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BEIJING, Jul 6 2009 (IPS) - A recent study by the Global Humanitarian Forum, headed by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, postulates that the economic and human costs of climate change could now amount to some 125 billion dollars per year and the loss of 300,000 lives. Many more are being increasingly affected, mainly the poor.

The financial measures that must be devoted to the successful achievement of climate security go beyond anything yet being seriously considered by the main more developed governments and demanded by China and developing countries. This will not simply be one lump sum, but a package of firm commitments over time initially adding up to an order of magnitude of at least US 1 trillion dollars.

Redeployment of the massive resources, financial and human now devoted to the military could itself meet most of the need ­in effect giving priority to improving living power rather than killing power. If the figure of trillion dollars and beyond seems unrealistically under today’s conditions, we must be reminded that it is only a portion of what the United States alone has spent in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in current attempts to bailout its major financial institutions and revive its flagging economy. The climate change crisis is in even greater need of a bailout than the economic and financial crisis, though both are inextricably related.

We are the wealthiest civilization ever. Can we really accept we can not afford to save ourselves and future generations?

There is good news in the promising and positive dimensions of the technological progress that our knowledge society has produced. Increasingly sophisticated information technology provides tools which enable us to understand and manage the complex systems which determine the functioning of our civilization.

The most economically successful countries of Asia, notably Japan and the Republic of Korea, neither of them well-endowed with natural resources, have built their success on the development of advanced technologies and high rates of investment in educational and research capacities. China is now making impressive progress in becoming a knowledge and technology based economy as are other countries of this region in varying degrees.

What will we have to do? First of all we need a new economic paradigm which integrates the disciplines of traditional economics with the new insights of ecological economics. This “new economics” must provide the theoretical underpinnings for a system that incorporates into economic pricing and national accounts the real values of the environment and services which nature provides. It must include fiscal and regulatory regimes with positive incentives for the achievement of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

People’s actions and their priorities depend on their motivation. While we are all motivated by self-interest, at the deepest level, ethics, morality, and spiritual values provide the underlying basis of our motivation. Much of the today’s conflict, violence and “terrorism” arises not from economic motivation but from extreme ideologies and deep-seated prejudices.

In a market economy which drives the processes of globalization, the market provides the signals that motivate sustainable development. This means shifting taxes to products and practices which are environmentally and socially harmful from those which are least harmful. In effect, getting the prices right. No nation can do this alone without disadvantaging its own economy; it can only be effectively done within an internationally agreed framework.

The forthcoming meeting of the parties to the Climate Change Convention in Copenhagen (December 7-18) will be one of the most important and one of the most difficult international agreements ever attempted. Most challenging will be the need to bridge the deep differences and divergent positions of the main parties. It is an ominous paradox that as our future depends on unprecedented levels of cooperation we are experiencing growing competition and division.

Copenhagen will be a milestone on the road to the fundamental changes we must make to ensure the climate security that is essential to our survival as well as the sustainability and progress to which we aspire. Time is clearly running out and we cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

At the same time we must realize that there is still all too little evidence that governments are prepared to undertake the kind of commitments that will lead us to this new era. The countries, the organizations and the people participating in this dialogue will clearly have a critically important, indeed I would say decisive, role to play in Copenhagen. Let us all give this the highest priority in our own lives that we expect from governments. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Maurice Strong was the Secretary General of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, first Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Secretary General of the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment ( http://www.mauricestrong.net).

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