Climate Change, Development & Aid, Environment, Global, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Poverty & SDGs

ENVIRONMENT: Climate Change a Decisive Threat to Development

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2009 (IPS) - When the world’s policy-makers of a bygone era were painfully slow in reacting to the economic crisis in the early 1920s, the British economist John Maynard Keynes famously warned: “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

His quip takes on a much more ominous meaning, says the United Nations, in the light of the combined threats to the economic and environmental security of the world today.

In its annual ‘World Economic and Social Survey 2009’ (WESS) released Tuesday, the world body says the international community is not responding, as urgently as it should, to the impending devastation from climate change – described as one of the biggest challenges facing humans in the coming decades.

“It is, at a very profound level, an existential threat,” says the 207-page survey, pointing out recent estimates which suggest that over 300,000 people are dying each year as a result of global warming while the lives of 300 million more are being seriously threatened.

The new report coincides with two major upcoming events: a U.N. summit on climate change in New York on Sep. 22 and the impending negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change scheduled to take place in Copenhagen in December.

Placing the blame mostly on the world’s industrial nations, the report pointedly says the climate crisis is the result of the very uneven pattern of economic development that evolved over the past two centuries.

And “it allowed today’s rich countries to attain their current levels of income, in part through not having to account for the environmental damage now threatening the livelihoods of others.”

The challenges of mitigating climate change include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, halting deforestation, curbing land degradation, fighting sea level rise, preventing droughts and floods, and retrofitting buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

But what is needed is additional financing to address the mitigation and adaptation aspects of climate change.

These estimates, according to the survey, can range anywhere from as little as 0.2 percent to about 2.0 percent of world gross product (WGP), or between 180 billion and 1.2 trillion dollars per year. But in most projections, however, the big spending would not be required until 2030.

The study also suggests that significant additional investments need to take place sooner than later, to the tune of at least one percent of WGP annually, between 500 billion and 600 billion dollars.

Rob Vos, director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), which published WESS, said: “We should start by recognising what is needed”.

Asked how the figures stack up against the global financial meltdown, Vos told IPS: “The financial crisis precisely has made clear that it is possible to mobilise vast amounts of resources to counteract systemic risks and that only governments are in the position to do so.”

Climate change, he pointed out, “is a much more catastrophic systemic risk facing us, yet with less resources than those deployed to combat the global financial crisis we can deal with it.”

Outlining the gravity of climate change, he said the current undisputed scientific evidence shows that even with 50-80 percent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, “there is a high probability that we will not stay below a 2-degree rise in global temperatures which is considered already dangerously high.”

“Hence cuts in emissions will have to be drastic and timely,” said Vos.

“This challenge comes at the same time as we should expect energy demand to rise substantially in the coming decades if we wish to allow poor countries to pursue their right to development.”

He said meeting both challenges will require a big push into energy efficiency and low-carbon, renewable energy sources.

The climate change threat is now widely recognised, but taking sufficient action is still lacking.

“What is needed next is to convince policy makers that while seemingly large investments will need to be made now, the cost of not making these will be immensely larger than the costs that we estimate are needed,” Vos said.

It should also be clear that leaders in the developed countries should lead the action towards more ambitious emission reduction.

Vos also pointed out that developed countries have grown rich while emitting most of the greenhouse gases that are now in the atmosphere.

They also have a moral obligation to support developing countries in avoiding the same growth pattern of “polluting first and cleaning up later”.

“But this is not just a matter of justice and survival. There is a win-win solution here: large-scale investments in renewable energy will provide developed countries with a large amount of new jobs and energy security,” he said.

Developing countries, he said, will be enabled to leap-frog into a low-carbon and high-growth development strategy, which in turn will benefit rich countries as well by avoiding the threat of climate change.

The survey also spells out a wide range of possible multilateral measures, including a global clean energy fund, a climate technology programme and a more balance intellectual property regime for aiding the transfer of clean technologies.

Asked how confident he was about the creation of a global clean energy fund, Vos told IPS that several countries are already formulating proposals to come to such a fund.

Mexico and others have suggested that a fund in the order of 0.5-1 percent of WGP (between 300 and 600 billion dollars) would be needed.

“A large global fund could jumpstart a process where we move a way from the present incremental and (small) project based approach of existing climate funds.”

“We need non-marginal changes in our economies, and especially in energy supplies, which requires investment plans that are large scale and can be sustained over decades”.

Also because renewable energy is rather expensive now, he said, “we need to create the economies of scale to lower costs and accelerate the adoption of such sources of energy”.

Republish | | Print |