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Special Climate Change Issue
Volume XLVI • Number 3 & 4 • 2009
Climate Change and Our Common Future Fekri Hassan
Tracking Climate Change from Space Juan Carlos Villagrán de León
Small Islands, Rising Seas Nemat Sadat
Unlayering of the Ozone Jonathan Shanklin
A Hypothesis of Hope for the Developing World William Dar
Chronicle Library Shelf Planet UN by Romuald Sciora and Annick Stevenson
The True Costs of Conventional Energy Hélène Pelosse
Oil in a Low-Carbon Economy Wael Hmaidan
Livelihoods in Peril Indigenous Peoples and Their Rights Mark Nuttall Will There Be Climate Migrants en Masse? Arno Tanner Will Climate Change Impact the Right to Health & Development? Daniel Tarantola
Is Africa Ready? Ismail Serageldin
Freshwater in Latin America and the Caribbean Emilio Sempris
A Future for Itself Yolandi Groenewald
HIV/AIDS and Climate Change A Pattern of Response Mary Crewe
co m pe lli n g wo r ds Award-Winning Novelists Write To All Of Us Nawal El Saadawi 20 Rajaa Alsanea 27 Maimouna Barro 35
Manjushree Thapa 31
Beyond Carbon Markets Oscar Reyes and Tamra Gilbertson
Human Security, Climate Change and Women Irene Dankelman
In the Shadow of Climate Change Balgis Osman-Elasha
The Ecology of Recycling Marian Chertow
A Student’s Wake-up Call Alejandro Frischeisen
Greening the Workforce Juan Somavía
Financial Innovations and Carbon Markets Graciela Chichilnisky
Biotechnology—A Solution to Hunger? Kaiser Jamil
Global Warming and Surging Glaciers Vladimir Kotlyakov
Punyakante Wijenaike 38
Luisa Valenzuela 42
Esther David 79
A B Yehoshua & Nahum Yehoshua 49
Edwidge Danticat 23
Bina Shah 45 Jose Dalisay 73
Chenjerai Hove 93
Kim Young Mi 83
Alain de Botton 96
Jorge Majfud 87
Tamim Ansary 69
Daniel de Cordova 73
Special Climate Change Issue
Volume XLVI • Number 3 & 4 • 2009
Mark Nuttall PAGE
Oscar Reyes PAGE
Jonathan Shanklin PAGE
Marian Chertow PAGE
Alain de Botton
Graciela Chichilnisky PAGE
Tamim Ansary PAGE
Edwidge Danticat PAGE
Daniel de Cordova PAGE
Juan Carlos Villagrán de León PAGE
Maimouna Barro PAGE
Emilio Sempris PAGE
Nawal El Saadawi PAGE
Fekri Hassan PAGE
Ismail Serageldin PAGE
Juan Somavía PAGE
Mary Crewe Jorge Majfud PAGE
Luisa Valenzuela PAGE
Map by Sacha Allen Ghiglione
Arno Tanner PAGE
Hélène Pelosse PAGE
A B Yehoshua Nahum Yehoshua PAGE
Manjushree Thapa PAGE
KimYoung Mi PAGE
Rajaa Alsanea PAGE
Kaiser Jamil PAGE
Esther David PAGE
Punyakante Wijenaike PAGE
Balgis Osman-Elasha PAGE
Chenjerai Hove PAGE
Yolandi Groenewald PAGE
Daniel Tarantola PAGE
The boundaries and delineations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations
A Historical Perspective
By Fekri Hassan
I saw at one time
a leaflet that asked people to come together in stopping climate change. It seems that many are not aware that the climate changes all the time and that the change is not stoppable. Climate changes, however, differ in their timing and magnitude and are a result of many factors, such as the distance between the sun and the equator, which contributes to the heat budget of the Earth, and the difference in the temperature of the equator from that of the cooler poles due to deviations in Earthâ€™s orbit, or variations in Âsolar radiation. The differences in temperature lead to air currents which in turn influence rainfall. On the scale of tens of thousands of years, the Earth experienced numerous episodes of glacial cooling, alternating with warmer intervals. Following the last major glaciation which began 110,000 years ago, a transition to warmer conditions from 16,000 to 11,500 years ago was characterized by frequent climatic oscillations. Bands of foragers in climatically sensitive habitats, such as semi-desert regions in Southwest Asia, North Africa and China responded with a variety of social and food-extractive technologies. These included intensive utilization of wild grasses and managing animal games, the manufacture and use of grinding stones, trapping, the use of bows and arrows, as well as food preservation. While some continued to elaborate their hunting gear, others settled down to maximize the gain from wild grain resources. The most successful groups lived in the Eastern Mediterranean where wild wheat and barley were abundant. Fekri Hassan is Emeritus Petrie Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. He is Editor-in-Chief of the UNESCO seven volume book series History of Water and Civilization. He was formerly Vice-President of the World Archaeology Congress and President of the International Water History Association.
& Our Common Future
ÂŠ ZEITDIEB PHOTOGRAHY/stop motion in paris
THE INVENTION OF AGRICULTURE From 11,600 to 8,200 years ago, the climate became warmer and in the Eastern Mediterranean, wetter. It was during this period that successive generations of foragers, who took advantage of the well-watered habitats, adopted farming as their dominant mode of obtaining food. This marked the most remarkable revolutionary achievement of humankind—the invention of agriculture. Life has never been the same since. Villages coalesced to form corporate village communities governed by councils or chiefs. Afterwards, conglomerates of farming communities
The government collapsed. Famines ravaged the rural population, violence erupted and the whole country slipped into a state of chaos. In Mesopotamia, early state societies emerging by the beginning of the fifth millennium B.C. depended heavily on irrigation to overcome the recurrent droughts and floods of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. They invented the shaduf water lifting device, and used canals, drainage channels, weirs, dykes and reservoirs. Unlike Egypt, the soils of the floodplain were prone to salinization, which reduced productivity. The rulers resorted to warfare as early as 4,500 years ago, which ultimately
By 5000 B.C., some early agrarian states had developed into the world’s first great civilizations. But by around 4200 B.C., an abrupt turn of climate led to dramatic changes all over the world. merged into kingdoms, while those who managed cattle, sheep and goats became herders and roamed the rain-fed grasslands outside the river valleys preferred by farmers. The effect of climate change on humanity under this new agrarian regime with its politically more complex organization assumed a new turn. This has been mostly due, in part, to the nature of the agrarian ecology and economic growth potential. Agricultural yields fluctuated annually, in part because of interannual variability in rainfall, but more importantly, they also varied responding to decadal and centennial changes in climatic conditions, which influenced both the flow of rivers and rainfall in the grasslands. These problems were tackled by digging irrigation canals to parched lands, drains to dispose of excess water and building dykes to protect fields and settlements from the ravages of floods. GREAT CIVILIZATIONS As agrarian communities expanded, they developed into complex political States with a hierarchical management. State officials, clerks, and priests who deployed rituals and myths to promote and buttress the policies of the State led to an increase in the demand for greater food production. These demands were met by extracting tributes from the farmers who had to work harder and expand their fields to meet the growing demands of the State functionaries. By the 5000 B.C. the early agrarian States had developed into the world’s first great civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India. But by around 4200 B.C., an abrupt turn of climate led to dramatic changes all over the world. On the banks of the Nile, the Egyptians had established a centralized State. Successive dynasties constructed imposing pyramids for four hundred years from 4600 to 4200 B.C., before a sudden, unanticipated series of reduced Nile flood discharge spelled disaster. 8
led to the rise of the militaristic Akkadian Empire 200 years later. The Akkadians extended their rule over rain-fed regions to increase their income from tributary sources. However, the high expenses of keeping a military empire, the loss of productivity as fields and farmers were overworked, and a growing dependence on products from marginal rain-fed lands placed the Akkadian Empire at the risk of collapse from any internal or external perturbations. After no more than a century since its rise, the empire fell prey to three consequences of the global climatic event of 4,200 years ago. First, the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates was vastly reduced, undermining the productivity from the valleys. Second, the yield from rain-fed farming suffered from droughts. Third, the Gutian nomadic tribes living in the Zagros mountains and suffering from droughts that affected pastures, took advantage of the weakening Akkadian Empire and its internal strife: they made travel unsafe, disrupted the economy and undermined tribute collection, thus depriving the empire from its vital resources. Further East, in China, rice and millet cultivation became the dominant mode of subsistence since 11,600 years, due to abundant monsoonal rain. However, the droughts of 4,200 years ago led to the abandonment of settlements in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River as those rains were failing. Along the Yellow River, shifts in its course, as well as soil erosion as a result of climatic fluctuations and farming, contributed to the rise of hierarchical complex societies before they were threatened by the climatic cooling event in 4200 B.C., which not only caused droughts, but also led to a decrease in the number of frost-free days, thus hurting agricultural productivity. This is indicated by the decline of the Longshan culture in the Yellow River Valley around 4000 cal. yr BP, and the agrarian societies around Central China. It also seems
fekri hassan climate change & our common future
that the droughts may have encouraged political integration and cooperation to overcome famines, leading to the emergence of the first dynasty to be described in historical sources, the Xia Dynasty of China (about 4,100 to 3,600 years ago) in the western area of Henan Province and southern Shanxi Province. Since 4,200 years, many kingdoms and empires rose and fell, mostly as a result of the predominance of warfare to secure land and labour in order to expand production. More often than not, in the long run, internal rivalries, the costs of controlling vast territories inhabited by disgruntled heavily taxed peasants, as well the cost of endless military battles, led to a rapid turnover of dynasties. By the first century A.D., many of the previous kingdoms and empires were overrun by the Roman Empire. But it was not long before this vast empire, almost global in its outreach, began to suffer from the same problems that had previously hastened the demise of earlier empires. Climate change during the third and fifth centuries A.D. provided the final blow. Here again, as in the case of the Gutians and the Akkadians, successive droughts led to the nomadic, horse-mounted archery attacks of the Huns
to 900 A.D. A similar climatic event contributed to the collapse of the Classic Maya in Central America. It is important to stress that climatic change is only one of the many causes of the collapse of civilizations, and that perhaps more important factors are those related to how societies are governed. Perhaps the effect of climate change on the Tang Empire would have been averted had the aging Emperor Xuanzong not been complacent or indifferent to State affairs; or had he not appointed wicked chancellors who corrupted the political order and by 755 A.D. possibly unable to prevent the enemy troops to menace the empire? Is not a military imperial system vulnerable to climate change? Would a system without oppressive military rule evaded the rise of separatist forces during the eighth and ninth centuries A.D.? Finally, would a more equitable and charitable policy by the Tang Emperor towards peasants prevented their largescale uprising in 859 A.D.? Let us not single out climate change as the principal cause for the rise or collapse of civilizations. Then and now, climate change can be handled by systems of management which ensure that unjust actions do not impair the vitality of the natural
Global warming—to which industrial countries have heavily contributed— is a wake up call ... to the current deficiency in our political and social institutions and values. on the Germanic tribes, who in turn attacked the Romans. The effect of climate change on the grasslands of the deserts and semi-deserts was again responsible for the rise of the attacks by the Mongols in the twelfth century A.D., whose ancestors now live in Mongolia, China, (Inner Mongolia), Russia, and a few other central Asian countries. Not only would that climatic instability encourage the Mongol nomads to attack settled communities, but it also weakened the settled kingdoms and empires making them vulnerable. The climatic events that contributed to the expansion of the Mongols were global—known as the the Medieval Climatic Anomaly. They had a profound effect on Europe during the medieval period. They were also influential in many other parts of the world, including North America. In Egypt, droughts from the ninth to the early part of the thirteenth century A.D., led to severe famines and political upheaval. The end of the glorious Tang Empire of China (907 A.D.) is now believed to have been hastened by climate change. Historic shifts in the annual monsoon cycle in China may have pushed the Tang Dynasty into terminal decline: a prolonged drought and poor summer rains fuelled peasant uprisings that brought about the dynasty’s end. Archaeologists found evidence of stronger winter monsoon winds leading to migrations of rain associated with the Intertropical Convergence Zone from 700
abitat, that rulers do not overexploit the masses for the benefit h of a few, and do not resort to military power to colonize or plunder the resources and peoples of other nations. Just like many previous social systems that have become extinct, we are extremely vulnerable. Indeed, the situation is now worse because the economies of all nations are closely interconnected and because the cumulative effect of polluting the planet by industrialization over the last 200 years is now threatening a global climatic upheaval. The planet has also become overpopulated, overcrowded, and over-urbanized. Within the last 50 years, the demand for water, to single out one of our vital resources, has risen, depriving more than the one billion people from access to clean drinking water. In my opinion, there is no solution for resolving our global crisis without putting aside short-sighted, nationalistic policies, and financial enterprises and forging a global managerial institution. Such an institution would unify and coordinate the know-how, the financial and human resources of all nations, to rehabilitate our threatened environments, and promote and disseminate new, safe technologies to reduce hunger and poverty. Global warming—to which industrial countries have heavily contributed—is a wake up call, not just to the threats of climate change, but more importantly to the current deficiency in our political and social institutions and values. unc
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
© Christoph dangelmaier
By Nemat Sadat
ou know that with a sea-level rise of over 1.5 metres, hundreds of millions of people would be dead. They would simply be wiped out,” President Mohammed Nasheed of the Republic of Maldives told the UN Chronicle just two days after he addressed other world leaders at the 2009 UN General Assembly Summit on Climate Change. The threat posed by rising sea levels has been the centrepiece of climate change negotiations, the main issue emphasized by Small Island Developing States, also known as the sids. With less than a month to go until the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Nemat Sadat is pursuing a Master of Science degree in negotiation & conflict resolution at Columbia University.
