2009 Protecting development in a changing climate

Protecting development in a changing climate; a moral imperative and a case of ‘common selfinterest’.

With only a few short weeks until the Copenhagen Summit where a new global agreement on climate change is set to be agreed, and with more entrenched positions of the different countries and blocs, the fear that both climate protection and development cooperation will become the victim of the process is increasing. Which means that a compelling agenda for the climate crisis as perhaps the greatest threat to human future and for poverty as the most appalling infringement on human dignity will not be realized.

Industrialised countries are currently proposing emission reduction commitments that add up to less than 15% reductions below 1990 levels by 2020 by developed countries, whilst the most recent scientific evidence tells us that more than 40% cuts by 2020 in these countries are necessary in order to avoid devastating and irrevocable impacts for future generations.

At the same time finance ministers of developed countries, facing the consequences of the financial crisis and their interventions in savings banks in the form of rapid increased deficits and debts, are proposing to put part of the financial burden of the climate change under their ODA-budgets. That will further undermine achieving the MDG by 2015 and create a zero-sum game between the adaptation component of climate change and the education, health and maternal mortality goals of the MDG.

Negotiations have become entrenched, but they are not beyond saving. A number of meetings over the next months present opportunities to break the deadlock, starting on September the 22nd when world leaders meet in New York for a High Level Meeting on Climate Change.

On this occasion I take part in a high level delegation of Catholic clergy and climate change specialists organized by the Catholic development organisations CIDSE and Caritas Internationalis. Together we are the largest humanitarian and development alliance in the world fighting poverty in over 200 countries. Representatives from Bangladesh, Brazil Nigeria are in New York to report on what’s happening in their home countries where climate change is already affecting lives of millions of people and where the poorest are the hardest hit by climate change. Fundamental issues of our catholic social teaching as solidarity and stewardship of the creation are at stake.  In New York we urge world leaders to make the Copenhagen process their highest political priority over the next months, and to commit now to personally attending the crucial climate conference in December. In doing so they will send a strong signal to other Heads of State that is time for them to come forward and assume their duty to this and future generations, and build the trust urgently needed to make an ambitious agreement possible. And we urge them to make sure that a climate treaty will not undermine the MDG-agenda.

There’s a lot at stake, especially for people in developing countries. The fact that those who suffer the effects of climate change first and most profoundly are those who have done least to cause it and have least capacity to cope presents a global injustice so great that failure to correct it must question our very humanity. Significant progress in the negotiations is needed over the next weeks to create the parameters of an agreement that can do so.

This is what the picture currently looks like.
Development prospects in the Global South depend crucially on urgent action to halt global warming, and the provision of the financial, technological and capacity building support they need to adapt to increasing climate variability and its impacts, and to establish low carbon development pathways.  Emissions cuts and support for developing countries have been on the table in negotiations within the United Nations (UN), the Major Economies Forum (MEF), the G20 and the G8 for many months. What we consistently see, however, is the most vulnerable countries and their interests sidelined whilst developed countries strive to extract as many concessions out of others whilst giving away as little as possible themselves.

At the same time, the lack of clear commitment by developed countries to providing sufficient additional and secure financial support to developing countries sends a clear message that not only are they not willing to do their own share, but they are not serious about supporting developing countries to do theirs.

Whilst the concept of historical responsibility is often rejected by developed countries, it is a matter of fact that they have used the vast majority of the earth’s carbon space through their fossil fuel-based growth.  The result is that developing countries are left with very little carbon space to pursue their own development, and so must find alternatives.   Beyond this, the fossil-fuel driven development in the North is in many cases sending countries backwards in the development process as a result of the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events brought about by global warming.

The often perceived conflict between developed and developing countries on climate change is a false one. Also for developing countries  the need to reduce CO2 is there. No one better than the poor know the devastating consequences for the respiratory system of firewood for cooking and heating. And those who have inhaled the polluted air in cities like Manilla, Lagos and Djakarta know that reduction of emissions is a world wide obligation. But it is also clear that unprecedented financial and technological support is needed forf developing countries to be able to fulfil their part in this global endeavour.The Copenhagen-agreement must ensure access for developing countries to sufficient financial support to enable them to do their part.  This can only be done through supporting financing mechanisms that will ensure climate financing flows are secure and predictable and not reliant on voluntary commitments.  Importantly, furthermore, financing arrangements must not result in the diversion of money already promised under existing Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments.

Whilst Copenhagen will not be the last step, it must provide a clear and binding consensus on what must be done to prevent the worst impact of climate change, and set the international community on a path to sustainable and equitable development.