Fighting climate change: human solidarity in a divided world
Let me say first of all what a privilege it is to launch the 2007/2008 Human Development Report here in Brazil.
Mr President, I have been advised by my Brazilian friends that the best way to start a speech here, even on an issue as serious as climate change, is with a joke about football. Unfortunately, I just can’t do it. Having just a few days ago watched England’s elimination from the European Championship, I have to say that, in football as in life, some things are just beyond a joke. As an alternative, perhaps I can send you a video of the match in question. I can assure that it provides moments of high comedy, which you might enjoy. Though speaking from a strictly national perspective, rather than with a UN hat, I would put the video in the genre of tragedy/horror.
So, instead of a joke about football, let me just congratulate you and the people of Brazil for winning the bid to host the 2014 World Cup. And let me also express the hope that we can organise a launch event for the 2014 Human development Report to coincide with that event. Of one thing we can be sure. By the time that the 2014 World Cup kicks off, we shall know whether governments have been able to forge an international agreement to tackle the climate change crisis.
We know that we have the resources and the technologies to tackle that crisis. But to extend the football analogy, we also know that great soccer players are not the only requirement for winning a World Cup. Leadership, strategy and team play and a collective will to win are also vital. And these are the attributes that we urgently need to forge an international agreement to tackle climate change.
Extending opportunity, social debt and human rights
Mr President, in the last analysis, human development is about extending opportunity. It is about overcoming the poverty, the inequalities, and social injustices which destroy human potential and human dignity.
In recent years Brazil, under your leadership, has demonstrated that we do not have to tolerate the obscene inequalities that scar so many countries, and which debase our current pattern of globalisation. In the past two years, over five million people have escaped from the scourge of poverty. The Zero Hunger campaign has reduced malnutrition by 45 million people. Social transfer programmes in health and education have extended opportunity.
Economic dynamism has played an important part in these advances. But so, too, has redistribution of income and opportunity. And the real foundations of progress are rooted in political leadership, vision and practical action to tackle what you described in a recent speech at the UN, as a centuries old social debt owed to the poor.
Mr President, climate change is also about a social debt to the poor. Confronted by an issue as complex as global warming, it is all too easy to lose sight of what is at stake – of the human face of climate change. The world’s poor, whether they live in North-East Brazil, in drought-prone areas of Kenya or Ethiopia, in areas devastated by floods and cyclones in the Ganges and Mekong deltas, have one thing in common: they did not create the climate crisis now facing humanity, yet they will suffer the earliest and most destructive impacts.
Climate science has enabled us to predict these impacts and the ecological processes that will shape them. Economic analysis has enabled us to develop a better understanding of the costs of inaction. But climate change is not just about science or economics. It is about social justice and the human rights of the world’s poor and marginalised. Failure to act on climate change would be tantamount to a systematic violation of the human rights of the poor.
More than that, it will undermine human development and the expansion of opportunity in our lifetime. Indeed, as we argue in the Human Development Report we are drifting towards a tipping point that could unleash sustained and rapid reversals in human development across the 21st Century. Martin Luther King once warned that “human progress is nether inevitable nor automatic.” And there is today a real danger that climate change will make those words an epithet for the 21st Century.
It will perpetuate a pattern of globalisation that reinforces already obscene inequalities and deprives the world’s poor of opportunities to escape poverty.
We cannot solve the climate change crisis in our generation. But it falls our generation, and to this generation of political leaders to keep open the possibility fo accelerated human ´progress across the 21st Century, building on what has been achieved under the Millennum Development Goals
Mr President, climate change raises profound questions about our shared commitment to human rights and about what it means to be part of a single human community. Indeed, climate change is a reminded that, in a world that sometimes appears fractured and divided, we share one thing in common: it is called planet Earth. The hard truth today is that we are running up a large and unsustainable ecological debt for our children and their grandchildren.
Global warming is the most visible symptom of that debt. It is evidence that we are locked on to a collision course between our energy systems and the Earth’s environmental systems - a collision that the great Brazilian economist Celso Furtado predicted over three decades ago. That collision will be so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it will alter radically human existence. The collapse of the West Antarctic ice-sheets, the transformation of rain forest into Savannah, the transformation of marine based eco-systems are among the global warming impacts that have the potential to look future generations into an ecological catastrophe.