Copenhagen, many who regard global warming as some vague phenomenon are perhaps beginning to wonder how their lives might be affected down the road. But there is no need to look into the future to see that sids are already threatened by escalating tides, cyclones, flooding, damaged crops, increased disease, the inundation of coastal areas and the loss of freshwater supplies. sids are indeed on the “front lines” of climate change. The post-industrial age of mass fossil fuel consumption has dramatically accelerated the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) to dangerous levels, damaging the environment and infrastructure of many sids and other low-lying regions. The poorer countries flanked by large bodies of water—who have contributed the least to global warming,
nemat sadat small islands, rising seas
including rapid sea-level rise—now find themselves at the precarious mercy of the historical polluters. Developed neighbours in the global North are losing their credibility very quickly, Ambassador Ronny Jumeau, Permanent Representative of the Seychelles to the United Nations told the UN Chronicle. “Let’s say my neighbour flooded my house entirely on his own, while I didn’t contribute. Yet, I have to now borrow money from him, then pay him interest for the rest of my life, in order to clean the mess in my house that he is responsible for. This is dishonest.” The Seeds of an Alliance At the United Nations, 43 of the world’s smallest island and low-lying coastal countries, representing the Member States most susceptible to
change in climate, forged a coalition called the Alliance of Small Island States (aosis). While aosis represents more than one quarter of the world’s countries, together they account for less than one per cent of global carbon emissions. Once the former President of the Republic of Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, gave a dramatic speech referred to as the “Death of a Nation” at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and at the UN General Assembly in October 1987, the idea of a bloc of island nations gained momentum. Three years later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) published its first assessment on climate change coinciding with the 1990 Second World Climate Conference in Geneva, and sids was born. Ambassadors of small island States refer to President Gayoom as the “brainchild” of their coalition. Twenty two years later, in the UN General Assembly Hall, President Nasheed told world leaders that they must “discard the habits that have led to 20 years of complacency and broken promises on climate change,” made in 1990. Negotiating Positions vs. Interests At a press conference at UN Head quarters in July 2009, Ambassador Desama Williams, Permanent Repre sentative of Grenada to the United Nations and the current chairperson of aosis, stressed the need to reduce the level of temperature increases to a figure less than 1.5° Celsius, both as short and medium targets. She said, “Without adequate global commitments to make deep cuts to temperature increases caused by greenhouse gas emissions, small islands would be the first to be washed away into the sea.” To prevent islands from sinking into the ocean, each Member State should put aside the stand-off surrounding the
thorny adaptation and mitigation issues and focus on their collective global interest. Thus far, positional arguments, a term in negotiations referring to arguing over precise numbers, have brought little success. What’s needed now to overcome the political challenges is an enduring and practical solution that all Member States can rally behind—a realistic and substantive climate policy that ensures economic growth and sustainable development in all regions of the world. But how can tiny islands like Comoros or Palau carry enough bargaining chips to convince the international community to make this issue a call to action? The cruel irony, according to Ambassador Jumeau, is that sids find themselves in a tough bind if they talk any louder than they do: “We can’t go on a crusade around the world. The more noise we make, the more we scare away investors and tourists and destroy our own livelihood,” the Ambassador said. While these countries face limitations on how much they can blame the industrialized North, Ambassador Jumeau pointed out that “the climate change debate doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We maintain good relations with our former colonial masters, France and the United Kingdom, so we cannot just come out and bash them tomorrow. And we don’t have natural allies in the South either; even that requires fierce negotiations. So what you have is a group of increasingly frustrated States.” The Beacons of the World But while frustration may be prevalent among sids, they have been crucial drivers in pushing climate change on to the United Nations agenda and instrumental in reaching international agreements in the past. One example is the role Papua New Guinea played by
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
bringing the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (redd) into discussions during the December 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia. Essentially, the redd forests-for-carbon credits initiative is meant to reduce emissions in developing countries by funding conservation, reforestation and poverty reduction while fighting climate change. Professor Graciela Chichilnisky of Columbia University, who was involved in the drafting of the Kyoto Protocol told the UN Chronicle, “While Papua New Guinea is a very tiny nation, it essentially pulled the United States into the Kyoto process with its intervention and accepted reforestation in exchange for carbon credits”. On the last day of the Bali conference, Kevin Conrad, a member of the Papua New Guinea delegation, responded after Paula Dobriansky, a U.S. delegate, noted any unwillingness by the U.S. to support the Bali Road Map. (The Map charts the course for a new negotiating process designed to tackle climate change, with the aim of completing this by 2009.) Mr Conrad interjected, “There is an old saying: if you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of our way.” The room flooded with applause and several minutes later, Ms Dobriansky reversed the position of the U.S. As a unified voice backed by the UN system, aosis is exemplary in the way it wields clout to reverberate its position and the way it strategizes on climate policy. Professor Chichilnisky explained the crucial role aosis plays in drafting climate policy. “Any agreement that the island States accept would be difficult for the G-77 (group of developing countries) to reject. So in that sense they have the decisionmaking power.” In an interview with the UN Chronicle, Ambassador Ahmed Khaleel, the Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations said:
“The success of aosis is that we share a common passion and have been strict about speaking with one voice and sticking with one voice. We don’t give in on key principles of climate change.”
is also important in how resources will be focused to reduce vulnerability to climate change.
The Global Security Element
With climate change emerging as a security issue, one thing is certain, that the international community in 2009 has reached a global consensus: the scientific argument about whether global warming is real, is over. “With the effects of climate change real and immediate, those with dissenting views about the implications of global warming now have their head stuck in the sand,” Raymond Wolfe, the Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations told the UN Chronicle. “For the Caribbean region, hurricanes present a clear and present danger; they are occurring more intensely and at alarming levels.”
© Sacha ghiglione
Speaking to the UN Chronicle, President Nasheed warned that the conflict over climate change could escalate, causing disruption to many parts of the world. “Countries are now under threat because of climate change and because of the stress climate change has on resources. It’s not just an environmental issue; it’s now about a global security issue.” President Nasheed spoke about the global security element as a consequence of a significant milestone that a regional group of small island developing States from the Pacific reached last June when the General Assembly passed a resolution recognizing the possible security implications of climate change. While the resolution, co-sponsored by all aosis members, is non-binding, it does represent a symbolic victory to establish moral weight and move climate change onto the agenda for the more powerful UN Security Council. In an interview with the UN Chronicle, Caleb Christopher, legal advisor to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the United Nations, said his country’s position is that climate change is a threat to national security and global stability. The argument is that, essentially, if you lose one country that is a member of the United Nations, that in and of itself poses a serious international issue. Mr Christopher contended that “based on the language of Article 1 of the UN Charter, there isn’t much of a distinction between a military army invading and sea-level rise sinking an island into extinction.” The relevance of climate change as a security matter
Imminent Danger: Point of No Return
In fact, the cost of Hurricane Ivan which struck the Caribbean Island of Grenada destroyed 90 per cent of built infrastructure—nearly twice the value of the country’s annual gross domestic product (gdp). In addition to hurricanes, Ambassador Wolfe said, “We’ve also been hit by a triple tsunami—a food, energy, and financial crisis—all of which have been exacerbated by climate change.” A similar scenario is evolving in Maldives, said Ambassador Khaleel: “We are seeing the adverse affects of climate change every day. Nobody can say it’s not happening when you see for yourself the extent of beach erosion.” For small island States with no continental shelf, the coral reefs serve as the natural protection from the sea. “When sea level rises, it damages coral reefs; when coral reefs are destroyed, that’s it, we are finished. When coral reefs die,
Atolls of the Maldives nemat sadat small islands, rising seas
the fishing industry and tourism industry dies with it”, stressed Ambassador Khaleel. The Boomerang Economy The economy of the Maldives has been greatly affected by the 2004 tsunami caused by the Indian Ocean earthquake; the environmental refugee crisis is the latest battle in their fight to prevent extinction. The tsunami that took a devastating toll of human life in other countries in the Indian Ocean luckily spared the inhabitants of the Maldives due to the country’s lack of a continental shelf, which prevented the high-speed buildup of waves crashing intensely onto its shores as it did in neighbouring India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Ambassador Khaleel said, “While human toll of the tsunami resulted in 120 people dead, economically, Maldives was hardest hit. We lost six seaports and our main source of freshwater. Over 68 per cent of our gdp was wiped out within two minutes.” The lasting effects of the tsunami are an indication of how damaging rising sea levels actually are. After four years of recovering from the tsunami, evacuating people from sinking islands and saddled with a high debt to income, Maldives experienced another round of assault when the food crisis hit two years later, followed by the global financial crisis. Yet, despite all these setbacks, Maldives has been adapting strict environmental codes and is going green. President Nasheed told the UN Chronicle, “We are investing money in capturing carbon with a bio-charge project and putting more money into renewable energy plants— wind mills and solar panels—that we can harness.” Explaining how more than 30 per cent of global carbon emissions come directly from buildings, President Nasheed said, “We have been enforcing strict building codes that are reducing
energy and increasing efficiency. In a sense we will develop a survival kit that will also achieve our objectives.” The global financial crisis may further affect the resilience of small islands. In the first quarter of 2009, high-end tourism in Maldives plunged 11 per cent, according to Ambassador Khaleel. But not all well-heeled tourists will cease to visit their favourite holiday spots. Climate change will stop tourists from visiting long before any enduring financial crisis. “Every crisis has a silver lining though,” Ambassador Khaleel said, adding “time is something we cannot afford. We need things to be done as quickly as possible. For us, it means do-or-die.” Even with so many issues to grapple with, an economy so heavily reliant on tourism, Maldives is doing a variety of things to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2020. President Nasheed said, “There is no reason why no other country cannot do the same. We understand the costs involved to replace existing energy. We want to focus on what you should do, not what we shouldn’t.”
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
Mitigating Human Issues The humanitarian issues facing the people of small island States who are internally displaced or evacuating their island are being ignored by the international community, according to Ambassador Khaleel. Even with the threat of mass migration and litigation against major greenhouse polluters, the problem of climate change refugees has been left unresolved. Ambassador Khaleel observed that a “lack of fresh sources of water is a major issue that is creating tensions and causing refugees.” Under international law, people displaced by climate change are not recognized as a group with defined rights or as a group in need of special protection. They do not fall within the definition of the 1951 Refugee Convention and therefore lack the same legal rights. After intense lobbying by Maldives, small islands achieved a breakthrough on human rights in March 2008, when the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution that climate change “poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world.”
AOSIS or Alliance of Small Island States is a coalition of low-lying and small island countries. These nations are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and share common positions on climate change. The 43 members and observers are American Samoa, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cape Verde, Comoros, Cook Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Grenada, Guam, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Nauru, Netherlands Antilles, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Vanuatu. “The message is that hope is not lost,” said Mr Christopher, as he explained how the UN High Commissioner for Refugees issued a report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc) last May about the statelessness of populations on sinking islands. While climate change refugees may not have refugee rights, they are recognized under Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which defines a stateless person as: “A person who is not considered a national by any State under the operation of its law. Should a State cease to exist, citizenship of that State would cease, as there would no longer be a State of which a person could be a national.” The question is then the extent to which climate change could affect statehood. The Diplomatic Confrontation Back in New York, negotiators of sids who are increasingly looking to the West to take the lead are realizing that the focus of the developed world is primarily on China and India. Like the powerhouses in the East, Brazil is the third largest emitter in the developing world, and it has similar concerns as China and India regarding climate change negotiations. Speaking to the UN Chronicle, Paulo Chiarielli, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations said, “Brazil has mitigated climate change by investing heavily in renewable sources of energy, such as ethanol. We can provide an example to other countries on how to build a low-carbon economy. But, in order for developing countries to get there, financial and technological support from the developed countries
is required.” But questions of financial resources and technical support are where the negotiation stalemate is. Singapore is one aosis member concerned about the core issues that affect the sids. Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told the UN Chronicle, “We believe that the biggest burden should be placed on countries that have polluted the most in the past. In particular, developed countries should help developing States, especially small island States.” The developed countries want firm commitments from developing countries before making any concessions. But Ambassador Menon said, “If you want the developing world to come on board, you have to make financing and technology available. It cannot be just a case of you (the developed countries) developing the technology and sending it to developing countries, expecting them to buy from you and attain the standards you want them to achieve.” While there has been engagement of the international community on climate change, no one is willing yet to put actual numbers on the table. Mr Christopher said, “Annex I countries* don’t want to be nailed without knowing what other countries are doing. This is the major reason why no one is agreeing on the text and what the exact table is going to look like.” According to Mr Christopher, the two rounds of negotiation talks in June 2008 and again in August 2009 in Bonn, Germany, * Annex I countries include the industrialized countries that were members of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) in 1992, plus countries with economies in transition (the EIT Parties), including the Russian Federation, the Baltic States, and several Central and Eastern European States.
nemat sadat small islands, rising seas
amounted to the narrowing down and streamlining of the 200-plus pages of draft text. There was no quid pro quo. A few thousand square brackets remain as points of contention. aosis believes that Annex 1 countries must not engage in economic opportunism when dealing with climate change. Referring to these countries, Ambassador Wolfe said, “When it suited you, you endlessly polluted the Earth with greenhouse emissions to generate wealth and strengthen your economies, now you need to set the example and take the lead before you demand we take radical cuts.” Ambassador Jumeau said, “Where are these guys coming from? When poor countries come out as the villains it’s truly a sad state of affairs. We just don’t see India and China in the same light. Pollution per capita in both [of these countries] is fairly low. What is the carbon footprint of each Chinese compared to a person in the United States or elsewhere in the North?” Ambassador Jumeau went further to explain how countries in the North use per capita when it is most convenient for them, especially when figures are stacked up against them. One of the challenges in using per capita figures for small islands is that while they remain the most vulnerable to climate change, many will be graduating to a middleincome country, which means a lot of benefits will cease to exist, making their ability to adapt to climate change all the more daunting. Ambassador Khaleel said, “We are graduating in January 2010, but that doesn’t reduce our vulnerability. It just makes matters worse.” In an interview with the UN Chronicle, Ambassador Carsten Staur, the Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations said,
“Of course, the problem has been created by industrialized countries. Now we are asking everybody to participate in resolving it. We know it’s a tall order. On the other hand, even if there were no further emissions from countries to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (oecd), we would still not be able to limit the increase in global temperature to 2° Celsius. So developing countries and emerging economies will have to be part of the solution, with our support, of course.” But developing countries approach climate change around the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, which informs the unfccc and recognizes the differences in the historical contributions of developed and developing countries to global environmental problems. Ambassador Jumeau said, “If you are in a position to do something about climate change, lead by example. People with the means and capacity live in the West,” explaining how it would sound to turn around the developed world’s argument: “Since we are polluting the least, we should do the least,” he said. The Crux of Globalization UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon refers to a time of “multiple crises” where sudden hikes in fuel and food prices, the financial crisis, and the outbreak of flu are exacerbating the ability to safeguard against climate change. But there is nothing inherent in global politics, technology, or the sheer availability of resources on the planet to prevent the social and ecological crises resulting from climate change, according to Jeffrey Sachs in his book Common Wealth. It is, according to Mr Sachs, the barriers in the limited capacity to cooperate on a global level that is preventing a substantive agreement. Mr Sachs writes, “The paradox of a unified global economy and divided
global society poses the single greatest threat to the planet because it makes impossible the cooperation needed to address the remaining challenges.” Climate change is the most evident example of rapid globalization, according to Caleb Christopher. “This is a highly complex issue, probably the most challenging and unique issue of our time. Global cooperation is needed in order to succeed,” he said. UN Secretary General Ban, in his keynote speech to the World Federation of United Nations Associations, stressed that “we have less than ten years to halt the global rise in greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences for people and the planet.” Paradise Life after the Meltdown In the context of the aftermath of the financial crisis and the current global recession, “climate change is now a threat multiplier,” Ambassador Staur told the UN Chronicle, adding that “the cost of changing the ‘business as usual’ to a low-carbon society will require the commitment of all of us. But it will also be an opportunity for a new growth trajectory for the future.” Small islands have no choice but to commit themselves to an agreement. Many sids import 80 to 90 per cent of what they consume, do not have enough land for agricultural self-sufficiency, are even more prone to global shocks, and don’t have the luxury to write themselves a bailout stimulus cheque. Ambassador Jumeau said, “The financial crisis has weakened our resilience and ability to address climate change issues. At this critical juncture of survival, sids no longer have the capacity to respond to humanitarian evacuations, reconstruct their economies, and simultaneously deal with new battlegrounds created with sea-level rise.” Mr Christopher explained that, bound by the UN Law of the Sea,
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rising sea levels would create far greater uncertainties that just islands and nearby coastal States. Many countries would experience a shift in their outer boundaries of the zones of valuable ocean territory, which could induce conflicting claims to ocean resources and rights. Even if sids could build sea walls to buttress their islands from escalating tides, they still would not be able to adapt to global carbon emissions forever, before they get swallowed into the sea. Negotiating for a Survival Kit
aosis leaders say that they lack the geopolitical leverage and economic powerhouse that other influential UN Member States bring to the negotiating table. Ambassador Jumeau asked, “What do we have? Yes, we are holiday spots, but if you lose one, there will always be another one to travel to. What else do we have? Tuna. Well that will probably disappear before we do anyway.” This is why aosis advocates that the world has a moral obligation to make sure “no island State is left behind.” After negotiations, if the aosis proposal is considered, the immediate task will be to limit temperature increase for both short- and mediumterm targets to less than 1.5° Celsius; for the long-term, it will be to redesign the system to a sustainable pattern of lowcarbon economic growth. In the meantime, aosis countries are reaching the tipping point. “This is the mountain we are climbing. We are not scared. The deal won’t be perfect but the best deal is possible”, said Selwin Hart, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Barbados to the United Nations. “But if you listen to sids on climate change, you will get the best deal possible. By guaranteeing the existence of small island States, you save the entire global existence.” unc
An Indian farmer pleased with his downy mildew-resistant improved pearl millet hybrid HHB 67.
