Sunday, November 8, 2009

Climate change, poverty: two defining challenges

Climate change and poverty are the two defining challenges of the 21st century and they must be tackled together. It means that if we fail one, we fail the other. The aim is to meet the environment's carbon constraints while creating the growth necessary to raise living standards for the poor.

It is true that climate change affects gravely the poorest in many parts of the world. Natural disasters have a devastating impact on human lives and also on means of subsistance.

There is no alternative to a low carbon economy. Current growth patterns are characterized by high prices for fossil fuels and undermined by a hostile physical environment that climate change is already creating. If risks are not addressed, the eventual consequences will be worse.

Climate change poses a profound threat to our economic future and to the economic possibilities of our grand children (to quote a famous essay by Keynes), while low carbon growth promises decades of sustainable prosperity.

The Stern report* concluded that "the benefits of strong, early action on climate change considerably outweigh the costs". It proposes that one percent of global GDP per annum is required to be invested in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and points out that failure to do so could risk global GDP being up to twenty percent lower than it otherwise might be.

However, there is a continuing rich-poor divide on sharing the burden of curbs on greenhouse gas emissions in a drive to avert droughts, wildfires, species extinctions and rising seas. At the G-20 on 7 November, Britain pushed to reach a $100bn deal to meet the costs of climate change by 2020 but developing nations held firm they would not accept.

The forthcoming UN summit in Copenhagen will probably not lead to an agreement on the costs of climate change. Economic interests from rich and emerging countries seem difficult to reconcile. But rich countries should also endeavor on helping the poor to adapt to climate change, sharing technology and cutting emissions from deforestation. The selfishness of the rich countries is in fact the main source of division.


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