Climate change will be the defining human development challenge of the 21st century, according to the UN Human Development Report released yesterday in Ottawa. The report, titled Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World, puts a human face on climate change, said Papa Seck, a consultant with the United Nations Development Program who was in Ottawa for its release. And that is new, he said, and critical to the way government policies must address the problem in the next decade.
There's a lot of talk about how it will affect people in 50 years, but we need to look at 10 years from now, Mr. Seck said.
Part of the report talks about cycles of poverty. Farmers in drought-prone areas will, for example, opt to grow something less lucrative, possibly less nutritious, but more drought-resistant. Basically, they get trapped by circumstance and it leads to further poverty.
"Research carried out for this report underlines just how potent these traps can be," the report states. "Using microlevel household data, we examined some of the long-term impacts of climate-shocks in the lives of the poor. In Ethiopia and Kenya, two of the world's most drought-prone countries, children aged five or less are respectively 36 and 50 per cent more likely to be malnourished if they were born during a drought."
In Niger, children aged two or less born in a drought year were 72 per cent more likely to be stunted. Meanwhile, Indian women born during a flood in the 1970s were 19 per cent less likely to have attended primary school.
"We need action," Mr. Seck said. "We have less than 10 years to avoid dangerous climate change. The meeting in Bali next week will be critical for climate change and how it will affect the poor."
Ultimately, he said, failure to respond to that challenge will stall, and then reverse, international efforts to reduce poverty. Governments and people in rich nations, which are the key polluters, have a responsibility to the poor to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and cut them deeply, Mr. Seck said.
The report also included the Human Development Index, which compares the levels of human development in 177 countries. Canada is always close to the top, taking sixth place in 2006. This year, it's fourth, a jump that occurred because of the thriving economy. GDP was the only variable that changed in Canada's profile. Others, such as life expectancy, adult literacy and educational enrolment, remained consistently high.
time for action
A group of Austrian senators was in town this week for an exchange with Canadian senators. The group met with Noel Kinsella, speaker of the Senate, Monday and met with House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken yesterday. The visiting senators also had discussions with members of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association about the importance of the new European treaty, said Albrecht Konecny, leader of the Social Democratic Group in the Austrian upper house, also known as the Bundesrat.
"We're discussing specific areas of interest that we share," Mr. Konecny said. "Canada and Austria played a role in the move against landmines, for example, and now we're discussing cluster ammunition."
They also brought up global warming with their counterparts, he said. "Climate change is very heatedly debated in Austria," he said, "and we bring that very important topic to Canada." Their message to Canadians was to "stop talking and take action."
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