We risk becoming the best informed society that has ever died of ignorance. – Ruben Blades
You will all recall how the international wholesale news outlets covered the UN Climate Change Conference held at Bali last December. You will also recall how many of our own talking heads, whether through inertia or lack of information, by and large followed the script sent down by CNN et al. And unless one digs deep into dorky “green” or “pro-third-world” Web pages, one would be reasonably forgiven for believing that there is still serious doubt regarding climate change and that Eastasia, Eurasia, and Oceania spent two weeks at Bali discussing whether to aim for a X per cent to Y per cent emissions cut by whenever.
What we are not hearing is that, apart from the Fourth Assessment Report (2007) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which itself makes an unambiguous case for the reality of climate change, countries have reams of other information on the effects of climate change on development, such as the UN’s Human Development Report (Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a divided world) or the Global Review 2007 of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
Climate change is the “defining human development issue of our generation” as it “threatens to erode human freedoms and limit choice” and could be “the onset of major human development reversal in our lifetime.” Increased exposure to climate-change-related disasters, these experts insist, is holding back the efforts by the world’s poor to improve their lot. The rural and urban poor “are on the front line,” where even small changes can have devastating consequences. Failure to deal with climate change today, they tell us, will consign the poorest 40 per cent of the world’s population – some 2.6 billion people – to a future of diminished opportunity.
In the face of this and in terms of the direct interests of the developing world, the emissions-obsessed focus by the media has divorced this major issue from our everyday realities on the ground, blinding us to the elements of climate change that we can and must address and robbing us of any sense of empowerment. After all, if the people of the wider Caribbean were to abandon our cars and air conditioners and move into grass huts, reducing our carbon footprint to 0, the effect on global climate change would be at best negligible. Conversely, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for decades and oceans store heat for centuries, so even if emissions by the usual (and some new) suspects were to stop next year, the mercury will keep rising as the heat trapping gases sent into the atmosphere in 2008 stay there beyond 2108.
It was thus a shame that other crucial elements of the Bali debate were so under-reported (when at all), as some of the outcomes are true victories for the developing world even if it may seem too little too late. The recognition by the international community that supporting climate change adaptation by developing countries is necessary is a major achievement, as is the establishment of an Adaptation Fund, whereby developing countries are eligible for funding to assist them in meeting the costs of adaptation.
Seen through the lens of survival, the debate on climate change ceases to be an argument between some cartoonish robber barons with belching smokestacks in the background and becomes a crucial, urgent, life-affirming dialogue for the developing world.
Unfortunately, no matter what one reads regarding Bali, we’ll never know whether the traditional naysayers finally caved in the face of scientific data or under political pressure. But even that is immaterial. They have their agenda and have a good batting average defending it. What we need to do is keep our eyes on our ball.
Luis Carpio is the Director of transport and natural disasters of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).The views expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Feedback can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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