A Hypothesis for the
▶resilient eco-systems ▶resilient crops ▶resilient livestock ▶resilient communities
World By William Dar
99 per cent of climate change casualties take place in the developing world. While economic
growth and development are priorities in all countries, the needs in developing and least eveloped countries are on a different scale altogether. Developing countries are constrained by their particud lar vulnerability to the impacts of fickle weather and climate. The poor in these countries are at a higher risk to future climate change, given their heavy dependence on agriculture, strong reliance on ecosystem services, rapid growth and concentration of population and relatively poor health services. Add to this gloomy scenario insufficient capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, inadequate infrastructure, meagre household income and savings and limited support from public services and you have a veritable time bomb ticking away. 16
william dar a hypothesis of hope for the developing world
Climate change, if left unchecked, will worsen food insecurity. Millions of people in countries that suffer from food insecurity will have to give up traditional crops and agricultural methods as they experience changes in the seasons that they have taken for granted. The vicious circle of reduced crop yield, resulting in lower income and fewer resources for the following year’s planting season, leads to the poor becoming poorer. So what does that imply for about 1.5 billion people, nearly 60 per cent of the workforce in developing nations, who are engaged in agriculture? Since agriculture constitutes a much larger fraction of the Gross Domestic Product in developing countries, even a small percentage of loss in agricultural productivity could snowball into a larger proportionate income loss in a developing country than in an industrial one. And of all the potential damages which could occur from climate change, the damage to agriculture could be among the most devastating. Climate change also threatens poverty reduction because poor people depend directly on endangered ecosystems and their services for their well-being. They also lack the resources to adequately defend themselves or to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances. And more importantly, their voices are not sufficiently heard in international discussions, particularly in climate change negotiations. As a result of global warming, the type, frequency and intensity of extreme weather, such as tropical cyclones, floods, droughts and heavy precipitation, are expected to rise even with relatively small increases in average temperatures. New climate studies show that extreme heat waves are likely to become common in the tropics and subtropics by the end of the twenty-first century. Given the fact that 2 billion people already live in the driest parts of the world where climate change is projected to reduce yields even further, the challenge of putting enough food in 9 billion mouths by 2050 is daunting!
Unhindered climate change has the potential to negatively impact any prospects for sustainable development in developing countries. As rural communities across the developing world feel the pressures of climate change, high food prices and environmental and energy crises, never have new knowledge, technologies and policy insights been more critical. A conducive and comprehensive policy environment that enhances opportunities for smallholders, given the climate change scenario, needs to encompass all levels: farm, regional, national and global. It must include adaptation strategies, more investment in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and access to markets for small farmers. Adaptation to climate change needs to be integrated into developmental activities. Policies on adaptation should include changes in land use and timing of farming operations, adaptive breeding and technologies, irrigation infrastructure, water storage, and water management. In addition, long-term weather forecasting, dissemination of technology, creating drought and flood-resistant crop varieties, will require national and international planning and investment. Climate change worsens water quality and availability in regions that are already water-stressed. Almost 95 per cent of water in developing countries is used to irrigate farmlands. Therefore, improving water management for drinking and agriculture by understanding water flows and water quality, improving rainwater harvesting, water storage and the diversification of irrigation techniques is critical. Greener practices, better erosion control and soil conservation measures, agroforestry and forestry techniques, forest fire management and finding alternative clean energy sources as well as better town planning are some other steps that can be initiated to blunt the impacts of climate change. Agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions may be reduced by new crop planting and livestock breeding technologies. In addition, the emerging market for carbon emissions trading offers new opportunities for farmers to benefit from land management that sequesters carbon. here is an urgent need for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies to be integrated into national and regional development programmes. Developing countries also need to participate in a globally integrated approach to this problem. The crucial role of weather and climate services and products in developing adaptation solutions must be emphasized. Available climate information in developing countries must be taken stock of in order to ascertain where the systematic observation needs are most pressing. Collaboration between national and international providers of climate information and users in all sectors, and generating awareness among different user communities of the usefulness of such information, is crucial. Climate change assessment tools are needed that are more geographically precise and are more useful for agricultural policy, programme review and scenario
The vicious circle of reduced crop yield, resulting in lower income and fewer resources for the following year’s planting season, leads to the poor becoming poorer.
William Dar is Director General, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (www.icrisat.org).
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Economic diversification to reduce dependence on climate-sensitive resources is an important adaptation strategy. Improved food security through crop diversification, developing local food banks for people and livestock and improving local food preservation needs to be encouraged.
According to the IPCC, irrigation accounts for about 70% of total water withdrawals worldwide and for more than 90% of consumptive water use (ie, the water volume that is not available for reuse downstream). Irrigation generates about 40% of total agricultural output. The area of global irrigated land has increased approximately since 1960, at a rate of roughly 2% per annum, from 140 million hectares in 1961/63 to 270 million hectares in 1997/99, representing about 18% of today’s total cultivated land.
assessment. These tools will more explicitly incorporate the biophysical constraints that affect agricultural productivity. Packaging this data for its effective use and rescuing historical meteorological data are equally important. mong other important elements that should feature in any national and international approach to address climate change is to engage the private sector, lower costs through the inclusion of market mechanisms, and focus on development and dissemination of new technologies. A progressive policy environment should ideally include more investment in infrastructure and education; a renewed agenda for agricultural research and increased investment in agricultural research and development; sustainable agricultural and natural resource management practices; and advanced technologies that can generate climate-resilient crop varieties and better-adapted livestock breeds. Research that improves understanding and predictions of the interactions between climate change and agriculture should be funded. Collective action to build the livelihood options and risk management capacity of vulnerable groups would be another critical step. Capacity-building to integrate climate change into sectoral development plans, involving local communities in education on climate change and raising public awareness are unavoidable if we have to overcome the serious threats posed by climate change. Unless steps are taken to initiate and strengthen cooperation among academic and research institutions, regional and international organizations and non-governmental organizations to provide opportunities for strengthening institutions and capacity building, dealing with climate change impacts may be unmanageable. Economic diversification to reduce dependence on climate-sensitive resources is an important adaptation strategy that must be promoted. Improved food security through crop diversification, developing local food banks for people and livestock and improving local food preservation needs to be encouraged. Given the diversity of agro-ecological zones and their inherent problems, it is also essential to assemble, document and disseminate a comprehensive and action-oriented database of adaptation options of different farming and livelihood systems and agro-ecological zones, including measures and policies, to serve the needs of smallholder farmers. Since farmers are often constrained by access to credit, facilitating better access to credit and agricultural inputs in order to intensify integrated production systems is a related area that needs attention. Catastrophic or weather-risk insurance and index insurance (insurance linked to a particular index such as rainfall, humidity, or crop yields rather than actual loss) can be used as new climate risk management tools in developing countries. The multilateral funds that have been pledged for climate change adaptation across developing countries currently amount to about $400 million—a sharp contrast to the $4 to $86 billion needed annually, as estimated by experts and aid agencies. There is also a great need to mobilize resources to strengthen research on the impact of climate change on agriculture in different agro-ecological zones where empirical evidence and research results remain insufficient. One area that has been neglected is gender diversity, which needs to be tackled to bring wider perspectives into decision making, since climate change and natural disasters have gender-differentiated impacts. Women can contribute significantly to this process.
william dar a hypothesis of hope for the developing world
Dealing with climate change is not just a matter of reducing carbon emissions of developed nations. Developing countries have themselves begun to increase their energy demand, but they do not have the same access to—or resources for—clean energy technology. However, the very countries that are most vulnerable are those that have contributed least to the current atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses. Climate justice will be done if there is a responsibility among the historically largest contributors to assist them in achieving development goals in ways that contribute to adaptation and mitigation goals. he recent L’Aquila Food Security Initiative linked the need for effective actions on global food security to that concerning climate change, sustainable management of water, land, soil and other natural resources, including the protection of biodiversity. Fundamental climate change mitigation and adaptation goals will be effectively met if agriculture is included in international climate negotiations such as the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Copenhagen, in December 2009. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (icrisat) addresses climate change concerns with programmes supportive of dryland agriculture. It does this by developing and using sophisticated techniques of predicting and forecasting the monsoons in the context of climate change; enabling collective action and rural institutions for agriculture and natural resource management; upscaling and outscaling its community watershed management model; rehabilitating degraded lands and diversifying livelihood systems for landless and vulnerable groups; and initiating government support for water saving options. Recognizing that managing climatic uncertainty and adapting to change cannot be an end in itself, icrisat has integrated climate risk management across its research agenda. Its Integrated Genetic and Natural Resource Management (ignrm) approach to climate proofing involves better drought and heat-tolerant crop varieties grown in farming as well as land-use systems that conserve water both in the crop’s root zone and in the wells and reservoirs of villagers. icrisat believes that in order to adapt to climate change, agricultural communities and stakeholders need to first enhance their ability to cope better with the rainfall variability associated with current climates. The Institute is currently partnering with meteorological services, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (cgiar) centres and climate science specialists in several projects pertaining to climate risk management in Asia and Africa. We are helping farmers devise ways to manage landscapes, soils and crops so that more of the water and nutrient resources are stored and used more efficiently and over a longer time period. icrisat already possesses crops that are tolerant of heat and high soil temperatures, a knowledge and understanding of flowering maturities, information on genetic variation for water-use efficiency, short duration crops that escape terminal
© WHO /Marko Kokic
Rise in temperature and more variable precipitation add to the already severe drought conditions, such as in Niger. Water and food scarcity has a big impact on the health of already vulnerable communities.
Climate justice will be done if there is a responsibility among the historically largest contributors to assist in achieving development goals in ways that contribute to adaptation and mitigation goals.
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drought, as well as high yielding and disease-resistant crops. For instance, we have developed short-duration chickpea cultivars iccv 2 (Shweta), iccc 37 (Kranti) and kak 2 and shortduration groundnut cultivar iccv 91114 that escapes terminal drought. We recently developed a super-early pigeonpea that flowers in 32 days and matures in about 65-70 days We have integrated trees into traditional annual cropping systems to help reduce the impacts of winds and protect soils from erosion. icrisat has developed plants that resist pests and pathogens, such as downy mildew-resistant improved pearl millet hybrid hhb 67 in India; wilt-resistant high-yielding pigeonpea iceap 00040 in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania and rosette-resistant groundnuts in Uganda, to name a few. Guiding our crop adaptation work are crop growth simulation models that examine the disaggregated impact of a range of climate change scenarios on our mandate crops across the semi-arid tropics of the world. icrisat has an evolutionary advantage since its mandate crops are already more adapted to heat and high soil temperatures. Our breeding strategy factors in these harsh and dry conditions. What we need to better understand are the physiological mechanism underlying heat tolerance; identify wider gene pools to develop crops of wider adaptability; and develop more effective screening techniques of germplasm for desired traits. icrisat is also responding to challenges by exploiting the potential of ‘pro-poor’ opportunities for biofuel production. Its BioPower initiative argues for more investments in bio-energy crops and systems to provide a major impetus for sustainable development; and for empowering the dryland poor to benefit, rather than marginalize, so that farmers can better cope with climate change or other stresses. The current activities include developing higher-yielding sweet sorghum varieties for food, fuel, feed and fodder; pilot-scaling pro-poor commercial startup partnerships in sweet sorghum bioethanol; and research-to-development alliances for propoor Jatropha plantation development for biodiesel. icrisat studies have generated a “hypothesis of hope” which states that the impact of climate change on yields under low input agriculture is likely to be minimal, as other factors will continue to provide the overriding constraints to crop growth and yield. Secondly, the adoption of recommended improved crop, soil and water management practices, even under climate change, will result in substantially higher yields than farmers are currently obtaining in their low input systems. Thirdly, the adaptation of better “temperature-adapted” varieties could result in the almost complete mitigation of climate change effects that result from temperature increases. In conclusion, if developing countries are to contribute meaningfully to efforts toward adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts, they will need the strengthened capacity that comes with development. unc
A Clean Climate by Nawal El Saadawi
ow to have a clean climate? Climate pollution is not separate from other different types of pollutions we have in our public and private lives–including military wars; invasion of other nations to exploit their resources; killing women and men under the name of god or religious law; spreading dangerous poisons in the air; water and soil to increase profit and economic interests of the few; and spreading dangerous lies and misconceptions to veil the mind of the majority of people, only to dominate and exploit them. We live in a world governed globally and locally with power and not justice or freedom or humanity. The powerful few feel free to pollute our physical, mental and social environment, there is no global power above them to punish them for killing millions of people, there is no global power above the nuclear super powers that kill nations in wars. The global and local capitalist patriarchal, free-market, system is nothing but freedom of the powerful to exploit the less powerful. I am a writer, a novelist and a medical doctor. I believe in preventive medicine, which means eradicating the original causes of diseases. I think that negotiators for climate change should unite their efforts to eradicate the original causes polluting our planet. They should not be satisfied with treating the symptoms only. Instead, they should unveil the mind of individuals and groups, of governments and non-governmental organizations, so that they begin to know the original causes of environmental pollution, and how we can participate, individually and collectively, in eradicating the causes and working together for a clean planet. The negotiators should start here and now with the self, to understand the responsibility of the self, to begin with the self at home, before preaching others. Every one of us should begin to be aware of what to do every day to diminish pollution, consumption and waste, and unite and organize to gain social and political power to change the system that produces and reproduces pollution. A new global-local system based on social justice not power is important for cleaning the environment. Nawal El Saadawi is a novelist, and author of more than forty books of fiction and non-fiction.
william dar a hypothesis of hope for the developing world
Livelihoods In Peril
Indigenous Peoples and their rights By Mark Nuttall
nuit hunters in northern Greenland are treading carefully on increasingly thinning ice, while at the same time the key marine species they depend on—seals, walrus, narwhals and polar bears—are moving away from the areas in which they are traditionally hunted, as they in turn respond to changes in local ecosystems. In the high ranges of the Himalaya, Sherpa, Tamang, Kiranti, Dolpali and other indigenous groups are witnessing the melting of glaciers; the same is true in other mountain regions of the world such as the Peruvian Andes, where the indigenous Quechua report that they are worried when they look at the receding glaciers on their mountain peaks. In the Kalahari Desert, the San have learnt to deal with the periodic but all-too-frequent occurrence and experience of hunger and poverty arising from a combination of economic, political, environmental and climatic events. The San, like other indigenous peoples, have had to devise ingenious strategies to cope with environmental change and its consequences, yet they are reporting that the character of such change is now different than many remember. All over the world, indigenous peoples
Mark Nuttall is Henry Marshall Tory Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta, Canada, and a Board member of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.
