Remarks at the Round Table on "Equity and the Social Dimentions of Climate Change"
Ladies and gentlemen
It is an honour to be with you at this event on Equity and the Social Dimensions of Climate Change. Let me thank Mr. Robin Mearns and his team for inviting me to take part in today’s discussions. I am also grateful to my long-time friend, Ambassador Angus Friday, for making my participation possible.
There is almost unanimous agreement that climate change is one of the biggest threats of our time. None of us can escape the negative effects of climate change, whether we live in a developed or developing country. Yet evidence has shown that developing countries are considerably more vulnerable than developed countries, and the poor more vulnerable than the rich.
The Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Sub-Saharan Africa are, in particular, disproportionately affected by climate change. At the present time, they contribute little to global warming, the main cause of climate change. Yet, because of small size and location in the case of SIDS, and high levels of poverty in the case LDCs and sub-Saharan Africa, these countries suffer the heaviest blow from climate disasters. Whether it is dramatic disasters like tsunamis and hurricanes, or creeping ones like desertification, these countries are always more devastated, which leaves them even more vulnerable. Their situation is compounded by the fact that they lack the financial, institutional and technical capacities to respond to climate disasters and to adapt to climate change.
The plight of the vulnerable countries is evident from the Environmental Performance Index produced by the universities of Yale and Columbia. In the latest index, ranking 149 countries on their performance against various environmental indicators, including environmental health, air pollution, water resources and climate change, the Least Developed Countries take up 15 of the last 20 places. Sixteen of the 20 at the bottom are sub-Saharan African countries. The contrast between the minimal contribution of these countries to climate change on the one hand and the heavy toll it takes on them on the other justifies the principle of common but differentiated responsibility under the Kyoto Protocol, which should be comprehensively applied in the ongoing negotiations on a new international agreement on climate change.
Unfortunately, current efforts do not adequately reflect the needs of the vulnerable countries. The schemes established to assist vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change, such as the Least Developed Countries Fund, have remained heavily under-funded. While the LDCs need at least US $ 2 billion over the next five years to implement their National Adaptation Programmes of Action, the Least Developed Countries Fund has only raised US $172 million since its establishment eight years ago. Partly because of its complexity, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has not benefited the Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States, and Africa. Only about 3 percent of CDM projects have gone to Africa, most of them to South Africa. The operationalisation of the Adaptation Fund will make more resources available for adaptation, but there is general agreement that it will fall far short of the needs. There is therefore an urgent need for innovative ways to fund mitigation and adaptation measures in the vulnerable countries. I believe that a system of mandatory contributions to the LDC and Adaptation funds, based, for example, on a country’s level of carbon emissions, is needed. There is also a need for simplification of the procedures for access to these funds by the vulnerable countries.
The disproportionate impact of climate change on vulnerable countries, combined with their lack of resilience and capacity to adapt, has serious implications for their socio-economic development, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. It has political implications, including increased risk of conflict and political instability. For some of them, especially the low-lying SIDS, their very existence is threatened by rising sea-levels. Greater international support will be required to keep these countries literally afloat in the face of climate change.
In the same way that poor countries suffer the most from the adverse effects of climate change, so do the poor people within those countries. The rural poor, who constitute up to 70% of the population in most of these countries, rely on natural resources for their existence. So their very livelihood is threatened when there is a drought or a flood. Millions of poor people have been driven away from their lands by adverse environmental conditions, with all the consequences of displacement, including increased poverty, disease and loss of dignity. Some of them have ended up in urban slums, where they are confronted with other forms of environmental challenges, including flooding, water pollution and disease. In Africa, the slum population is increasing at the rate of 4.5 percent per annum. Deprived of basic services and infrastructure, slum dwellers suffer more than other urban residents when disaster strikes.
According to some estimates, the world will be confronted by up to 50 million environmentally-displaced people by 2010. The phenomenon of “environmental refugees” is one the international community cannot afford to ignore. In addition to effective adaptation measures, which would reduce the risk of displacement, there is need for formal mechanisms at local, national and international levels to respond to needs of people uprooted from their areas by environmental calamities.
At both the global and national levels, efforts to address climate change should pay greater attention to the poor. Having the poor countries and the poor people at the centre of the environmental debate should not be a matter of political and economic expediency, but of equity and justice. While there are alternative means to address environmental challenges, the means of choice should be those that advance the interests of equity and justice at all levels. This requires looking at the environmental challenge, and solutions to it, not as a separate issue, but as an integral part of the broader development and human rights agenda.
Indeed, many of the measures required to combat climate change can contribute directly to sustainable development and global justice. Improved agricultural practices, access to clean technologies, increasing access of the poor to modern and clean energy and enhancing energy efficiency would help to fight climate change while, at the same time, promoting development. A recent study has shown, for example, that the use of better cooking technologies in poor countries would reduce health complications for the communities involved, free up their time for other productive activities while, at the same time, significantly reducing global warming. Moreover, it would be fairly cheap to introduce such technologies.
Increased awareness and international attention to climate change can help us advance the development and human rights agenda. In the same way a stimulus package to revive an ailing economy may be targeted at creating jobs, improving the socio-economic infrastructure and serving other social objectives, efforts to tackle climate change should be targeted at serving the international social justice agenda, specifically ending poverty and promoting international peace, security and human rights. It should be a win-win situation.