The risks of ecological catastrophe are rising as greenhouse gas stocks accumulate. We owe it to future generations – our children and their grandchildren – to act now and reduce these risks. Indeed, the principle of universal human rights, reinforced by the economics of climate change, demands that we act now.
But climate change is more than a future scenario for ecological catastrophe. Images of Los Angeles and lower Manhattan disappearing below the water may make for compelling cinema. They may even capture the scale of the threat for the future. However near-term climate change risks and vulnerabilities are heavily skewed towards the poor.
The bottom 2.6 billion
We can already observe the early impacts of climate change in the lives of the poor across the world. The danger is that, for the 2.6 billion people in the world, some 40% of the planet’s population, living on less than $2 a day, global warming will erode the gains built up over generations, not just in poverty reduction, but in health, education, nutrition and many other areas.
Let me give just a few headline figures that capture the scale and the drivers of these human development reversals:
Losses in agricultural productivity . In sub-Saharan Africa, climate models predict that increased exposure to drought, changed rainfall patterns, and increased temperature could reduce productivity in arid and semi-arid areas by as much as 25% by 2060. The vast majority of the 250 million sub-Saharan Africans surviving on less than $1 a day live in these areas. Admittedly, sub-Saharan Africa is an extreme case. But agricultural productivity is projected to fall across the developing world, including much of Latin America. With 2.2billion people in rural areas living in less than $2 a day and 800 million on less than $1 a day, this has grave implications for efforts to eradicate extreme poverty, not just
Water stress and scarcity . We know that global warming will dramatically change patterns of water distribution. Today, 1,4 billion people are living in river basins where water use exceeds replenishment. On one estimate, climate change could add around 1.8 billion people to the water stress numbers by the end of the 21st Century. From the Middle east to northern China, there is a real danger that whole ecological systems could collapse, with terrifying prospects for human development.
Glacial retreat . The loss of glaciers is perhaps the most visible symptom of global warming to date. In South Asia, this is a process that threatens the viability of water systems sustaining irrigation and human settlements. In Latin America, the retreat of glaciers in the Andes will compromise water supply to major cities such as Lima.
Exposure to floods and storms . Rising sea levels and warming oceans will dramatically increase human exposure to climate disasters. These are already on a rising trend. If we needed a reminder of the destructive power of weather systems, it has been delivered by Hurricane Sidir in Bangladesh. Some 262 million people have been affected by climate disasters each year since 2000. As we know from the tragedy of New Orleans, even the richest nations are not immune. Yet over 98% live in the developing world. And whether in New Orleans, Mozambique of Bangladesh, it is overwhelmingly the poor that bear the brunt.
Viewed from the rich world through the lens of media reporting, climate disasters often appear as short, sharp episodes in human suffering. The image created is one of ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ emergencies. The reality is less benign.
While rich countries and wealthy people may have the capacity to cope with and recover from climate shocks, the poor are not in this position. When droughts strike vulnerable people in a country like Ethiopia, they are forced to sell off productive assets, withdraw children from school, and cut back on nutrition and health spending. In the report, we use household survey evidence to show that being born in a drought district in a drought year increases the chance of malnutrition at age 5 by 36%. Put differently, there are some 2 million Ethiopia children malnourished today because their parents could not cope with a single drought event.
Floods and storms have similar effects. Today, Bangladesh is facing a humanitarian disaster that has the potential to rapidly transmute into long-term setbacks in human development.
Of course, we cannot attribute any specific climate change to global warming. However, we know that events such as droughts and floods will become more frequent, intense and disruptive. We know also that the victims of these events played no part in creating the climate change crisis. To put it plainly, global warming was not created by the excessive energy consumption patterns of people living in drought-prone areas of Kenya, in North-East Brazil, or in flood prone regions like the Mekong and Ganges deltas. It is overwhelmingly the rich world that carries historic responsibility for the crisis.