The San, like other indigenous peoples, have had to devise ingenious strategies to cope with environmental change and its consequences, yet they are reporting that the character of such change is now different than many remember.
are confronted with unprecedented climate change affecting their homelands, cultures and livelihoods. Indigenous peoples depend on natural resources for their livelihoods and they often inhabit diverse but fragile ecosystems. At the same time, many indigenous peoples remain among the world’s most marginalized, impoverished and vulnerable peoples. They may be amongst those who have contributed the least to the greenhouse gas emissions that characterize anthropogenic climate change, yet they bear the brunt of the climate crisis and they often have minimal access to the resources and political and institutional support needed to cope with the changes. They have to navigate their way across the dramatically shifting environments of their homelands and to comprehend and find effective strategies that will allow them to respond to the changes happening—from the diminishing sea ice and reduced snowfall now characterizing the Arctic regions, to receding glaciers in high altitude regions, to increased coastal erosion and rising sea levels, to reduced rainfall in temperate ecosystems and increased fires in tropical rainforests. Regional and global scientific assessments, such as the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (acia) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) Fourth Assessment,
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
have stated unequivocally that the Earth’s climate is changing in ways that could have irreversible impacts that will affect ecosystems, societies and cultures on scales that demand urgent global response and sustained action. But this scientific research merely confirms the experiences and the observations of indigenous peoples in many parts of the world, especially those living in the Arctic, high mountain areas, semiarid lands and low-lying South Pacific islands—places which are all sensitive indicators of the profound impacts human activities are having on the world’s climate. The Arctic’s climate, in particular, has shown an unprecedented and alarming rate of change over the last fifty years and scientific research currently indicates a rapid reduction of multi-year ice cover in the Arctic Ocean as well as glacial retreat from Greenland’s inland ice and other Arctic ice masses. High-resolution satellite laser measurements continue to show that Arctic glaciers and ice streams are rapidly thinning and speeding up in their flow. Residents of South Pacific islands do not need to be told about the links between this and the rising tides threatening to engulf their homes. t may be more accurate to say that, globally, we are in the midst of a climate crisis. The need—and the opportunity presented—for a historic agreement on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009 cannot be overstated enough. Yet climate change has a regional texture—its impacts are not universal. Some environments and peoples are more exposed to climate change, depending on their geographic, environmental and socioeconomic circumstances and, as a consequence, are significantly more vulnerable to the impacts and long-term consequences of climate change than others. But as indigenous peoples experience the realities of climate change, it is not something which affects them in isolation from other kinds of changes and problems of pressing contempo-
In the national, regional and international processes where climate change mitigation policies are discussed, negotiated and designed, indigenous peoples have found it very difficult to get their voices heard and their concerns taken into consideration.
Climate change magnifies problems that already exist in many indigenous communities— problems of poverty, marginalization, land loss and degradation, social exclusion, and non-inclusion in national and international policymaking processes. Climate change is an issue of human rights and inequality.
rary concern. Climate change magnifies problems that already exist in many indigenous communities—problems of poverty, marginalization, land loss and degradation, social exclusion, and noninclusion in national and international policy-making processes. Climate change is an issue of human rights and inequality—it needs to be understood in the context of multiple stressors that already affect indigenous peoples and local communities. The consequences of ecosystem changes have far-reaching implications for the indigenous peoples’ use, protection and management of wildlife, fisheries, forests, mangroves, savannahs, wetlands, mountains and small-island ecosystems, and they have dramatic affects on the traditional and customary uses of culturally and economically significant species and resources. To indigenous peoples, climate change is, however, not simply a matter of physical changes to the environments in which they live. Many consider climate change a threat to their livelihood and they fear that their economy and resource use will be threatened, followed by an erosion of social and cultural life, and a loss of traditional knowledge. As the global discourse on climate change focuses on understanding how we can scientifically and technologically adapt to, as well as mitigate, climate change, indigenous peoples are faced with the prospect of climate change further challenging their abilities to adapt, respond to and cope with environmental and social changes. The key to effective and successful climate negotiations— and for agreement on climate change solutions—is to ensure that indigenous peoples can participate fully in them. But it remains that the crucial contributions indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge can make to global discussions and negotiations are often overlooked. In the national, regional and international processes, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate
mark nuttall livelihoods in peril: indigenous peoples and their rights
Change (unfccc), where climate change mitigation policies are discussed, negotiated and designed, indigenous peoples have found it very difficult to get their voices heard and their concerns taken into consideration. This stands in stark contrast to their experiences with the Convention on Biological Diversity (cbd), where the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (iifb) is an advisory body to the Convention. The unfccc, on the other hand, does not provide a similar institutional and discursive space for indigenous peoples. To date, the concerns and views of indigenous peoples—especially gendered and generational perspectives—have not been seriously addressed in climate negotiation processes in all climate decision-making and actions. The unfccc, for instance, does not make explicit mention of how indigenous peoples are being affected by climate change. The United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes that indigenous peoples are rights-holders—a global deal on climate change has to also refer to those rights and to recognize them. Furthermore, the protection of rights is a prerequisite for strengthening the resilience of indigenous peoples and local communities in order to respond to climate change, as is the recognition of the importance of traditional knowledge for ecosystem management. While the more immediate objective for indigenous peoples is for the unfccc to adopt the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples within its body, beyond the discussions at Copenhagen—and whatever the outcome—the challenge will be for indigenous and local strategies and priorities to be reflected and incorporated in national adaptation plans, decision-making processes and strategies of action. unc
ocean and also could not fly, one of the birds offered to tug here is a Haitian folktale that I have known all my life, the turtle along with a piece of wood that the turtle would yet it had never occurred to me until a few days ago that hold inside her mouth. And as they fly across the sea, the it might be about, among other things, climate change. turtle hears the other birds say, “Things must be pretty Beautifully recorded and retold by Diane Wolkstein in bad back there because even the last turtle is taking her groundbreaking 1978 folktale anthology, The Magic off”. And upon hearing this, the turtle opens her mouth Orange Tree and Other Folktales, it involves a group of to speak and lets go of the piece of wood that the bird animals who are desperately trying to migrate to New is using to pull her along, and I imagine that the turtle York from Haiti, a kind of self-motivated Noah’s arc, where plungers into the ever warming ocean, falls into a dead the animals appear to be trying to save themselves rather zone with little or no marine life, and is lost forever. than waiting for the humans to do it for them. What’s driving them away? We are only Poor Turtle, I used to think, left to speculate, which is where she is like Icarus, trying to fly the climate change comes in. too high from her destiny. This in my mind used to be a cautionIs it the pounding hurricanes? by Edwidge Danticat ary tale about migration and “There’s no more rainy seanot knowing one’s place. It is son, just the hurricane season,” perhaps that still, but I think a Haitian farmer told Oxfam now that it is also much more, including a story about the International in April 2009. loss of natural habitats and the depletion of resources, the Is it the deforestation that’s led to unsurvivable mud inescapable migration of the animals that need them, and slides? Is it because it is getting hotter and hotter all the the disturbance of irreplaceable ecosystems that leave time and people and livestock cannot possibly survive an already vulnerable land open to further catastrophic extreme temperatures? disasters. As most of us know, it is often wise to observe the Perhaps one day we will be telling our children folkanimals and follow their cues, especially when it comes tales like these as often as we tell them about Little Red to inclement weather. If the rats start flooding the upper Riding Hood. deck of a ship, we’re told, it’s time to bail. The same “Poor turtle,” I can imagine my two young daughters is true if you see island animals surveying, even in a saying. “Whatever can we do to save her?” folktale, the horizon. It does not bode well when a flock of birds and one last surviving turtle decide to flee. And Edwidge Danticat is the author, most recently, of a memoir, Brother, I’m Dying. because the turtle could not swim all the way across the
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Shishmaref ATLANTIC OCEAN
Aral Sea Mediterranean Sea
Ganges and Brahmaputra
PACIFIC OCEAN Horn of Africa
Mekong Pacific islands Tuvalu
Areas where the populations are particularly vulnerable to higher sea levels and floods. Great deltas
Areas exposed to desertification and drought
Small islands (some will disappear completely)
Areas exposed to hurrricanes
Coastlines particularly under threat by extreme weather and greater surf
Arctic areas vulnerable to ice and permafrost melting
W By Arno Tanner
Will There Be Climate Migrants
en Masse? 24
While some countries are historically respon sible for climate change, should the global community take up responsibility for climate migrants, even if they do not cross inter national borders? Should there be immigra tion concessions for climate migrants when they need to or have to cross borders? These are important questions that arise at a time of global climate change.
It is important to first carefully ponder the character and probability of “climate migration” before we learn to cope with it. Is climate migration a new phenomenon? How large could it become? And most important, will climate events cause “en masse” local or regional migration? Climate factors often cause local and global migration independently of the nature and severity of global climate
arno tanner will there be climate migrants en masse?
often cause local and global migration independently of the nature and severity
of global climate change.
Southeast USA New Orleans Mexico
Climate refugees will mainly come from developing countries, where the effect of climate change comes on top of poverty and war.
EMMANUELLE BOURNAY OKTOBER 2007
Sources: Norman Myers, “Environmental refugees, An emergent security issue”, 13. Economic forum, Prague, OSCE, May 2005; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005; Liser, 2007. Map by Emmanuelle Bournay, “Atlas environnement 2007 du Monde diplomatique”, Paris. Reproduced with permission from Le Monde diplomatique.
change. In developing countries, drought has rendered large land masses non-arable or essentially unproductive, forcing people to move to cities where jobs are ever scarcer and food increasingly expensive. Emigration out of the country is then seen as the only viable solution. In this way, local climate problems have led to international migration. Nevertheless, existing moderate climate-bound migra tion may be exaggerated and the severity and certainty of it, too soon to predict. It is too early to say with certainty that there will be massive consequences of global warming, for example, the oceans wiping out the small-island States and other lowlands. It is also premature to argue that this will result in unprecedented mass migrations.
Arno Tanner is Adjunct Professor, Universities of Helsinki and Tampere. Most recently, he published “The Future of International Migration Governance”.
The factors limiting mass migration have to do with the scope of global warming, as well as with the probability and manner of intercontinental mass emigration in a life-threat ening situation. It is improbable that there would be long-distance mass population movements even in a situation of systemic climate change. As seen today refugee camps and shelter villages are typically set up not far from the site of the calamity. We can look for an analogy in the number of current wars and levels of human rights violations, compared with the number of refugees and migrants actually fleeing those situations. Comparing the quantity of asylum applicants to the number of people threatened by the twenty or more wars currently being waged in the world, we see that the number of victims is many times that of those who actually flee long distances. While current wars severely disrupt the lives of tens of millions of people, the European Union and the United States, for instance, receive asylum applications only in the hundreds of thousands every year. The number of long-distance migrants is much less than the actual number of victims. Why do victims tend to stay near the site of the crisis? Why would long-distance mass migration not necessarily ensue in a climate created crisis? First, research has suggested that people whose livelihoods are most sensitive to environ mental changes also tend to be those who do not have the means to move very far. They lack the information and the financial capacity to set out on long journeys; and even if they had access to information, they often cannot travel. Second, victims do not automatically want to migrate. An increasingly accepted view treats emigration as an essentially voluntary decision, even in very compelling, life-threatening situations. Typically, the victim desires to stay as close to her homeland as possible rather than set out on a long-distance journey into the unknown. What attracts the highly skilled as
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
What legal measures
could strengthen the status of a single migrant who has been
forced to leave his homeland because of climate change?
well as the seasonal returning workers to the Western world may not apply among the often poor and weaker victims of crises. A third reason why climate migrants may not seek shel ter, for instance, in the industrialized North is the following: Although sea levels may rise by one metre, and drylands with up to two billion inhabitants may become too dry, it is also true that many uninhabitable areas today, for example in northern, northwestern and western China, or the northern Russian Federation, may become fertile. Many Asians might prefer to remain in the Eastern Hemisphere than migrate to distant destinations in Europe and the United States. Hence, new routes of migration may form between and within devel oping countries, replacing in part traditional migratory routes. A fourth reason that would probably impede acute, per manent, long-distance mass migration is that global warming, if it is indeed occurring, will take place at a snail’s pace. Even in the worst-case scenarios, sea levels are projected to rise at a maximum of tens of centimetres a year. People have accom modated to much more serious and acute incidents without resorting to non-returning, long-distance migration. Even if the crisis was a sudden, powerful and all-perva sive one, such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or the tsunami in Asia, people would only have a minimum incen tive to migrate permanently to a distant destination. They would rather stay as close to their homes and return as soon as possible. How could slow and long-term climate change, be expected to cause rapid mass global migration when acute full-scale crises have not resulted in that? Let us look at future scenarios, drawing connections between two questions: Is climate change a local or a spacially systemic phenomenon? Will the ensuing migration be global and long-term, or short-distance and returning? Of the four permutations, the least probable pair is that climate problems are generally de facto systemic and that con sequent migration will be global and long-term. Indications of climate change hardly become systemic but remain local, 26
because populations are able to anticipate and prepare accord ingly. Only relatively small areas of coastal land would most likely be affected, and if the areas were larger, the inhabit ants would have a longer time to adjust. The time scale is one of years, or months, in the most extreme scenarios. If more acute cases should occur, people would tend to move to nearby areas, returning when the situation allows. In any case, any permanent movement would occur to the nearest possible destinations, perhaps to areas made recently inhabitable or infertile by environmental change. In even a purely systemic climate change with considera ble sea level rises over months or years, and large crop-failures in one season, migration would still remain local. The people of Nauru may most likely move to the Pitcairns. The people of Maldives may seek land in southern India. In Africa, acute and massive droughts might cause internal displacements, with some migratory streams reaching the Mediterranean. All in all, wiped out lowlands would be replaced by finding new, fertile agriland in higher, formerly harsh altitudes. However, the most probable scenario would see only localized indications of climate change. Some of these condi tions have existed in the past and some might be due to global warming. However, the effects would in any case be slow, with the resultant migration occurring gradually over months and years. Migration would stay within the nearby region, and migrants would return. Finally, we can return to the question posed at the begin ning of the essay: While some countries are historically
In climate-based migration, particularly if the change is slow, the population will most probably accommodate voluntarily. If, however, there is a volcanic eruption, an earthquake or a tsunami, and the event essentially causes a climate change, some legal measure is called for to consider such victims as “forced migrants”, comparable to Geneva Convention refugees.
arno tanner will there be climate migrants en masse?
