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ENVIRONMENT: No Hope for MDGs Without Climate Plan

Monika Manke

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 24 2008 (IPS) - With 2.6 billion of the world’s poor affected daily by climate change, the linkages between environment, health and poverty cannot be questioned any longer, U.N. experts say.

Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator of the U.N. Development Programme. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator of the U.N. Development Programme. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

“Development and environment have to go hand in hand,” U.N. Under-Secretary General Ad Melkert said Tuesday when the Poverty Environment Partnership (PEP) – an informal network of development agencies and representatives from U.N. member states – met to discuss the relationship among environment, climate change and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“There is no way to distinguish agendas,” Melkert stressed. “Investing in environment management is a crucial and often missing link to reduce poverty, to improve health.”

The eight MDGs – with a target deadline of 2015 – include a 50-percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a North-South global partnership for development.

Even though climate change “affects everyone – developed and developing countries”, as Melkert stressed, “the poorest suffer the most” because of their high exposure to the effects of climate change and their limited capacity to adapt to the consequences.

“This is the basic challenge,” said Richard Carey of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a 30-nation grouping, primarily of the world’s wealthiest countries.

The PEP roundtable took place ahead of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s high-level review of progress toward the MDGs with heads of state and leaders from the private sector.

“The results of this discussion are messages which will be presented at the high-level meeting,” said Angela Cropper, deputy executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP). Placing the fight against climate change “at the centre” of the MDG discussion would help to achieve all the other MDGs, she said.

Ban called for “global leadership” to tackle climate change in his address to the 63rd session of the General Assembly. “I urge the governments of all U.N. member states, to demonstrate their leadership – their global leadership,” Ban said.

Though participants at the PEP discussion had been very optimistic that the U.S. was going to change its attitude on this issue, U.S. President George W. Bush did not mention climate change in his speech to the assembly.

“In developed countries, everybody hopes that the problem does not come home,” Jumanne Maghembe, the minister of education and vocational training of Tanzania, told IPS. “But it will. Everybody knows that. Even the U.S. has realised that they are confronting more hurricanes and natural disasters.”

Deputy Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Puka Temu agreed, saying the U.S. must be an active player with regard to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change that is to be completed at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

This agreement will provide guidelines on how the member states will tackle climate change after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires. “In this context, the support of the U.S. is absolutely necessary,” Temu told IPS.

But still, environmental sustainability does not achieve the “global attention” it deserves. “Among all eight MDGs the least progress has been made in goal number seven” – which is dedicated to environmental sustainability, Cropper pointed out.

“Seven hundred billion dollars have been mobilised so quickly” to bail out Wall Street, but “almost no funding has been mobilised to protect our environment to achieve the MDGs,” Temu pointed out.

Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental think tank, lamented that environmental issues are often neglected during financial crises. “Bailout is possible at Wall Street,” but not in the context of nature and climate, he said. “We have to live with the consequences.”

According to a survey conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2007, more than 40 percent of diseases attributed to environmental factors falls on children below five years.

“Three million children die annually of diseases like diarrhoea which are preventable,” said Margaret Batty of the non-profit organisation Wateraid. “If we continue with business as usual, we will be 100 years too late to reach the sanitation target,” Batty said. “And who wants to wait that long to go to toilette?”

That’s why the “time for action is now” Ban stressed Monday when he met with global advertising giants to launch a partnership to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Only strong national governments can empower rural communities to develop without creating new problems like deforestation, Temu told IPS.

“Donors should not just use a country’s system” to bring their aid to populations on the ground, but they should “work with developing countries and ensure that they have their own capacity to run their own affairs successfully – to build development strategies into their agendas,” Carey said.

This is already happening in some countries, like Tanzania. Besides implementing a new poverty reduction strategy and poverty monitoring system, the Tanzanian environment ministry increased its annual budget from 400,000 dollars in 2006 to 3.2 million dollars today “through effectively communicating the importance of the environment to development and the economy,” said Philip Dobie, director of the U.N. Poverty-Environment Facility.

“Threats of climate change are much more than environmental threats, they threaten every aspect of our economies, they threaten every aspect of development,” according to Melkert.

“Global leaders must redraft the economy theory,” said Temu, whose country is the third most forested country in the world, with 87 percent of the population living in rural areas and relying heavily on natural resources for their livelihoods.

Temu called for a “broad framework to reduce carbon emissions as a first step,” stressing that the “natural environment must be viewed as the engine for wealth creation.”

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