convention&#39s goal of mitigating global warming.

The HDR warns that climate change cannot be dissociated from other questions, and must be integrated with the fight against poverty, and viceversa, Fabre said.

Ugaz said a positive result from the COP in Bali would be for countries to agree on policies and actions to achieve mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.

The UNDP report calls for an approach combining rigorous restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, aimed at limiting global warming to an increase of less than two degrees Celsius in the 21st century compared to temperatures in the preindustrial age, and strengthening international cooperation for adaptation to climate change caused by global warming.

Average global surface temperatures have risen by about 0.7 degrees since the start of the industrial revolution, and the rate of increase is accelerating. Scientists, meanwhile, are producing overwhelming evidence that the rising trend in temperature is associated with the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Both aspects, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, are essential to combating the phenomenon itself and the threats it poses, Ugaz emphasised.

To mitigate the effects, the UNDP estimates that industrialised countries should cut their average greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020, from 1990 levels, and by 80 percent by 2050.

The report states that the prime responsibility of industrialised countries for global greenhouse gas emissions since around 1800 should not be forgotten.

"Basically the developed countries as a whole don&#39t have the option to increase their emissions any more, but that&#39s not the attitude we&#39re seeing at the moment. That&#39s why it&#39s really important to stress that developed countries need to start cutting emissions, and they need to start now, or at least they need to stabilise emissions as soon as possible," Ugaz said.

Developing countries, on the other hand, could continue to emit increasing amounts of greenhouse gases until 2020, and then start cutting back, leading to a reduction of 20 percent by 2050.

"Developing countries face the highest risk, not only for geographical reasons, because many developing countries are in tropical areas which are naturally hit by more extreme weather, but also because they have a much lower level of human development," said Ugaz.

"And if there&#39s anything that can protect human beings from the effects of disasters, it&#39s basically their own stock of human development, their own human capital."

"Unfortunately, the news on this front is not very good. We still have about 2.6 billion people living on less than two dollars a day, and one billion living in extreme poverty, on less than one dollar a day," she said.

Only 32 countries are likely to achieve the fourth Millennium Development Goal (MDG), which aims to reduce by two-thirds the mortality rate for children under five by 2015, taking 1990 indices as the baseline.

"There has been progress in reducing poverty, but we still need to fight to achieve, first, the MDGs, and then to fortify countries&#39 capacities to foster human development," Ugaz said.

This is where the problem of inequality makes itself felt. We are living in an increasingly two-speed world, she said.

According to the UNDP, 80 percent of the world&#39s population lives in countries where income inequalities are widening. "And the worst part of the story is that these inequalities are known to hinder people&#39s capacity to recover after climate shocks," Ugaz added.

Living through extreme weather events can also undermine the possibilities of future generations to live better lives, the HDR says.

The potential negative impacts of climate change on the poore have been underestimated until now. The UNDP report describes what happens in nutritional terms to children born into families experiencing drought in Kenya, whose nutritional status was followed up five years later. These children were 36 percent more likely to be undernourished than children in families unaffected by drought.

In order to mitigate climate change, the UNDP recommends setting a price on carbon emissions at a level that reflects the negative effects they are inflicting on the atmosphere, in ecosystems and on human beings. So far the mechanisms proposed have been either taxation or trade.

However, in Ugaz&#39s view, the size of the reductions needed makes it very likely that a whole array of policies will be needed: taxation, trade, regulations and public policies. It is really impossible to say that just the markets alone, or just taxation alone, are going to solve it, she said.

For his part, Fabre said that the volume of resources needed to accomplish the cuts in emissions will be enormous, approximately 300 billion dollars a year. "Clearly such amounts cannot come only from governments, and therefore market mechanisms will have to be used," he said.

The UNDP report says that the agreement that eventually replaces the Kyoto Protocol could blaze a new trail if it imposes strict limits on future emissions and creates a framework for collective international action.

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