responsible for climate change, should the global community take up responsibility for climate migrants, even if they do not cross international borders? Based on the above scenarios, it is probable that most migration would remain local or regional. It is imperative that in order for the concerned region and country to cope, the international community should assist in the initial phase of relocation by providing the necessary requirements for a smooth transition. This means stronger resources for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for example, in acute situations, and measures to integrate the migrants with the local population. Due to the quality of the migrations, it is less probable to see acute and full-scale crises but, rather, slower and more orderly movements. In the long run, one could even remain optimistic about the success of the tran sition. Over time, migrants would make their own way and accommodate themselves elsewhere, and many would want and even be able to return to their countries of origin should conditions allow. How about immigration concessions for climate migrants? These would be slow and not necessarily related to acute climatic crises. We could talk about “forced migration”, similar to that of persecution-related refugees. But the idea of persecution-related forced migration—a refugee status— denotes a “no way out” scenario, ie, one cannot resort to the authorities or flee internally. In climate-based migration, par ticularly if the change has been slow, the population would most probably accommodate voluntarily. If, however, there
According to the IPCC, effective adaptation responses that will conserve biodiversity and other ecosystem services are likely to be costly to implement, but unless conservation water needs are factored into adaptation s trategies, many natural ecosystems and the species they support will decline.
is a volcanic eruption, an earthquake or a tsunami, and the event essentially causes a climate change, some legal measure is called for to consider such victims as “forced migrants”, comparable to Geneva Convention refugees. It is more diffi cult, however, to think of sea-level rise by ten centimetres per year as acute “force”. In conclusion, one ought not to overstate the scale of the migrations that might occur due to possible global climate changes. The speed and scope of climate change, as well as the human ability to adapt, make forced, acute, climateinduced mass migration improbable. Some surges may be seen, but also managed with good preparation and research into questions such as: Which parts of the globe have the high est population densities and are simultaneously at the great est risk of a climatic crisis? Which nearby areas could serve as temporary havens for potential climate refugees? Which circumstances, formerly harsh, would turn lucrative? What would be the best measures the global community could take to facilitate the movement of climate migrants? Finally, what legal measures could strengthen the status of a single migrant who has been forced to leave his homeland because of climate change? unc
am all for an international treaty to curb greento produce energy are better for her while she struggles house gasses. This is an issue that is close to my heart to pay the bill to warm the cottage for her children during as a woman, a social activist and a healthcare provider. the freezing winter. However, governmental and political officials who will For an international treaty to be accepted by all memmeet in Copenhagen in December to seal a deal on this bers of the world community, it must be viewed as “fair & issue are not simply square” and more important, it driven by idealistic must drive economic prosperity goals. On the contrary, rather than increase poverty. they are motivated by This may require free transfer by Rajaa Alsanea an array of conflictof latest technology in order to ing economic, politiburn fuel effectively and with cal and social forces. By the nature of their jobs, they minimal pollution in poor countries. A treaty that allows will be expected to defend the national interests of their the poor to prosper economically, and is viewed by all the governments and industry to the fullest extent. world as just, will definitely win the hearts of all the I envision that the African woman who struggles in the people and align them behind a noble cause with unprecmiddle of a poor country in Africa will not understand how edented dedication. a higher tax on oil prices could help her cook food for her starving children. Or how do we explain to a poor woman Rajaa Alsanea is the author, most recently, of the international bestseller, Girls of Riyadh. in the northern part of India how more expensive means
Win The Hearts
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
Never before in human history has the world had such a wealth of knowledge, skills and resources invested in keeping its communities well. Why, then, is global health heading into a “perfect storm”? Will Climate Change Impact the Right to
Health & Development?
By Daniel Tarantola n a dusty construction site in western China, Mr Tan is just another anonymous migrant labourer. But, the unassuming former farmer is also the face of a complex web of crises threatening global health. On one level, 24-year-old Mr Tan is a symbol of China’s economic success, and similar growth patterns over recent decades in other developing economies. Half a million rural Chinese migrant workers pour into Chongqing alone every year, making it the world’s biggest city—and building site— fuelling China’s growth engine, even if somewhat less vigorously since the global financial downturn. Long term forecasts suggest another 350 million rural villagers will converge on industrializing cities in China alone by 2025; some pulled by new opportunities, others pushed by poverty and food shortages caused, in part, by the climatic disruptions of global warming. For Mr Tan, the lure of Chongqing is, in his words, “the big money”. Living in a shed, amid the fine, choking concrete dust and surrounded by hectares of concrete, high rise skeletons, Mr Tan earns 1,000 yuan a month, more than ten times what he eked out of the land and enough to allow him 28
to survive in the city and send money home to the village. His is a familiar tale of aspiration. But, on Mr Tan’s building site, a number of the world’s most intractable and emerging health threats are converging. Just as the advances of the Industrial Revolution came at a cost to the millions who left the land for Europe’s factories and slums, the very jobs which have pulled hundreds of millions out of abject poverty in the late twentieth and early twentyfirst centuries also come with new risks. For the world’s marginalized communities, economic globalization often means less job security in itinerant industrial and labouring jobs and new toxic threats and accident risks at work. In urban shanty towns, inadequate sanitation and services combined with crowded living conditions greatly increases health risks and vulnerability to communicable diseases.
Daniel Tarantola is Professor of Health and Human Rights, University of New South Wales and Chair of its Initiative for Health and Human Rights. He was formerly a senior advisor to the World Health Organization, supervising the team responsible for eradicating smallpox worldwide. He played a key role in the creation of Médicins Sans Frontières.
daniel tarantola health & development
Then, there are new emerging threats, unique to our times. In Chongqing, and many cities like it, armies of male migrant labourers are cut adrift from village social structures for months and years at a time. With the erosion of social cohesion, high risk lifestyles of cheap sex and drugs can follow; undermining economic gains and threatening the transmission of hiv/aids and serious related infections such as drug-resistant tuberculosis. At the same time rising population mobility resulting from mass travel facilitated by modern transport networks, migration and forced population displacement are providing unprecedented opportunities for the transmission of many communicable diseases—nationally and globally—greatly jeopardizing the health of people on the move and elevating the risk of pandemics. And, that’s before we consider the health impacts of environmental degradation caused by rapid development. In the world’s industrializing cities, air and water pollution routinely exceed safe levels, exposing tens of millions of people to respiratory risks and diverting meagre family incomes to purchasing safe drinking water. In many poor rural areas, large scale deforestation and resource stripping has led to devastating soil erosion, water shortages and contamination. Single Biggest Threat Less immediately apparent, but potentially the single biggest health threat this century, is climate change. This is no longer an abstract notion. We know climatic variations—particularly the droughts and floods which are disrupting agriculture and extreme weather events which in turn damage infrastructure— are hitting vulnerable
developing nations the hardest, and will wreak havoc on the world’s poorest people in the coming decades. China’s official news agency, Xinhau, reported sustained extreme heat in Chongqing in September 2009, as well as water shortages affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the city. Without the resources to “adapt”, such as air-conditioning, low-paid workers toiling outdoors and living under baking, tin roofs are exposed to health threats posed by intense heat and pollution. In surrounding rural areas, livestock and crops are suffering, pushing more farmers off the land. As early as 2000, the World Health Organization attributed 2.4 per cent of worldwide diarrhoea and 6 per cent of malaria cases to climate change. The first large scale, quantifiable impacts on human health are likely to be changes to the geographic range and seasonality of some infectious diseases, including vector-borne infections such as malaria and dengue fever and food-borne infections such as salmonellosis, which peak in warmer months. We have also begun to identify as “climate change casualties” the victims of extreme weather events, such as the 27,000 deaths associated with abnormally high temperatures in the European summer of 2003. However, the future public health consequences loom even larger. Much attention is focused on rising sea levels and areas which face inundation—a situation which could drive mass people movements. But, what of the wider scale disruption to food production with changing rainfall patterns, including longer droughts and more intense floods, and the consequent economic losses and food shortages forcing mass migration and exacerbating civil strife? The “World Develop ment Report 2010: Develop ment and Climate Change”, © THOMAS JAHN released in advance of the
According to the IPCC, longer, more intense and frequent heat waves may cause more heat-related death and illness. There is virtual certainty of declining air quality in cities since greater heat can also worsen air pollution such as ozone or smog. Insect-borne illnesses are also likely to increase as the range of many insects expand. Climate change health effects are especially serious for the very young, very old, or for those with heart and respiratory problems. Conversely, warmer, winter, temperatures may reduce the negative health impacts from cold weather.
The global health effort is currently focused on “care and cure”
for specific diseases, not the overwhelming global web of
risk-factors which underpin health outcomes. The result is competition
for resources among advocates of particular health crises, when
progress really depends on understanding how these crises intersect. UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, cites evidence that global warming of 2˚C above preindustrial temperatures could, for example, result in permanent reductions in annual per capita consumption of 4 to 5 per cent in Africa, already the world’s most vulnerable continent. Climate variability is a feature of Africa’s history, but the frequency and severity of both floods and droughts have increased sharply in recent years, and climate projections indicate that this trend will intensify. This is likely to have devastating consequences for rain-fed agriculture, which employs about 70 per cent of Africa’s population, the report says. An earlier World Bank report notes; “[the world’s] poor communities will be especially vulnerable. They tend to have limited adaptive capacities and are much more dependent on climate-sensitive resources such as local water and food supplies.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that between 75 and 250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change by 2020, most of them in poor countries already facing multiple health challenges. At the same time, the world is facing a food crisis driven by multiple causes, including climate variability and market distortions. During early 2008, international prices of all major food commodities reached their highest levels in almost 50 years; pushing world hunger through the one billion mark. The global financial downturn since threatens to plunge 55 to 90 million more people into poverty this year alone, according to the United Nations. From a global health perspective, the growing diversity and magnitude of health-related crises around the world is converging into a potentially disastrous perfect storm. doing better than this Clearly, we should be doing better than this. Never before in history has the world had such a wealth of knowledge, skills and resources invested in keeping its communities healthy. Development assistance for health grew substantially from $5.6 billion in 1990 to $21.8 billion in 2007,* accompanied by new global initiatives for mobilizing and channelling funds. * Lancet, June 2009.
Yet, the gap between the extraordinary promise of modern medicine and the reality of the world’s disease burden is arguably growing. One third of the world’s population is infected with tuberculosis and 350-500 million people suffer from malaria; and in a world with 33 million people living with hiv, for every one person who gains access to life-saving drugs, another two new infections occur. These “big three” diseases alone kill six million people a year, before we even consider compounding factors such as children left unvaccinated, mothers dying in childbirth or workers exposed to industrial pollutants. Part of the problem is simply that the crises are outrunning the solutions. With global health fires burning on so many fronts, many good programmes end up merely putting out spot-fires. Just as challenging, though, is the increasingly complex, intersecting nature of heath threats. If climate change reduces agricultural output, for example, economies of survival follow; more men are likely migrate to cities than women, breaking down social structures and leaving women and children in dire poverty in villages. hiv risks rise because of changing living conditions and poverty-fed commercial sex industries. If entire communities are forced to migrate away from inundated, drought-affected or flooded regions, a host of health risks follow associated with overcrowding, and inadequate shelter, services and nutrition. International agencies do recognize these intersecting challenges, yet much of the global health effort is currently focused on “care and cure” for specific diseases, not the overwhelming global web of risk-factors which underpin health outcomes. The result is competition for resources among advocates of particular health crises, when progress really depends on understanding how these crises intersect. An essential first step is better “vulnerability-mapping”, to determine, at a local level, which of the long list of globallysignificant health threats are impacting local populations. And, as no health threat exists in isolation, bridges must be built across institutions and between key players to maximize resources. The answer is not to haggle over resource allocation or to seek to move funds from one problem to another, but to look for synergies which allow funds to combat multiple crises at the same time.
daniel tarantola health & development
A human rights-based approach—framed in terms of the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and the right to the basic determinants of health such as clean water and food, shelter, education, health services and equality—is the most promising. Through this lens, the circumstances of those most at risk can be holistically addressed. But, instead of “thinking globally and acting locally”, there is a strong case for turning the adage around. To understand the complexity of the global health challenge, and to formulate effective responses, we need to understand what’s happening on the ground and to tap into the creativity and energy of civil society to help formulate responses. Consider
the global micro credit movement, now with over 600 million clients. When Professor Muhammad Yunus used money from his own pocket to finance the first group of destitute women basket weavers in Bangladesh in the 1980s, he was addressing gender inequity, poverty alleviation, and in turn, health. By “thinking locally and acting globally”, the lives of the hundreds of millions like Mr Tan can inform global policy responses. unc With additional reporting by Louise Williams, who interviewed migrant workers in Chongqing, including Mr Tan, during her research trip to western China in 2008.
was rife, and the rights of sexual minorities and of the ature is all-powerful, and we humans must ultimately differently-abled were unheard of. abide by its laws; but this is easy to forget when living, as I do, in a society undergoing dramatic, and compelling, Today, Nepal is still caught up in the struggle to become political transformations. democratic, overcoming extremism—and war—to do so. I grew up in a sleepy, quiescent Kathmandu, where on Although they have come at a great cost, the gains holidays my siblings and I could have picnics by the rivers, from this struggle are real, and worth defending. and splash about in the water, carefree. What remains now is to also defend the right of Nepali Kathmandu’s population then was a hundred thousand. citizens to a healthy environment. Conservation is not Today, it is nearing three million. something we need to undertake for the sake of nature (for nature always prevails in the end). Conservation is The rivers are befouled, the air is laden with toxic something we need to undertake for our own sake, to particulates, and native plants have been replaced by enrich our lives and exotic species, altering the make our homeland ecological mix and reducing more habitable than it biodiversity, bringing us to Towards A More Habitable Homeland has become. the point of collapse. The by Manjushree Thapa suffering that this causes To me, the greatest Kathmandu-dwellers is hope comes from witdirectly observable. Drinking nessing the growth of a vibrant, and increasingly demowater is scarce, the roads are choked by fumes, the corcratic, conservation movement in Nepal. This began, in the nucopia of traditional foods is being wiped out by monoc1970s, under the patronage of a narrow, anti-democratic ulture farming. There is little open space in which to rest elite, but it has since become the deign of ordinary citizens, and renew the spirit. The quality of life in Kathmandu is who, under the guidance of government and non-governmuch diminished. ment organizations, form “users groups” to enforce the sustainable use of natural resources. Yet I would not quite exchange present-day Kathmandu for the old one, for the transformations in Nepali society in A city of three million need not be depleted. this period have been hard-won, and they are precious. Kathmandu’s inhabitants know that they only stand to Nepal has been engaged, over the years, in an imporgain from conservation. tant struggle for democracy: for political rights for Nepali The democratization of the conservation movement citizens, as well as for civil rights. will, I believe, make this possible at last. The Kathmandu that I grew up in had banned all politiManjushree Thapa is the author, most recently, of A Boy from cal parties. There was stifling state censorship. Women’s Siklis: The Life and Times of Chandra Gurung, the biography of a groundbreaking Nepali environmentalist. rights were nonexistent. Caste-based discrimination
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
© HENRY FUCHS
ismail serageldin is africa ready?
By Ismail Serageldin
he evidence for climate change is overwhelming. It has been reconfirmed by successive international studies and reports over the last two decades. Catastrophic climate change, which will threaten our entire ecosystem as we know it, is possible, though not yet probable. It is likely to happen if we do not change course and continue to ignore the evidence before our eyes: escalating temperatures will cause a big rise in sea level and the release of methane from the tundra will take us towards a tipping point where living creatures are unable to adapt to the changes fast enough.