Let’s make no mistake about the gravity of the threat. Over the past decade, we have seen the pace of human development picking-up, most recently in sub-Saharan Africa. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the targets for 2015 that they enshrine reflect a commitment by political leaders to work together in accelerating human progress. The danger is that in the post-2015 world global warming will force a change in international cooperation, with the focus shifting from accelerating progress to slowing the rate of decline.
Mr President, future generations will pass a harsh judgment on political leaders and citizens who, confronted with the evidence of climate science, and in full knowledge of the consequences of global warming for the world’s poor and for future generations, failed to act. Indeed, inaction in these conditions would represent not just a great moral failure, but a violation of basic human rights and even the most rudimentary principles of social justice.
Averting these outcomes will require at a global level the three ingredients that have made such a difference to human development here in Brazil: political leadership, vision, and practical actions.
Meeting the challenge
It hardly requires saying that the magnitude of the challenge is immense – and it is complicated by three factors.
First, the problem is cumulative. There is no rapid rewind button for removing emissions of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, so that every year of delay locks us on to a more dangerous trajectory.
Second, carbon cycles do not follow political cycles. The impacts of climate change – and the benefits of climate change mitigation - will strengthen over time, and they will last far beyond our lifetimes. This generation of political leaders cannot solve the climate crisis. But they can ensure that the narrowing widow of opportunity still left for avoiding dangerous climate change does not close.
Third no one nation alone can resolve the crisis. Global warming has no definable boundaries. In the absence of collective action, we shall fail to tackle what is still an avoidable crisis. Short of international action to pursue commonly agreed goals through practical national, regional and multilateral measures across many decades, we shall surely fail. There is no doubt that the time to act is now.
That is why the negotiation of the post-2012 Kyoto framework is an issue of such vital importance to human development and, indeed, to the future of the planet. The forthcoming meeting of the UNFCCC is Bali provides a critical opportunity that has to be seized. Of course, Bali is not about finalising a deal. But it is about signaling intent. And to speak bluntly, we need something more than a high-level communique reminding us that we have an urgent problem.
Now is the moment for charting a course that avoids dangerous climate change and putting in place the energy reforms and international cooperation for delivering real results.
Avoiding dangerous climate change
Our starting point is climate science. Thanks to the outstanding work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and others, we have an increasingly clear picture of what is at stake.
Since the pre-industrial era, global warming caused by an accumulation of greenhouse gases has increased temperatures by around 0.7 degrees centigrade. Of course, thresholds can be debated but many climate scientists and governments now regard an increase in excess of 2 degrees centigrade as a trigger for accelerated ecological damage, with attendant human development setbacks.
On a business-as-usual trajectory, we are more likely to breach a 5 degrees centigrade threshold than avoid a 2 degree centigrade increase. To put that figure in context, it is roughly equivalent to the difference in temperature between the end of the last Ice Age and today. Such an outcome would all but guarantee ecological catastrophe and rapid human development reversals.
Current warming projections serve to highlight the scale of the ecological debt that we are building up. However, when it comes to our carbon debt, some countries are more profligate than others. Rich countries account for over 70% of accumulated greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Their citizens also walk the Earth with a far deeper carbon footprint. There is mounting concern in the developed world about the rise in greenhouse gas emissions from countries like China and India. But China has less than one-fifth of the per capita carbon emissions of the US; and emissions in India, where half of the population lacks access to modern energy services, are one-tenth of those in the European Union. Today, the average Brazilian emits around 1 tonne of Carbon dioxide, compared with 20 tonnes in the US.
Mahatma Gandhi was once asked whether India should follow the path to industrial development tracked by Britain. He replied by asking how many planets such an option would require. We cannot answer that question. However, we do estimate in the Human Development Report that, if everyone in the developing world had the same carbon footprint as North America, we would require nine planets. We don’t have nine planets. We only have one – and we need a sustainable carbon budget to live within its ecological bounds.
What would that budget look like? We address that question by drawing on a climate model developed by the Potsdam Climate Impact Institute.
