The Star Online
prosperity in the world’s poorest regions will be reversed unless rich
countries curb their greenhouse gas emissions and help poorer ones
switch to climate-friendly energy sources.
Progress towards prosperity in the world’s poorest regions will be reversed unless rich countries curb their greenhouse gas emissions and help poorer ones switch to climate-friendly energy sources.
THE effects of climate change threaten to derail the development and progress mankind has made – this stark warning comes from a recent report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Its latest Human Development Report titled Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world says rising temperatures, which lead to increased and more severe droughts, storms, floods and environmental stress, will transform patterns of human settlement and undermine the viability of national economies.
In what is one of the most emotionally worded reports to come from the UN, it says the world is drifting towards a “tipping point” that could lock the poorest countries and their poorest citizens in a downward spiral, leaving hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats and a loss of livelihood.
The report cries out for action to protect two “voiceless” groups – the world’s poor and future generations: “We are recklessly mismanaging our ecological interdependence. In effect, our generation is running up an unsustainable ecological debt that future generations will inherit. Our generation may not live to see the consequences. But our children and their grandchildren will have no alternative but to live with them.”
Deputy director of the report Cecilia Ungaz says world temperatures have risen 0.7°C over the past 100 years and the rate of increase is quickening. “We’ve reached the level where we’ve exhausted the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb the carbon. Today’s emissions are tomorrow’s problem,” she says.
The report, released a week ahead of the governmental meeting on climate change that is currently on in Bali, Indonesia, urges governments to set a collective target for avoiding dangerous climate change. It advocates a threshold of a 2°C hike in temperature. If temperatures rise beyond that, the UN body foresees climate havoc and an ensuing sharp increase in human development setbacks and irreversible ecological catastrophes.
To keep within the threshold, the report suggests a “carbon budget” for the 21st century – or the total emissions allowed by world through this century – of 1,456 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).This means the world can collectively emit only 14.56 gigatonnes of CO2 annually if it wants to stay within the 2°C threshold to avoid dangerous climate change.
Unfortunately, we now emit twice as much – 29 gigatonnes in 2004. If we continue this trend, we will exhaust our “allowable” carbon emissions for the entire century as early as 2032. The authors warn that on current trends, the world is more likely to breach a 4°C threshold than stay within 2°C.
Admitting to the lingering unknowns behind the science of climate change, the report, nevertheless, points out that uncertainties cut both ways – so the risks could be greater than we currently understand.
“We are issuing a call to action, not providing a counsel of despair,” says lead author Kevin Watkins. “Working together with resolve, we can win the battle against climate change. Allowing the window of opportunity to close would represent a moral and political failure without precedent in human history.”
The report also reiterates that rich nations accounted for the bulk of the greenhouse gases locked in the Earth’s atmosphere but poor countries will suffer the most from the effects of climate change because they have the least means to protect themselves. The carbon footprint of the United States is five times that of China and over 15 times that of India. If all of the world’s people generated greenhouse gases at the same rate as some developed countries, we would need nine planets to live on.
So, developed countries, which carry the burden of historic responsibility for the climate change problem, apart from having the money and technological capabilities to initiate early cuts in emissions, have to take the lead in mitigating climate change.
The authors find that most developed countries have failed to achieve even the modest reductions – averaging around 5% from 1990 levels – agreed under the Kyoto Protocol. It says the world lacks a clear and long-term multilateral framework that charts a course for avoiding dangerous climate change. It warns that every year of delay in reaching an agreement to cut emissions adds to greenhouse gas stocks, locking the future into a higher temperature.
And because carbon cycles do not follow political cycles, the report asserts that the current generation of political leaders cannot solve the climate change problem alone. A sustainable emissions pathway has to be followed over decades.
A sustainable path
To mitigate climate change, the report urges for a transformation in the way we produce and use energy. Current investment patterns are putting in place a carbon intensive energy infrastructure, with coal playing a dominant role. Based on current trends, energy-related CO2 emissions will rise over 50% over 2005 levels by 2030.
The report lays out a checklist to avoid dangerous climate change:
Many will be wary about the cost of cutting emissions but the reports says it will be affordable: 1.6% of GDP (gross domestic product) annually between now and 2030. This represents less than two-thirds of global military spending.
“While these are real costs, the costs of inaction will be far greater, whether measured in economic, social or human terms,” warns UNDP administrator Kemal Dervis.
Calling for a long-term and binding agreement on emission cutbacks, the report says that deal will be credible only if it commits major developing countries to reduce their emissions too, albeit based on their capabilities and poverty levels. It also says any future treaty should include ways to transfer funds and low-carbon technology to poor countries.
The report concludes that, “under current energy policies, rising
economic prosperity will go hand-in- hand with mounting threats to
human development and the well-being of future generations”. But the
authors argue, “with the right reforms, it is not too late to cut
greenhouse gas emissions to sustainable levels without sacrificing
economic growth: rising prosperity and climate security are not
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