But even the more conventional scenarios, which many are beginning to consider optimistic, will have very far-reaching effects. The consequences of those levels of climate change are generally well understood and widely accepted. The rise in average temperature is just one of the aspects of climate change. Climate change is also likely to include much greater variations in climate phenomena, including droughts and floods, as well as more frequent and severe weather events, such as hurricanes and storms, and greater seasonal variability from mild and severe winters
Ismail Serageldin is the Director of the Library of Alexandria. UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
to dry and very wet summers. Especially in Africa, growing seasons will be shorter in practically the entire continent, with few small areas affected in a positive way. Against that background, Africa will suffer far more than most other regions. It is particularly galling that Africans, who have contributed least to climate change, are the ones who will suffer most from it. By any ethical measure, some compensation is due. Africa’s ability to cope is constrained because its governance is weak. However, there are shining examples in Africa that deserve our plaudits and our support: The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, for example, has recognized outstanding leadership from Mandela to Chissano and from Masire to Moghaye—and there are many more. But despite stellar performances in some countries and areas, the overall conditions in many parts of the continent are marked by fragile economies and weak institutions, particularly susceptible to external shocks. Low levels of achievement in education and health coexist with widespread aids, malaria and other diseases that claim countless lives. Poor infrastructure and limited communications all mean that the ability to compete internationally is limited. Governance is problematic almost everywhere. Institutions are infected by the cancer of corruption. Societies are riven by tribalism and strife, and in many parts of Africa this has spilled into outright war and complete anarchy, as evidenced from Somalia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lack of stability and capital constrain the ability to undertake the projects needed for development. Lack of managerial and professional ability limits the effectiveness of many projects that are undertaken. Brain drain is severe in most parts of the continent. Within such a context, the impact of climate change will be devastating. It will exacerbate existing problems and add new challenges to institutions and societies neither organized nor equipped to confront them. From rising sea levels threatening coastal cities and salt water spilling over into deltas, to the necessity of coping with intermittent droughts and floods, to rapid urbanization and the spread of endemic diseases, the governments and peoples of Africa will have much to contend with. I will focus on only one aspect of the coming crisis here: food security.
According to the IPCC, in Africa, any changes in the primary production of large lakes will have important impacts on local food supplies. Lake Tanganyika currently provides 25–40% of animal protein intake for the surrounding populations, and climate change is likely to reduce primary production and possible fish yields by roughly 30%.
In Africa, climate change has increased the vulnerability of poor farmers in rain-fed areas. Special attention must be given
to the production of more droughtresistant, saline-resistant, and lessthirsty plants that reach maturity in shorter periods. Food Security—What To Do Africa is already a chronic food importer. All scenarios point to Africa remaining food deficient, something that the pattern of climate change is likely to exacerbate. Most of Africa’s agriculture is rain-fed, though the continent consists of huge deserts, arid and semi-arid zones and is suffering from the impact of desertification. Even in tropical zones, rainfall is quite variable from year to year, and since farmers are very poor, they are unable to survive successive droughts. Lack of infrastructure and proper rural roads makes it equally difficult to bring assistance when it is needed or market bumper harvests. Post-harvest losses are enormous, mostly due to inadequate infrastructure and storage, as well as the abundance of pests. Climate change has increased the vulnerability of poor farmers in rain-fed areas, as well as the populations that depend on them. Special attention must be given to the production of more drought-resistant, saline-resistant, and lessthirsty plants that reach maturity in shorter periods. Better sustainable land and forest management should be used to replace slash and burn approaches, while research should focus on increasing productivity in the complex ecological systems of smallholder farmers. This kind of research should be treated as an international public good and supported by public funding, and its results made freely available to the poor. Such an investment will reduce the need for humanitarian assistance later on. Indeed, such a productivity increase must be fast enough for prices to drop, which will increase the accessibility of available food to the urban poor at a time of rapid urbanization throughout Africa. And it must be achieved by increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers so as to raise their incomes, eventhough prices drop. Research can also improve the nutritional qualities of food crops, as was done to increase the vitamin A content of rice. Forestry, as well as marine and freshwater fisheries,
ismail serageldin is africa ready?
also require attention. More high-risk research also deserves support. For example, exploring the biochemical pathways of mangroves which enable them to thrive in salty water could open the possibility of adding this capability to other plants. Additional research is needed to develop techniques to decrease post-harvest losses, increase storability and transportability, and increase the nutritional content of popular foods through biofortification. Many of the food insecure live in urban areas, and these measures would help them. Because it is impractical to seek food self-sufficiency for every country, we need to maintain a fair international trading system that allows access to food and provides some damping of sudden spikes in the prices of internationally traded food and feed crops. We need to convince rich governments to maintain buffer stocks and make available enough food for humanitarian assistance, which will inevitably continue to be needed in various “hot spots” around the world, mostly in Africa.
It is particularly galling that Africans, who have contributed least to climate change, are
the ones who will suffer most from it. By any ethical measure, some compensation is due.
A call to Action It is shameful that the world which adopted the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015, should see these numbers rise. It is shameful that in this productive and interconnected world a billion people go hungry. We know that many of these poor souls live in Africa, and with climate change adding to the severity of challenges on this continent, special attention is needed by the whole world to help Africa address this problem. But African problems will require African solutions. The respected elders among Africa’s former leaders, such as those who won The Mo Ibrahim Prize should call on their colleagues to set aside current differences and work together and with other countries and institutions in order to achieve some, if not all, of the actions listed above. Africa, where humans first walked erect on this planet, will not fall to its knees. African talent—with a little help from a caring and nurturing world—will ensure that it can rise to meet the challenges of climate change. unc
Seal the Deal! However, What’s in it for Africa?
by Maimouna Barro
he effects of climate change are being felt by millions of people throughout the world, but especially in Africa where endemic poverty, disease, wars, growing populations, limited access to capital have all taken their toll on the people and the rich natural environment of Africa in the past three decades. The situation is disastrous for a continent that has played no role in global warming! In reality, the biggest burdens and threats associated with climate change and global warming affect the most vulnerable of the world, mainly from the poorer developing economies. At this very moment, climate change is clearly affecting Africa in every way. The continent is feeling the brunt of rising sea levels, droughts, floods, increasing water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases. At this very moment, if the consequences of global warming are mere predictions for some parts of the world, they are already being felt in Africa. At this very moment, floods are affecting thousands of already impoverished people in Senegal and fifteen other West African nations. In the same region, some coastal communities live with the daunting reality of being displaced given rising sea levels. Yes, we must find a global voice and “seal the deal” on climate change to protect lives and livelihoods, for this global climate phenomenon affects us all, whether directly and indirectly. Yes, please let us “seal the deal,” but in doing so, let us bear in mind that there are those most responsible and those most vulnerable in this global climate change. Yes, a deal must be sealed, but as responsible global citizens, we must do it with justice, political transparency, social responsibility and accountability. We owe it to ourselves, our children, and to future generations to act now. Maimouna Barro is Associate Director, Center for African Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
Climate Change Consequences
© karsten von Berg
in Latin America and the Caribbean By Emilio Sempris
Emilio Sempris is Director of theWater Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (www.cathalac.org).
Despite the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest freshwater resources per capita, a third of the region’s population is cut off from sustained access to drinking water. Up until a few years ago, freshwater problems had been generally characterized as a result of inequitable natural distribution, lack of adequate financing for water infrastructure, poor freshwater governance, or a combination of the three. Nowadays, as nations try pave the way towards sealing a deal to put in place a multilateral regime that will stabilize the global climate, Latin America and the Caribbean countries have realized that global climate change has affected freshwater resources of the region with significant consequences to ecosystems and societies.
emilio sempris freshwater consequences in latin america and the caribbean
In the past three decades, the region has witnessed the mightiness of extreme water-related weather events, resulting in human and material losses, particularly during the hurricane season. The erratic effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation have also reduced agricultural production and hydropower generation. Some tropical and subtropical glacial freshwater sources will be depleted to the point of vanishing over the coming years. Vector-borne diseases have expanded their domains. Deforestation and climate change have combined to put biodiversity spots of global significance under significant stress. The consequences to societies in Latin America and the Caribbean from fluctuations in both quantity and quality of freshwater as a result of climate change will increase the likelihood of conflicts over land, as nearly one sixth of the population is settled in transboundary watersheds. Along with food security and climate-induced migrations, this is probably the most pressing water governance issue that will challenge the region in the years to come. Freshwater solidarity and policy transparency will be tested as nations and stakeholders struggle to fast track solutions that address the needs of their people, particularly the most vulnerable, to the adverse effects of climate change. The Caribbean Of the three subregions to be discussed here, the most vulnerable is the Caribbean. Climate change is an issue of survival to its people and of long-term existence to its countries. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) has already concluded that sea levels will continue to rise during the next several centuries. On top of this, there has been a twofold increase in the most powerful catastrophic hurricanes— category 5: from six reported in the 1950s to 12 in the 2000s. It is important to point out that an increase in the surface temperature of seas will result in deadlier tropical cyclone activity in the Caribbean. The limited capacity to generate clean energy and the strong dependence on tourism and food imports seem to be the major factors that continue to keep the Caribbean from a sustainable path to development. Investments to address climate change adaptation options in most cases go well beyond the financial capacities of Caribbean countries. It appears that, given the increase in surface temperatures as a result of greenhouse gas emissions,
The most vulnerable is the Caribbean, as climate change is an issue of survival to its people and of longterm existence to its countries.
the only adaptation option in the next few decades will be for inhabitants to migrate out of the most vulnerable small Island States. Central America and Mexico The Mesoamerican subregion (Central America and Mexico) is also very vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. The increase in tropical hurricane activity has heavily affected the region. In 1998, hurricane Mitch hit Honduras and Nicaragua, killing approximately 10,000 people. It wiped out basic infrastructure equivalent to about 40 per cent of Honduras’s Gross Domestic Product. Freshwater resources in the region are also heavily influenced by the El Niño Southern Oscillation. In general, watersheds on the Pacific side of Mesoamerica experience extreme drought conditions, whereas northern Mexico experiences higher precipitation. Several models have suggested that Central America and Mexico will be drier and, subsequently will come under water stress. Given the fact that the region heavily depends on hydropower to generate energy, it is expected that energy security could become an issue. However, it is important to highlight the effort being made by “Proyecto Mesoamérica” in the context of the Tuxtla Presidential Regional Dialogue to integrate a regional energy interconnection that would address energy security in the Mesoamerican countries. Regarding human health, vector-borne diseases such as dengue and malaria, as well as transmission of pathogens from rodents to humans, seem to be increasing due to freshwater fluctuations in Central America and the Caribbean. Food security has become an issue every time there are flood or drought events affecting transboundary watersheds, prompting international humanitarian assistance. As of September 2009, several Central American Governments have declared a state of emergency and are implementing contingency measures in response to the prevailing drought conditions. Projects like the RedHum (http://www.redhum.org) and the Mesoamerican Regional Visualization and Monitoring System (http://www.servir. net), coordinated and facilitated by the United Nations
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Several models have suggested that Central America and Mexico will be drier. Given that the region heavily depends on hydropower to generate energy, it is expected that energy security could become an issue.
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, are providing continuous information support to the region with respect to the erratic availability of freshwater.
According to the IPCC, if you live along the coast, your home may be impacted by sea-level rise and an increase in storm intensity. Rising seas may contribute to enhanced coastal erosion, coastal flooding, loss of coastal wetlands, and increased risk of property loss from storm surges.
South America South America shows the most contrast of the three subregions. Freshwater can be immensely abundant but also infinitely scarce. About 30 per cent of the planet’s freshwaters flow through the Amazon, the Parana-Plata and the Orinoco
For some areas in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, tropical and sub-tropical glaciers are the only sources of freshwater. Migration out of those areas seems to be the only option in the next few years… watershed. Conversely, South America also has the driest desert on Earth—the Atacama. It is also a subregion with tropical and sub-tropical glaciers. In fact, for some areas in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, tropical and sub- tropical glaciers are the only sources of freshwater. Migration out of those areas seems to be the only option in the next few years, particularly in the zones with smaller glaciers. Recently ipcc
reported that since 2004, the planet had lost its highest skiing facility—the Chacaltaya Glacier, at an altitude of 5,260 metres above sea level. The most significant extreme event in recent years in South America was the torrential rains in 1999 in Venezuela that caused floods and mudslides; about 30,000 people died. Hurricane Catarina in Brazil in 2004 made scientists rewrite meteorological textbooks, as it was the first hurricane ever detected by a satellite over the South Atlantic Ocean. Hydropower, as in Central America, is the main source of energy in most South American countries. But not everything looks bad. As the ipcc reported, increases in precipitation had been observed in southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, northeast Argentina (the Pampas), parts of Bolivia, and north-west Peru and Ecuador, which in turn could result in sustained freshwater availability for human consumption and for agricultural irrigation in those areas. In closing, climate change will likely impact the fresh water resources of Latin America and the Caribbean in different ways, with ample ecosystem and societal consequences. Transboundary solidarity and transparency will be the key to tackle the freshwater challenges ahead of us, while nations continue to work towards sealing a deal in Copenhagen. unc
o me the relationship between Man and the into countries, continents and races causing the threat Environment is as important as the relationship of global warming by competing and sending more and between a husband and wife. We have been bound more carbon into the atmosphere. together as partners for life by Mother Nature and When we cut down forests for commercial use we are therefore how we get on with directly hitting mother each other is vital for the earth. When we leak oil future existence of both. We into the oceans we are can breathe cooler air to gain killing its creatures … by Punyakante Wijenaike fresh energy if we see more And when we go into trees surrounding us. If we can space we may even be hear flowing or falling water polluting regions outside throughout the year from waterfalls, rivers and rain we our own Universe. So let us learn to live in harmony will be soothed, and we can be happier if we see flowers, with our partner before we destroy each other ... fruits, birds and butterflies, not to mention other creatures of the animal kingdom around us. In my opinion Punyakante Wijenaike is the author, most recently, of Coming to Terms. Man has made the greatest mistake in dividing himself
emilio sempris freshwater consequences in latin america and the caribbean
A Future for Itself How does Africa intend to deal with climate change and how can it help shape a better future for itself in the face of the coming environmental catastrophe? As concerns grow, the continent will for the first time negotiate under one umbrella in Copenhagen. by Yolandi Groenewald
n a small village in western Zambia, the Lozi king—the Litunga— will call on his people to leave the lowlands and join him in a spectacular ceremony, celebrating the seasonal flooding that will fertilize their farmlands. But in the past two years there have been no celebrations. Rains arrived earlier than usual, leading to devastating floods. The Lozi blame climate change. “The seasons have changed. This is a very big disaster”, says Bennet Imutongo Sondo, the seventy-four-year-old induna or chief advisor of Liyoyelo village in Zambia’s Mongu district.
Yolandi Groenewald is Senior Journalist with The Mail & Guardian, South Africa.