The results are sobering. If the world were a single country, it would need to cut emissions by half to 2050. Of course, it is not a single country. With overwhelming historic responsibility for the climate change problem, and equipped with the financial and technological capabilities to initiate deep and early cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, developed countries have to provide leadership by good example.
We suggest that this leadership should include a commitment to cut emissions by at least 80% by 2050 against a 1990 base line. I stress the words at least because this would still require cuts of around 20% by developing countries after 2020. And even these cuts would give us only a 50:50 chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, as defined by the 2 degrees centigrade threshold.
The more immediate challenge is to translate long-term goals into more tangible medium-term targets and national strategies for achieving them. For developed countries, these should include 30% cuts by 2020. And that goal implies a fundamental shift to a low-carbon transition over the next ten years, starting now.
Strategies for mitigation
Are cuts of this order of magnitude affordable? As the Stern Report commissioned by the British Government argued last year, the economic costs of inaction on climate change will dramatically outweigh the costs of action. We estimate the costs of mitigation to keep within a 2 degrees centigrade threshold at 1.6% of global GDP on average to 2030 – less than half what the world currently allocates to military budgets. That figure could be lower with the right policies. But the bottom line is that it is a small price to pay for averting near-term human development reversals, reducing the risks of long-run ecological catastrophe, and preventing losses of GDP that the Stern Review compared with those of the great depression.
The starting point for avoiding dangerous climate change is an international agreement and multilateral framework setting out our shared goals for all major emitting countries. Those goals have to include a commitment to emissions reductions and a viable timetable. For developed countries, the ambition should be deep and early cuts in the next Kyoto commitment period, with developing countries taking on commitments in later commitment periods as conditions allow.
Of course, setting goals is not the same as delivering outcomes. Converting ambition into practical outcomes will require vision and political leadership backed by strategy. As we argue in the Human Development Report setting targets that are not backed by a strategy is not political leadership. And we only have to look at the failure of many developed countries to meet their Kyoto commitments to see that targets alone are insufficient.
So what are the policies for achieving climate change mitigation at the pace and on the scale required?
In the report we identify four broad strategies.
First, we need to start treating the ecological capacity of the Earth’s atmosphere as a scarce resource. This implies that we have to start pricing CO2 emissions. Without such pricing, markets will continue to create perverse incentives that limit the pace of transition to a low carbon future. Incremental carbon taxation is one route to this end. Another is the application of cap-and-trade programmes, such as the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme. What matters in both cases is that the tax or the cap is aligned with well defined mitigation targets – a criterion that the EU’s ETS currently fails to satisfy.
Second, we need governments to use their regulatory authority to support a low carbon transition. As we argue in the Human Development Report regulation to enhance energy efficiency and lower emissions offers a win-win scenario for firms, for households and for climate change. More stringent standards in areas such as fuel efficiency, buildings, and electrical appliances offer potentially huge gains for mitigation.
In this context, I have to mention the leadership provided by Brazil in demonstrating the potential for a rapid transition to low carbon fuels. Over the past thirty years, ethanol has enabled Brazil to keep some 644 million tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Today, both the US and the EU are rapidly scaling up their biofuels capacity. One visible effect has been to push up the price of corn, the principle source of ethanol in the US, across the world, with around one-fifth of the US corn crop used for this purpose. The important question to ask from a climate change perspective is whether or not current approaches will deliver efficient mitigation.
Unfortunately, the answer is not entirely positive. Corn requires large doses of herbicide and nitrogen fertiliser to produce. And producing corn ethanol consumes almost as much fossil fuel as the ethanol itself replaces. The ratio of fossil-fuel input to output is 1:1.3 for corn-based ethanol, compared to 1:8 for sugar-based ethanol. And sugar-based ethanol cuts emissions from gasoline by 56%, or more than double the level for corn-based alternatives. However, the accounting is done, corn ethanol is less efficient than sugar ethanol – and it is no greenhouse gas panacea.
Put differently, while the biofuel boom is doing great things for the farmers receiving the subsidies and for large agro-processors, the benefits for climate change are less clear cut. The same applies to alternative products in the EU.
