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CLIMATE CHANGE: ONE STEP FORWARD AND ONE STEP BACK

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BEIJING, Feb 10 2010 (IPS) - The good news about the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change (December 7-18) is that it produced universal agreement on the importance of early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to manageable levels. It also made progress on some of the key elements to be included in such an agreement and on continuing the ongoing process of negotiation. The bad news is that it revealed deep and unresolved differences between the positions of the main parties, notably between the more developed and the less developed countries.

Particularly important is the position of China, now the biggest source of emissions. While a latecomer to its position as the world’s most rapidly developing economy, it has contributed much less to the accumulation of greenhouse gases that has brought us to the threshold of the risks we now face and on a per capita basis still contributes much less than the United States and others.

We must treat the current erosion of support for action on climate change as an opportunity to resolve the issues which continue to divide the positions of governments and respond to the urgent warnings of scientists which have been undermined by recent differences among some of them.

One of the most important results of Copenhagen is that the more developed countries have, however reluctantly, had to yield to China and other newly developed countries the political role which accords with their growing economic powers. It thus confirmed that the world’s geopolitical centre has shifted to Asia.

China is strongly committed to major initiatives that will make it a leader in a transition to a low-carbon economy. Overall, these are likely to go beyond what it would be expected to accept as mandatory under an international agreement. However, China has joined with other leading, newly-developing countries -India, Brazil and South Africa- in insisting that the actions of all developing countries on climate change be voluntary while the commitment of the more developed countries be mandatory. The chances of agreement on this have deteriorated since Copenhagen.

With unusually severe winter weather in North America, Europe, and China, the recession which has exacted such heavy costs on our economies and preoccupation with related issues have taken a toll on support for early action. This is particularly true in the US, where health care and other controversial issues have reduced the ability of President Obama to mobilise the support required to take the lead in addressing climate change that is so indispensable to the success of these negotiations.

At the core of the issues that remain to be resolved is the need to make available to developing countries the funding and access to technology which they require to reduce their emissions while enabling them to continue to develop their economies and to participate fully and equitably in the further development of the global economy. For both climate change and economic crisis are rooted in the inadequacies of the existing economic system that has now so dramatically revealed the ominous consequences of the growing gap between rich and poor. Assistance to developing countries must go well beyond foreign aid, which has never reached the level at which it was promised. Emissions of greenhouse gases have the same effect on global climate whatever their source.

The finances required for this will be on the order of one trillion dollars over the first 10 years, and much more beyond. This is beyond anything the more developed countries are now willing to do, in light of the economic problems which we are facing. Yet if the figure of one trillion dollars seems unrealistic, it is much less than what is now being spent on military conflicts, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are far less threatening to the human future.

It will take a fundamental change in attitudes and mind-set to rise to this challenge. Nations have always been able to give highest priority to threats to their own security. The risk to the security and sustainability of all nations with which climate change confronts the entire community constitutes the greatest security threat ever. We all face it together and can only resolve it by working together.

This is why it is so essential that new impetus be generated to negotiate a mandated and enforceable agreement to extend or replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. This will be feasible only with an unprecedented degree of international cooperation. It is a daunting challenge that will require all countries to accept that the interests of their own people can be ensured only in cooperation with others and by transcending narrower national interests. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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

 
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