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
Scientists knit their brows when they ponder the impact of global climate change on Africa. The outcomes are depressing: Africa is likely to be hit hardest by the droughts, floods and other catastrophic effects of climate change, despite contributing the least greenhouse gases—less than 4 per cent of the world’s total emissions. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc), Africa is in for a tough time. Continued increase in the amount of greenhouse gases may put almost 1.8 billion more in Africa at risk of water stress by 2050. Arid and semi-arid lands are likely to increase by up to 8 per cent, threatening food security. The ipcc also cautioned that sea-level rise, especially along the East African coast, may increase chances of flooding. Africa’s adaptation bill can shoot up by 10 per cent of the combined gross domestic product of all its nations.
conflict, and its reliance on climate sensitive sectors like rainfed agriculture.” The international aid agency Oxfam estimates that rising temperatures may mean that sub-Saharan Africa could lose $2 billion a year as the viability of just one crop—maize— declines. A study by the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum shows that 15 of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa. The “World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change,” warns that just a 2˚C warming above preindustrial levels can permanently reduce Africa’s annual per capita consumption by 4 to 5 per cent. Water will be a major concern for African countries and several commentators have issued warnings that water wars might break out as people compete for resources. Some have already suggested that the conflict in Darfur might partly be blamed on the lack of water The most vulnerable continent in the region. In July 2009, the economist, Jeffrey Sachs, has written on part from the authoritative ipcc, many studthe Scientific American website that “recent years have shown ies warn about the dire consequences for Africa. that shifts in rainfall can bring down Governments and even At a conference in Cape Town in September 2009 set off wars. The African Sahel, just south of the Sahara, proin Cape Town, Oli Brown of the International Institute for vides a dramatic and poignant demonstration. The deadly carSustainable Development, while discussing security and clinage in Darfur, Sudan, for example, which is almost always mate change, said, “Africa is the first continent to fully feel discussed in political and military terms, has roots in an ecothe effect of climate change on political and economic stalogical crisis directly arising from climate shocks.” bility because of its history of ethnic, resource and political In August 2009, Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, in an op-ed titled Climate Culprit in Darfur, said, “Amid the Unequal footprints: Emissions per capita in low-, middle- and high-income countries, 2005 diverse social and political causes, the Darfur COe per capita (tons) conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.” 16 Climate change has been directly Emissions from 14 land-use change linked to the drying up of Lake Chad by All other 12 80 per cent since the 1980s. This may affect emissions Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger that 10 share the lake, and several non-governmental 8 organizations have issued warnings that there Developing country averages: are fears of conflict over the remaining water 6 �with land-use change resources. 4 �without land-use change Currently 20 countries in Africa are suf2 fering from water scarcity, and the World Development Report 2010 notes that another 0 High-income 12 are likely to be added in the next 25 years. Middle-income Low-income countries countries countries Africa’s 63 transboundary river basins together account for over 90 per cent of its Source: World Bank 2008c; WRI 2008 augmented with land-use change emissions from Houghton 2009. Note: Greenhouse gas emissions include CO₂, methane (CH₄), nitrous oxide (N₂O), and high-global-warmingsurface water, and no existing treaties instruct potential gases (F-gases). So that they can be aggregated, they are all expressed in terms of CO₂ equivalent African countries how the water can be shared. (CO₂e), which measures quantities of all gases in terms of the quantity of CO₂ that would cause the same Water in Africa’s economic powerhouse, South amount of warming. Per capita averages in low- and middle-income countries are calculated both with and without emissions from land-use change. In 2005 emissions from land-use change in high income countries Africa, may also come under huge strain by were negligible. 2025.
yolandi groenewald a future for itself
Researchers at the Southern African Development Community (sadc), said that Southern Africa lacked more than 4 million metric tonnes of maize in 2007/08 to feed its people. Already, rain patterns have changed in Africa, and droughts are more common, which can potentially ruin about three quarters of the continent’s population engaged in farming.
ut Africa also has the ability to make an important contribution to mitigating climate change, by investing in so-called carbon sinks, otherwise known as the rainforests of the world. Africa’s major rainforests are spread over Central Africa, West Africa, East Africa and Madagascar. But driven by the economic need of the rainforest communities, and those of the developed world, commercial logging, mining, wood fuel harvesting and agriculture are causing major deforestation.
One of REDD’s proposals is to compensate landowners for not logging wooded areas. The proposal benefits heavily forested countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But as only rainforests are currently included, other, more sparsely-forested countries, such as Tanzania, could lose out. There is also a fear that rich corporations could buy forested land and cash in on the incentive. While human activities have shaved world rain forests by 2 per cent, the second largest contiguous rain forest is found in the Congo Basin in Africa. This vast, green, stretch spans the boundaries of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (drc), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo. Since the 1980s, this forest has suffered one of the highest rates of logging and agricultural clearing in the world.
The Bali Road Map, adopted by Governments in 2007, includes a commitment called redd, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which is expected to be fiercely debated at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The United Nations envisions that, as part of redd, financial incentives given to developing countries will encourage them to conserve their forests, which may absorb greenhouse gases. One of redd’s proposals is to compensate landowners who do not log wooded areas. The proposal benefits heavily forested countries such as the drc. But as only rainforests are currently included, other, more sparselyforested countries, such as Tanzania, could lose out. There is also a fear that rich corporations could buy forested land and cash in on the incentive. The ipcc estimates that deforestation contributes to 17 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, making it the second largest source next to emissions from energy supply. Estimates put carbon emissions from deforestation in the 1990s at 5.8 gigatonnes a year. For many African countries, deforestation is their biggest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The drc and Zambia are particularly vulnerable, and it had been estimated that nearly half a million hectares of forests in Zambia are lost every year. Research by the Rainforest Foundation in 2007 found that the forests of the Congo Basin were estimated to contain between 25 and 30 billion tonnes of carbon in their vegetation—equal to about four years of current global anthropogenic carbon emissions. Over half of this carbon is stored within the forests of the drc.
Negotiations in Copenhagen t the African Union (au) Summit in Sirte in July 2009, 53 African nations had come together to negotiate under one umbrella in Copenhagen. The continent’s leaders prepared a common position on climate change, which, among others, calls for: The international community to fund Africa’s mitigation efforts to the tune of $67 billion per year by 2020 A push for more Clean Development Mechanisms (cdm)* projects in Africa. At the moment the continent has only 30 of the nearly 1,800 cdm projects, or about 2 per cent worldwide Compensation for countries that conserve their forests * The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), defined in Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, allows a country with an emission-reduction or emission-limitation commitment under the Protocol (Annex B Party) to implement an emission-reduction project in developing countries. Such projects can earn saleable certified emission reduction credits, each equivalent to one tonne of CO2, which can be counted towards meeting Kyoto Protocol targets.
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Technology transfers to help Africa limit its greenhouse gases and help adapt to climate change Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, was chosen to chair a new High-Level committee that included Heads of State to steer the African negotiation process. Jean Ping, chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, has repeatedly emphasized that Africa cannot afford to take a backseat at the negotiations, but needed to “aggressively engage” the developed world to ensure that Africa was included in a possible deal at Copenhagen. By September 2009, the Africa Progress Panel** prepared a policy brief for ** The Africa Progress Panel was formed as a vehicle to maintain a focus on the commitments to Africa in the wake of the Gleneagles summit of the Group of Eight (G8) developed nations and of the Africa Commission Report in 2007. The Panel is chaired by Kofi Annan.
cologically speaking, in my country, the bad news is a nightmare and the good news sounds like a dream. Though native people insist that nature is always in balance, a nightmare is taking place on their land. Their settlements and subtropical forests, called yungas, are threatened by the propagation of transgenic soy. On account of this, women of the Wichi and the Guarani indigenous peoples came to Buenos Aires to protest. “We are being robbed of our Mother Nature”, says Octorina Zamora, a Wichi cacica. “To lose the forest is to lose our lives, for we, the native people, are part of the forest”.
AU Heads of State, ministers of finance, environment, and international partners. This brief called for Africa to use the full force of its 54 votes at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on issues beyond carbon finance, such as setting clear emission targets, African carbon offsets and technology transfer. Though Africa has come a long way in presenting one voice, it remains to be seen how big a role its voice would play in the final hours of negotiations at Copenhagen when a huge push for a binding agreement is needed. Will the so-called big boys, the developed nations, dismiss them as small players? Or might this unified voice for the first time ensure that Africa’s voice will be prominently positioned in such a crucial agreement. Copenhagen awaits. unc
once more become the granary of the world, local and multinational avidity seems to have no restraint. No lesson is ever learned. Transgenic soy is supposed to be the source of protein that will save the “wretched of the Earth”—to borrow Franz Fanon’s expression—from starvation. But the soy is mostly exported from Argentina to feed the cattle of the First World and for producing biodiesel.
However, a glimmer of hope recently appeared in the local news. Scientists and researchers in the Andean province of Mendoza are involved in a project to industrially produce third-generation biofuel from algae. Not just any alga, but a specific, unicellular, The women are dedicated kind. This alga sounds like the to raising consciousness fairy godmother of the environabout what’s happening to ment. It thrives on human waste, their lands. The fate of the by Luisa Valenzuela doubles its population every 24 native flora and fauna is hours, and purifies waste water. one of the main concerns The project is ambitious, but then of the group; wild animals this alga feeds on sunlight, nitrogen and carbon dioxide, are not only their life support, but their distant friends. three natural elements that abound in Mendoza. These women are aware of the evils that deforestation Let’s hope that this project comes to fruition. To and soy monoculture bring. Dengue, a tropical disease reward the struggles of our native people, mistreated spread by mosquitoes previously under control, is thriving Mother Nature might give us a new opportunity to reverse because the insect’s natural predators have disappeared. some of our wrongdoings. Increasingly the region is subject to droughts or torrential
Forests Are Our Lives
rains and floods, like the ones experienced in Tartagal last February. History seems to repeat itself. In a quest to
Luisa Valenzuela is a writer of both fiction and journalistic works.
yolandi groenewald a future for itself
HIV/AIDS & Climate Change
The Pattern of Response
effectively. Prominent people are asked to endorse campaigns, be tested for the virus, disclose their By Mary Crewe status, and lead the fight against hiv/aids as well lmost three decades into the hiv/aids pandemic, as aids-related stigma and discrimination. there is still widespread stigma, denial and govAnd yet, despite all this energy, dedication and commiternment inaction. There are reports of rising rates ment, in many parts of the world infection rates are rising, of infection in the Western industrialized nations and concommunities are dealing with high numbers of death and sufcerns about the possibility of explosive epidemics in the Asian fering, families are affected by the death of young people, and block; yet sub-Saharan Africa, with less than 15 per cent of the millions of youth face an uncertain future due to the death world’s population, remains at the epicentre of the epidemic, of their parents, siblings and relatives. The provision of treatwith over 70 per cent of the infections worldwide. ments seemed to herald a new era in hiv/aids, and drugs Given the amount of time have been promoted as the best and energy devoted to hiv/ option for “prevention”. Today, aids, it is sobering to ask as the expected success of volwhy this should be the case. untary counselling, testing In most cases the reaction to the Starting with the World and treatments has not mateHealth Organization’s Global rialized, there is the push for pandemic has been to describe ‘what Programme on aids, which male circumcision and for an is’ and to find attempts to manage the developed into the Joint end to concurrency in sexual existing status quo and protect it from United Nations Programme relationships. on hiv/aids (unaids), there hiv/aids is one of the anticipated effects. Rather, our reaction has been, almost since the start most fascinating social issues should be to actively seek out ‘what of the epidemic, a very highof our time. It has bred in the could be’, and find ways to effectively level, globalized response: existing fault lines of socibiannual international aids ety and exposed new ones. challenge and change the status quo conferences which attract over Old tensions in society that into a future that looks at new social, 10,000 people; regional aids have been tolerated or hidden conferences and many relathave been exposed. The realcommunity and family formations, new ed conferences on drug use, ity of gender inequality and ways of understanding sexuality and sexuality and public health; a patriarchy and the abuse and human rights. UN General Assembly Special exploitation of young people Session in 2001; regional govhave been exposed; the lack ernment meetings resulting in of food, housing, education, declarations and statements of health care and access to medintent; a range of donors fundications have been exposed. The ing hiv/aids-related work around the world; and a seemingly pandemic has also starkly highlighted the inequality as well as endless range of training manuals for education, prevention, the hypocrisy of societies and global political relationships. community care and support, gender equity, treatment and care. High-level meetings are held to ensure that Governments Mary Crewe is Director, Centre for the Study of AIDS, University of are held accountable and that populations are able to respond Pretoria.
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According to the IPCC, the concept of Sustainable Development (SD) had its roots in the concept of a sustainable society and in the management of renewable resources. Adopted by the Rio Conference in 1992 as a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations, SD integrates the political, social, economic and environmental dimensions.