Against this backdrop, international trade could play a critical role in unlocking economic efficiency gains and enhancing climate change mitigation. After all, self-reliance is not an inherent virtue. As the world’s most efficient producer of sugar-based ethanol, Brazil would stand to gain from more open trade, as would other developing countries. There would also be major gain for the battle against climate change. That is why we call in the report for the phase-out of US and EU import restrictions on sugar-based ethanol.
The third area of mitigation that we identify focuses on research and development. We know that there is a wide-range of breakthrough technologies – from carbon sequestration to electric cars – that could accelerate the transition to a low carbon future. Yet we know also that these technologies are coming on stream too slowly to make a difference. That is why a judicious mix of incentives, regulation and public-private partnerships in research, development and deployment is vital.
Fourth, we highlight the critical importance of finance and technology transfer to developing countries. This is a central part of the UNFCCC – yet delivery has been minimal. If developing countries are to make a low carbon transition without compromising employment creation, poverty reduction and economic growth, then rich countries will have to mobilise resources to support that transition. In the report we call for the creation of a Climate Change Mitigation Facility (CCMF) to deliver resources – around $20bn annually – for this purpose. The aim: to cover the incremental costs of creating the global public good of enhanced climate security.
Adaptation to climate change
Finally, Mr President, I want to make a few remarks on an area that we believe has received insufficient attention: namely, adaptation to climate change.
Whatever we do today, the world will have to live with the global warming that is now inevitable. Even with stringent mitigation, global temperatures will continue to rise to around 2040 and possibly beyond. While this may not pose an undue challenge to the rich world, where governments are investing billions in climate-proofing infrastructures and protecting citizens, for developing countries in general and the poor in particular the challenges are immense.
At risk of understatement the international response on adaptation has not been encouraging. To date, multilateral financing mechanisms have provided around $26m in total in project-based financing. To put that figure in context, it represents a few days worth of pending on flood defences in countries like the UK or Germany.
We could attempt to find polite phrases and diplomatic language to explain the current imbalance in global adaptation efforts. However, the bottom line is that the most vulnerable people in the world’s poorest countries are being left to sink or swim with their own resources. Meanwhile, the world’s richest nations and architects of the climate change problem are creating adaptation systems that will enable them to observe the disaster from behind the safety of their flood defence systems.
When moral authority of the stature of Desmond Tutu warns us that we are heading towards a system of ‘adaptation apartheid’ the world should listen. More than that, it should act.
That is why we call in the Human Development Report for a radical new approach to adaptation. This would entail the mobilisation of resources not just for environmental climate proofing, but also for social protection programmes aimed at building the resilience of vulnerable groups and empowering people to manage climate risks. These programmes would include employment guarantee measures in drought prone areas and a wide range of social transfer of the type so successfully developed in Brazil.
More detailed work is required on financing. However, we suggest that a tentative figure of $86bn by 2015 – around 0.2% of developed country GDP – is a credible ball-park figure for the financing envelope required, over an above existing aid commitments. As important as the financing is a shift in the locus of planning away from small-scale projects and towards nationally-owned programmes and national budgets.
Mr President, I hope that the Human Development Report will, in some small way, contribute to your efforts to put the concerns of the world’s poor, hungry, and marginalised people at the centre of climate change agenda.
I recognise that there is plenty of bad news in the report. But our intention is not to offer a counsel of despair. It is to issue a call to action. Defeatism and pessimism are luxuries that the world’s poor and future generations cannot afford.
Mr President, through your leadership and the actions of your government, you have demonstrated that human societies are not prisoners of their history. By addressing the inherited legacies of injustice, you are building a society that today that holds out the hope of shared prosperity and security to future generations.
In climate change too we are dealing with a legacy inherited from earlier generations. And here too change is possible. Business-as-usual projections chart a trend based on past energy use patterns. They do not define our destiny.
Guided by a shared commitment to human rights, social justice and enlightened self-interest, we can win the battle against climate change. It falls to our generation to confront what is perhaps the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. The threats are without precedent. Yet so too are the opportunities to build international cooperation and to forge a collective, multilateral response to a collective threat. Success is possible. Failure is unthinkable.
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