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DEVELOPMENT: Now for ‘Millennium Consumption Goals’

Feizal Samath

COLOMBO, Jan 24 2011 (IPS) - A Sri Lankan scientist is calling for the drafting of “Millennium Consumption Goals” to force rich countries to curb their climate-damaging consumption habits, in the same way the poor have Millennium Development Goals to get them out of poverty.

Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, expert on sustainable development and climate change, says, “We now have Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for the poor. We should extend that to the rich and make sure they consume more sustainably.”

He said this is needed because 85 percent of all consumption in world is done by the top 20 percent of the world’s rich.

“If they can be more sustainable in consumption, it can reduce the environmental burden by a tremendous amount,” said Munasinghe in an interview with IPS in Colombo, where he is based.

Munasinghe is vice-chair of the Geneva-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore.

He noted the severe changes in the weather pattern due to El Niño and La Niña happening one after the other in December. El Niño is a regional phenomenon that heats up parts of the Pacific region, affects South America and the rest of world, while La Niña, which also starts in the Pacific, sets off a cold spell.

In Sri Lanka, recent flash floods and an extremely cold spell killed more than 40 people and affected over a million others. Hundreds of acres of rice fields and other crops were destroyed by raging floodwaters, resulting in high prices of vegetables and other essentials.

Munasinghe said his country’s main priority now is to reduce the vulnerability of the poor to climate change impacts.

“Our carbon emissions are low,” Munasinghe said. “While we may need to reduce it in the future, that’s not the main issue. Our main problem is reducing vulnerability as it affects the poor most. It is very unfair, because it is the CO2 emissions of the rich countries which have caused the problem.”

Meteorologist Sarath Premadasa said what’s happening now in Sri Lanka and the world is the growing intensity of extreme weather. “If it’s a drought, it’s worse than before, or rains are at a high intensity.”

Prof Champa Navaratne, Head of Agriculture Engineering at Sri Lanka’s southern-based Ruhunu University, said the erratic weather patterns would create serious food shortages and a food security problem this year.

“We do a lot of research to develop better cropping patterns for our farmers based on the weather but this is near impossible now,” she said. Sri Lanka has two rice cropping seasons but in the past six months, she said farmers in the southern district of Matara alone have had to sow the fields three times, and not just once, because of erratic flash floods. “We’ll have a food crisis in mid- 2011, that’s for sure,” she added.

Some of the main areas of concern in Sri Lanka, Munasinghe said, are its vulnerability to droughts and high temperatures in the dry zone, and the impact on agriculture and rice where a drop of up to 20 percent in yields could happen by 2050.

And then there are the floods and earth-slips in the wet zone due to excessive rain, the sea level rising, and storms that would affect fisheries and coastal dwellers. Water-borne and mosquito-borne diseases, already prevalent in the country due to unsustainable development, are likely to worsen.

“We need to climate-proof Sri Lanka by making our development path more sustainable,” he said.

Last month, Munasinghe was one of three specialists who spoke on climate change before a packed session of the United Nations in New York. The two others were Achim Steiner, Executive Director of United Nations Environmental Programme, and Martin Koh, Executive Director of the South Centre.

Munasinghe has been advising not only governments but also multinational corporations like Tesco and Unilever on sustainable development vis-à-vis climate change.

Two days after the U.N. session, Munasinghe briefed senior World Bank officials at its headquarters in Washington on climate and development and the need for an integrated approach to these issues.

Munasinghe was also in China in December for three separate high-level meetings with government officials, civil society and business, with each sector concerned about the environment and seeking to change the way things are done.

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