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United Nations sees no Solution to Climate Crisis


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The world would not solve the climate change crisis unless a wide range of Government agencies devised policies and took action to reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions, Mohan Munasinghe, Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Chairman of the Munasinghe Institute for Development, told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) this afternoon.

 

Speaking during a panel discussion titled “Addressing climate change in the context of national sustainable development strategies”, he pointed out that in the last 30 years greenhouse gas emissions had risen 70 per cent, despite the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and were expected to double or triple by the end of the century, regardless of efforts to stem them. The resulting 3°C rise in global temperature would potentially cause large-scale harm to global health, agriculture, forests, water resources, coastal areas and habitats. Carbon dioxide levels, which had stood at the safe baseline of 275 parts per million for 10,000 years, were today approaching 400 parts per million, having caused global temperatures to increase by 0.6°C in the last few years, sea levels to rise several centimetres, dry areas to become even drier and wet areas to get still wetter.

 

The world could at best keep greenhouse gas emissions at 445 to 490 parts per million and limit temperature rise to 2°C, which the European Union considered a safe level, he said. For that to happen, it was crucial to adjust trade, monetary, fiscal and taxation policies so that they addressed climate change without threatening the development process. “Convincing the Ministry of the Environment is not enough. Until Ministries of Finance, Planning and Agriculture are convinced, than nothing will happen. By showing that their immediate goals are going to be threatened, that’s how you get their attention.”

 

That process of “sustainomics” involved everything from turning off the lights when one left the room to developing more sustainable agriculture techniques for farmers, he said. It was an activist approach that employed social, environmental, economic and institutional tools and indicators -- from data gathering to practical policy implementation -- tailored to country-specific needs and circumstances. The ancient Sri Lankan proverb, “May the rains come in time, May the harvest be bountiful, May the people be happy and contended, May the king be righteous”, was a good example of a sustainable development triangle that involved the key elements of climate, economy, social structure and Government in a positive relationship.

 

He said the adaptation burden -– adjusting activities to reduce vulnerability to climate change -- would fall on the world’s poorest people and on the countries least responsible for climate change but most vulnerable to its impact. Twenty per cent of the world’s richest people and countries consumed 60 times more than the poorest. Annex 1 countries, the main emitters, should take the lead in mitigation by reducing carbon dioxide and other emissions. But adaptation and mitigation, the two main responses to climate change, were not systematically deployed, a situation that must change. Hundreds of millions of people would be affected by rising sea levels, particularly in small island developing States and low-lying coastal areas. If nations increased their coastal protection expenditures at the same rate of gross domestic product, the number of people affected would drop to tens of millions of people.

 

Christina Brodhag, Inter-Ministerial Delegate to the Commission on Sustainable Development of France’s Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development, said her country was doing its part to mitigate climate change’s negative impact through its 2004-2012 climate change plan and national sustainable development strategy. The strategy, based on the European Union strategy adopted in 2006, focused on climate change and clean energy, sustainable transport, sustainable consumption and production and the conservation and management of natural resources. It also aimed to step up efforts to address public health, social inclusion, demography and migration, and global poverty and sustainable development.

 

For the first time, she said, her country had incorporated a peer review process into the strategy, and had sought the input of Ghana, Mauritius and the United Kingdom. France’s strategy was in line with the definition of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs of a national sustainable development strategy: “a coordinated, participatory and iterative process of thoughts and actions to achieve economic, environmental and social objectives in a balanced and integrated manner at the national and local levels”. Countries must develop strategies linked to reducing poverty and to the other Millennium Development Goals.

 

Le-Yin Zhang, Lecturer in the Development Planning Unit of University College, London, said a greater emphasis on livelihood was needed to integrate climate change into national sustainable development strategies. Greater attention should also be paid to strengthening the capacity to mitigate and adapt at the societal and household levels, rather than simply at the sectoral level. Failing to solve the livelihood issues of the poor made it impossible to achieve environmental sustainability, leaving poor households capable of destroying ecosystems in their pursuit of survival.

 

Climate change increased the vulnerability of the poor, affecting their access to natural and human assets, she said. Such effects could be modified by developing non-climate-sensitive economic opportunities and improving infrastructure. Given the unequivocal trend of global warming, public policy must focus on reducing vulnerability by strengthening the capacity of societies and households to adapt.

 

Rolph Payet, Special Adviser to the President of the Seychelles, said progress required political attention, by the office of the Prime Minister or President, to a national sustainable development strategy. It was also necessary to mobilize public opinion and involve the private sector and grassroots organizations in decision-making. Research was vital to the implementation of national policy, which was a critical question, especially for small nations without universities or research centres.

 

He said extreme events like tsunamis and other natural disasters could be seen as “policy windows” or opportunities to study how existing systems worked and how they could be modified accordingly. Issues of climate change and sustainable development must be integrated into the national education curriculum. There was also a need to increase public awareness, and it was regrettable that there had been a general failure to convince consumers to practice responsible behaviour. It was also vital to assign more funds to education and sustainable development activities.

 

During the ensuing discussion, India’s representative said sustainable consumption must be addressed alongside the question of lifestyle. The representative of Togo asked about France’s position on the relationship between the price of hydrocarbons and that of cereals.

 

In response, Mr. Munasinghe said development was an overarching question that must be considered before issues of lifestyle and consumption. Developing countries were now besieged with ad hoc initiatives which could not succeed unless they were incorporated into the broader context. Adaptation and mitigation that could be “folded into the process of sustainable development” were the best possible option.

 

Mr. Brodhag said Europe’s current level of incorporating biofuels was not yet causing trouble in terms of cereal prices, but long-term hopes resided in second-generation biofuels, when cellulose would hopefully be used for fuel and there would be no competition between fuel and food. On lifestyle, a number of working groups had been established on that issue.

 

Mr. Payet said that efficient structures were needed to mobilize the public on sustainable development efforts. While disaster preparedness tended to attract a great deal of attention at the Government level, it was ultimately less important than proactive approaches.

 

Ms. Zhang said technology played a crucial role in the context of climate change and development. The challenge for developing countries was to open up new development paths, which required tremendous effort as well as technological innovation. That, in turn, would require developed countries to share their technology and expertise. It was also important to begin considering consumption patterns, as current patterns, especially those in developed countries, could not prevail. That question applied also to people in the developing world.

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