By Khalid Malik,
April 22 marks Earth Day. The theme of this year's Earth Day isclimate change, one of the most pressing and complex challenges facingthe world.The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report justreleased paints a grim picture of the advance of climate change, and itspotential harm to the lives of millions.The report predicts that millions more people will be threatened byserious flooding every year by the end of this century, especially indensely populated, low-lying areas, where because of poverty they areunable to adapt to the changes. These areas already face otherchallenges such as tropical storms and sinking coastlines.The complexity of dealing with climate change is seen by the divergenceof impacts climate change is expected to have in different parts of theworld.While climate change brings serious risks to future development,including China, it is also expected to bring positive consequences tosome regions in the north where melting ice could open up areas forhuman activity.But for most people in the developing world, climate change will likelymean increased risk of drought, reduced water supplies, and even loss oflife.The changes expected from climate change are serious and requireconcerted international action to both lessen the impact and to adapt.Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the Kyoto Protocol's CleanDevelopment Mechanism is an important example of how the world'smarkets can be brought to bear on climate change.Large improvements in energy efficiency and expanded use of renewableenergy are needed in both developed and developing countries if futureemissions and climate change impacts are to be mitigated.We will also have to design new ways to deal with carbon capture throughinvestments in forest conservation and forestation measures which bothreduce the impact of climate change and conserve biodiversity.
While mitigation measures remain central, the UN also places top priorityon actions to adapt to the impact of climate change in vulnerable regionsof the world.Issues of food and water supplies and disaster prevention are critical ineliminating extreme poverty, as noted in the IPCC report.As sea levels rise, small islands are particularly vulnerable, with moreflooding, storm surges, erosion and other coastal hazards.Indeed, while the world's poorest countries bear little responsibility for thebuild-up of carbon and other global warming gases in the earth'satmosphere, they will bear the brunt of the social and economicconsequences.The UN believes that there is a significant risk that climate change couldroll back human development in environmentally vulnerable countries,slowing down, if not reversing, the progress made by many developingcountries.As we approach the halfway mark to the 2015 target for the UNMillennium Development Goals, this is yet another powerful motivation forus to redouble our efforts for sustainable development.In China, the government issued its first-ever National Climate ChangeImpact Assessment Report earlier this year, showing the seriousconsequences climate change poses for food, water supplies and land.With 2006 the warmest year in China in the last 50 years, China facedhistoric low levels of water in the Yangtze River. Trends of glacial meltinghave also increased in recent times causing concern for local andnational development.China has achieved many hard-won development gains over the pastdecades. As the report shows, while climate change may well bringpositive implications for some regions of the country, overall climatechange poses serious risks for sustaining development in the decades tocome. And it is the poor that will be hardest hit as they lack the ability toadapt to this uncertain future.The impact of temperature change will be most marked on populations inthe western part of the country with the most limited adaptive capacity,including communities living in areas with rainfed agriculture,drought-prone or flood-prone conditions.With the impacts of climate change already felt, adaptation throughenhanced resilience is a top priority, though in most cases adaptation hasyet to be given the prominence it merits in local debates on developmentand poverty reduction.Operationally, how to reach the poorest and most vulnerable communities remains a major challenge.The UN believes that regions with sophisticated environmentalmanagement capacity can better adapt themselves to climate change.Therefore, it is critical to develop and carry out adaptation strategies andassociated actions on the provincial level.In the context of the upcoming launch of a new National Climate ChangeStrategy for China later this month, the family of UN agencies standsready to provide support to ensure that such policies can be effectivelytranslated into on-the-ground action for results.Climate change is a matter of common concern throughout the UNsystem, including members of the UN system in China. Through the UNTheme Group on Energy and Environment, a UN inter-agencycoordination mechanism, the UN system in China will increase our jointanalysis and coordinate our actions to help China achieve its goals.The scale of possible future impact creates livelihood risks andvulnerabilities. The nature of these risks will vary both between and withinprovinces.If measures are to have real effect in coming years, there is an urgentneed to develop local policies, partnerships and implementationcapacities to take action.Based on the principles in the UN Framework Convention on ClimateChange and strong cooperation with the National Climate ChangeCoordination Office and partners, UN agencies in China are workingclosely with Chinese institutions to help provide assistance togovernment, business and civil society to integrate climate changeadaptation policies into local development policies.At the global level, the UN Development Program's Human DevelopmentReport will focus on how to "climate-proof" human development andreduce poverty.The report will explore the links between climate change and humandevelopment. These links raise important questions about social justiceand loss of equity between generations.This year's report will explore ways in which climate change interacts withwider factors to increase vulnerability, such as increased poverty,widened regional inequalities, income and gender inequalities, andaggravated ecological pressures.The report will highlight the implications for inequality. At a global level,some of these implications are self-evident.Rich countries are far better placed to provide the infrastructure neededto reduce risk and vulnerability than poor countries. In developingcountries, vulnerable populations face the double jeopardy of being at greater risk and having limited capacity to reduce risk through privatemarkets.The upcoming UN Framework Convention on Climate ChangeConference in December in Indonesia presents a significant opportunityfor all countries and all UN agencies to come together to review thisyear's IPCC findings and chart the course for more aggressive andconcerted actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change for the benefitof future generations.
The author is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP ResidentRepresentative in China
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