new social, community and family formations, new ways of hiv/aids has, in many instances, shown how difficult understanding sexuality and human rights. it is to make democracy and accountability effective, how We are seeing exactly the same patterns of response to culture and cultural practices collude with the epidemic and climate change, which are the consequences of a lack of social fuel it, and how corruption permeates through all societies, and political integrity in the dominant world economic and whether rich or poor. The pandemic has opened a new form political order. Just like hiv/aids, climate change has attractof neo-colonialism as donors and UN agencies patronize the ed many nations and the UN to develop protocols and adopt developing world about bad governance and offer technical declarations. People are exhorted to change their behaviour support and funding. with dire warnings and predictions of calamities. UN agencies and many donors are, however, caught in The spread of hiv/aids and the impact of climate change a bind. They want an effective global response, but they also have many things in common. People with the least amount have to recognize that it may fail precisely because a global of resources are affected most. response oversimplifies the panThere is also a lack of politidemic and the societies that cal will and the technical suffer from it. Often, these capabilities to contain either outside groups define not calamity. Third, even if peoonly the pandemic but also ple are included in mitigation, the societies in which they are We are seeing exactly the same patterns of decisions will be made for and working. They tend to frame response to climate change, which are the about them. Communities the pandemic in generalized consequences of a lack of social and political often cannot act on declaraways, giving money for spetions and protocols because cific projects that they alone integrity in the dominant world economic in reality they are unable to define, evaluate and lead, and political order. Just like hiv/aids, climate carry out the good intentions and which they believe best of the policy makers. Fourth, suit the people living in that change has attracted many nations and the just as hiv/aids exacerbates society. UN to develop protocols and adopt declarapoverty, gender vulnerability, These interventions may tions. People are exhorted to change their exploitation of children, and indeed mitigate the present access to health care, so too situation and may also lead behaviour with dire warnings and predicmay climate change heighten to some long-term social tions of calamities. social dislocations. and political changes, but Many people migrating they cannot address the root from oppressive regimes and causes of poverty and disease poverty, seeking a better life, which are deeply ingrained in may be joined by “climate post-colonial heritage, interrefugees”, and wealthy nations national political relationships, may find ways to deny them entry. Like with hiv/aids, peoentrenched global inequality and a failure to respect human ple are looking for ways to protect and strengthen the status rights. quo from the impact of climate change, rather than creating a The hiv/aids pandemic grows from and contributes to fundamentally changed world, with an intellectual curiosity poverty, hunger, exploitation, migration, lack of education that will allow us to devise new ways of living. and a failure of political will and imagination. In most cases In large measure, the inability to stem the spread of the reaction to the pandemic has been to describe “what is” hiv/aids and deal effectively with pressing social and and to find attempts to manage the existing status quo and health needs has come about because of a lack of emphaprotect it from anticipated effects. Rather, our reaction should sis on good research. Social science research was needed so be to actively seek out “what could be” and find ways to chalthat we could understand the effects of race, class, culture lenge and change the status quo into a future that looks at 44
mary crew hiv/aids and climate change
and gender in societies in which the epidemic was playing itself out. Impetus on social research has been swept aside in the need for quick fix solutions and for Governments to preserve existing political relationships as we know them. hiv/aids and climate change may radically and fundamentally alter the world, and yet we cling to the existing world order, without investing the time and money to foster critical research into the issues that both the epidemic and global warming raise. We seek easy solutions and lock complex issues into neatly packaged sound bites and politically
correct clichés. We have not produced critical insights into how diverse societies and power operate, and we have not produced viable and innovative ways in which political systems might change. Beyond the declarations and the rhetoric, there needs to be good, critical, stimulating research in both fields that will allow societies to imagine a new, challenging and attainable future. Just as we need to think ahead to tackle the fall out from hiv/aids, we need to think quicker than climate change. unc
Fellowship by Bina Shah
hey drove by Stopsley Common, and Yusuf got off the bus at the corner of Butterfield Green Road, to walk the few hundred metres to the Vale. He rested his eyes on the peaceful farmland beneath Warden Hill, the gently undulating carpet of gold, red, and green. The air soothed his cheeks and caressed his hair; he found his mind slowing down, turning over his thoughts with a detached calm that felt completely natural. There was nothing to be afraid of: he was coming to say goodbye to an old friend, to pay his respects. Nowhere seemed more fitting for this duty than this place, this time. “As he walked along the road, he remembered how Mrs Colewyn said that mornings were her favourite time of day, when the rest of the day stretched out before you like a road that you could run or walk down, depending on your mood. She would have liked the feel of this morning: a gentle amble down a peaceful country road, the birds calling to each other with the surprised greetings of longlost friends. “Finally he reached the chapel at the Vale, a tiny red-brick building surrounded by oak and plum trees, a round bed of riotous pink, white and purple flowers in a shady circle at
the entrance. Yusuf stopped to look at them; a lone, lazy, marbled white butterfly sailed from one to another with careless luxury. But instead of their perfume, he smelled the scent of lemon cologne that she kept on her bureau as a memento of her youth. It lingered just beyond the edges of memory as he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders to step inside the chapel.” This is an extract from a short story I wrote in September 2009 called The Believers, in which a British-Pakistani teenager befriends an elderly Englishwoman of IrishJewish descent forming an unusual, complex, but strong bond that crosses generations and ethnic backgrounds. These last few paragraphs of the story capture what I feel is the essential relationship between human beings and the environment: in respectful coexistence with our environment, we are able to get in touch with the deepest truths and most honest aspects of our humanity. In a natural environment, in a place of beauty, amongst wildlife or plant life, who amongst us has not been inspired to reflect upon our lives in the most profound way? For writers, environment provides background, inspiration, narrative UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
tension. An environment–a city, forest, or a mountain–can be as much a character in a novel as any human being. Pitting a character against his environment, or in harmony with her environment, has provided some of the most brilliant plots in the history of literature: think Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea or Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. We as humans are inseparable from our environments: they define us, challenge us, and are the catalysts for the myriad transformations we undergo in our lifetimes. In any novel, play, or poem, there would be no story without its setting. Would the fall of Adam and Eve have been as dramatic had it not taken place in the Garden of Eden? The relationship between human beings and the environment is not simply one of survival, but of connection. We are most truly ourselves when we treat the environment not as the backdrop to our existence, but as the most vital co-conspirator in the process and journey of our lives. Bina Shah is the author of Animal Medicine and Blessings, two collections of short stories and three novels, Where They Dream in Blue, The 786 Cybercafe, and Slum Child. Her forthcoming novel, Children of Sindh, will be published in Italy in 2010. 45
BEYOND carbon markets By Oscar Reyes and Tamra Gilbertson
“Billions Wasted on UN Climate Programme” “Truth About Kyoto: Huge Profits, Little Carbon Saved” “UN Effort to Curtail Emissions in Turmoil”
he headlines generated by the carbon trading mechanisms at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol, most notably the Clean Development Mechanism (cdm), tell a story of a scheme in trouble. But why has it caused such controversy? Carbon trading is a complex system which sets itself a simple goal: to make it cheaper for companies and Governments to meet emissions reduction targets. The Kyoto Protocol saw industrialized countries (described as “Annex 1”) commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 to levels 5.2 per cent lower than those of 1990. At the same time, a series of “flexible mechanisms” were agreed to, which meant that these targets need not be met domestically. The cdm is the largest such mechanism, with almost 1,800 registered projects as of September 2009 and over 2,600 further projects awaiting approval. Based on current prices, the credits produced by approved schemes could generate over $55 billion by 2012. The cdm takes the form of carbon “offsetting,” which allows companies, international financial institutions and Governments to finance “emissions-saving projects” outside the Annex 1 countries. Although carbon offsets are often presented as emissions reductions, they do not actually reduce emissions. At best, they move reductions to where it is cheapest to make them, which normally means a shift from Northern to Southern countries. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to be made at one location on the assumption that an equivalent savings will happen elsewhere. The projects that count as “emissions saving” range from building hydro-electric dams to capturing methane from industrial livestock facilities. These “savings” are calculated according to how much less greenhouse gas is presumed to be entering the atmosphere than would have been the case in the absence of the project. But no ways exist to demonstrate that it is carbon finance that makes the project possible. Researcher Dan Welch sums up the difficulty: “Offsets are an imaginary commodity created by deducting what you hope happens from what you guess would have happened.” Estimates vary, but academic analysis of existing projects suggests that between one third and three quarters of projects do not represent “emissions savings” by any reckoning.
Oscar Reyes and Tamra Gilbertson are researchers with Carbon Trade Watch (www.carbontradewatch.org), a project of the Transnational Institute.
The companies behind such projects are paid to do what they would have done anyway, while the credits allowed companies in industrialized countries to exceed their emissions cap. Easy pickings Beyond this, one of the most frequent justifications put forward for carbon offsets is that they should ensure that the cheapest reductions are made first. What is cheapest in the short term is not the same as what is most environmentally effective or socially just, however. The cheapest abatements tend to be generated by loopholes and generous subsidies for the deployment of existing technologies, rather than stimulating shifts to more sustainable development paths. As of September 2009, three quarters of the offset credits issued were manufactured by large firms making minor technical adjustments at a few industrial installations to eliminate hydroflurocarbons (hfcs) (refrigerant gases) and nitrous oxide (N2O) (a by-product of synthetic fibre production). This picture is unlikely to change dramatically by the time the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires. By the end of 2012, HFC and N2O credits are still expected to account for the largest share of the cdm (28.5 per cent and 14.4 per cent respectively), followed by hydro-electricity projects (10.8 per cent). By comparison, solar power is expected to account for just 0.03 per cent of cdm credits by 2012. As Michael Wara of Stanford University puts it, “The cdm market is not a subsidy implemented by means of a market mechanism by which CO2 reductions that would
oscar reyes and tamra gilbertson BEYOND CARBON MARKETS
©MERNYÓ FERENC/BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
Although carbon offsets are often presented as emissions reductions, they do not actually reduce emissions. At best, they move reductions to where it is cheapest to make them, which normally means a shift from Northern to Southern countries. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to be made at one location on the assumption that an equivalent saving will happen elsewhere.
have taken place in the developed world take place in the developing world. Rather, most cdm funds are paying for the substitution of CO2 reductions in the developed world for emissions reductions in the developing world of industrial gases and methane.” In fact, many of these emissions do not even occur in the developed world—where production facilities have voluntary opted to destroy hfcs without the use of emissions trading. Wara estimates that a straightforward subsidy to regulate hfc-23 emissions would have cost less than €100 million, yet by 2012, up to €4.7 billion in carbon credits will have been generated by such projects. A fossil fuel subsidy Proponents of the cdm suggest that a new balance of future projects will gradually move closer to incentivising cleaner energy and more sustainable development. Yet the evidence does not support this conclusion. The most obvious cases here are the plethora of fossil fuel projects that are supported by the cdm. To apply for the scheme, a project simply needs to prove that it is cleaner than the norm for existing power production in the region or country where it is located. As new plants are generally more efficient than old, this is rarely a difficult task. A recent study of new gas-fired power stations in China, for example, found that all twenty-four new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plants under construction between 2005 and 2010 had applied for cdm subsidies. A second example involves new “supercritical” coal-fired power plants, which have been eligible for cdm credits since autumn 2007—despite the fact that coal is amongst the most CO2 intensive sources of power. Fifteen projects had sought validation under this methodology as of September 2009. This sets up a perversely circular structure where, instead of envisaging a rapid transition to clean energy, the cdm is UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
The CDM, or Clean Development Mechanism, is subsidizing the lock-in of fossil fuel dependence through providing incentives for new coalfired power stations in the South, rather than renewable energy infrastructure based on local needs. With the credits that these new plants will generate, the CDM is at the same time encouraging a continued reliance on coal-fired power stations in the North, as well. subsidizing the lock-in of fossil fuel dependence through providing incentives for new coal-fired power stations in the South, rather than renewable energy infrastructure based on local needs. With the credits that these new plants will generate, the cdm is at the same time encouraging a continued reliance on coal-fired power stations in the North, as well. A greener future? The growth of cdm investment in fossil fuel power generation is not the whole story, however, as proponents of the scheme might still claim that it will expand investments in “renewable” sources at a similar rate. Typically, the calculations for hydroelectric projects assume that they will replace energy that would otherwise have been sourced from fossil fuels. Yet most hydropower projects submitted for cdm validation are expected to start generating credits within 12 months of their validation. Since hydropower plants normally take several years to build, the likelihood is that most projects were under construction prior to their beginning the cdm validation process. The local
environmental and social impacts of such projects are frequently severe. A similar assessment could be made of biomass power projects, which simply tend to count the methane (CH4) emissions that are avoided because it is burned rather than allowed to biodegrade—without considering the huge emissions caused by cutting down forests or draining carbon-rich peatlands to set up the plantations that provide biomass feedstock. The attempt by carbon offset promoters to distinguish between “good” and “bad” projects misses the point, since even the most renewable projects are inserted within a system that generates credits to carry on polluting elsewhere. Such projects not only perpetuate the old problems of coal, oil and gas; they often promote local conflict as well. Not designed to deal with the real complexities and intricacies of communities and livelihoods, they require enormous quantities of land, water and machinery, and are not set up to benefit the local communities or ecology. The resulting conflicts often come as a surprise to idealists convinced that carbon offset projects will bankroll community-friendly renewable energy, with administrative costs of $100,000 and upwards, the cdm does not fund such initiatives. Different paths The failings of the cdm are not simply problems in how the rules are designed, or teething problems in its implementation, but are fundamental to the scheme itself. It was designed to look for the cheapest cuts and found that those involved cheap deployment of existing technologies by large-scale industry and power producers. The proposals on the table at Copenhagen to reform and expand the cdm do not address these fundamentals. New “sectoral crediting” schemes, which change the nature of the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions developing countries agreed to adopt as part of the 2007 Bali Road Map, would expand offsetting with even weaker checks and balances. If a cleaner future is the goal, then the process should start elsewhere. Clean infrastructure investment tends to require upfront public funding— which should come largely from industrialized countries, since they predominantly caused the problem. Such funding is no guarantee of success, however, unless a decentralized governance structure is adopted that allows for meaningful citizen participation and sensitivity to local contexts, allowing for the adaptation and improvement of locally-adapted industrial and agricultural techniques, and engaging in a bottom-up assessment of real energy needs. A further significant requirement is to break with the logic of offsetting itself, which asks developing countries to clean up their act so that companies in Annex 1 countries can carry on polluting as usual. Instead of stimulating new commodity markets, the targets and obligations placed on industrialized countries should be met domestically. A plethora of existing regulations, performance standards and incentives exist to help guide this path, ranging from “feed-in tariffs” for renewables, to emissions output limits on power producers and heavy industry. With Annex 1 countries having done the most to cause climate change, their rapid and binding adoption of more meaningful domestic action remains the fundamental stumbling block on the road to tackling climate change justly and effectively. unc
According to the British Antarctic Survey, “The greatest environmental impacts on Antarctica have been caused not by local activities, but by global pollution. For example, lead from petrol and man-made pesticides originating thousands of kilometers away have been transported to Antarctica by atmospheric circulation and ocean currents, and has been found in Antarctic ice cores and in penguin eggs.”
nations have paid a high price for the comfortable life he editor of UN Chronicle approached me with a request of others. The developed world has not merely exproprito write about the subject of global warming. I am not ated their lands or exploited their manpower, but has at all young, and for most of my life it never occurred to also ripped apart their fabric of life, present and future, me to regard climate change as an existential danger for through massive damage to the climate. Beyond that, the mankind. The horrible wars of the twentieth century, the sad irony is that in most cases, the poorer a country is, regional Israeli-Palestinian conflict – these, in my view, the greater its vulnerability to harmful climate change. were the truly grave threats to the well-being of the world. Developed countries, by and large, are situated in temperCompared with the instability and corruption of human ate and northerly regions, some of which might actually beings, the climate seemed the firm foundation of our benefit from climate change. world, but the time has clearly come for me to take a new look, and confront issues I had never before contemplated. The morality of the world is now put to the test. It is I have therefore turned to a test of our responsibilan expert: my son Nahum, ity to future generations, 34, a senior economist but even more so of our in Israel’s Ministry of responsibility in our own by A B Yehoshua and Nahum Yehoshua Environmental Protection, day, and of the solidarity and a delegate to the of rich countries with their upcoming United Nations poor cousins. Climate Conference in Copenhagen. Here is his concise The nations of Europe, in the last few decades, have analysis: demonstrated a remarkable degree of moral leadership in This December in Copenhagen, if all goes as hoped, fifthe battle for the world’s climate by adopting significant teen nations will sign a climate treaty (the United Nations goals for the reduction of emissions. But Europe cannot Framework Convention on Climate Change) to replace do this alone. It needs the help of Russia, Japan, China, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. This new agreement will have India, and most of all, the United States. unprecedented significance for mankind, for many generaThe great democratic nation of America, which claims tions to come. moral leadership in the world and does battle for the The goal of the treaty is to bring about a maximum freedoms of other nations, has been hesitant in the curreduction in future greenhouse gas emissions, with the rent crisis, even though it is a major culprit in bringing it aim of stabilizing the global warming climate at an upper about. limit of 2 degrees Celsius. This target represents a painful In 1941, as the Nazi threat intensified, America did not compromise. But failure to achieve it will worsen the situhesitate for a moment. It marshaled all its powers and the ation and bring about a variety of further phenomena that best of its sons, and helped to win the most terrible and can be classified as catastrophic blows to our climate, dangerous war in human history, without pausing to think constituting a very real threat to the fate of humanity. about the impact on the lifestyle of Americans, or to worry The main question for the nations gathered at the about the economic cost of the war. conference table, however, is not the level of emissions America is now called upon to join a new struggle, once reduction to be adopted in the treaty. The central question again a war for the future of the world and of mankind. is how nations will divide the burden among them, first The enemy this time is much more elusive and vague, and foremost between the developed and the developing yet the price of waging the war is far lower than what worlds. Who will carry the greater burden of reduction? America has paid in the past. And what compensation should the developed world–via Only America, with its unique strength, its capabilidirect grants, technology sharing, and so forth–grant ties, and the influence it wields, can lead the world to save the countries of the developing world, to make up for the itself from climatic self-destruction. As in that other war, losses to their economies? America, and the entire world, will emerge from the battle The industrialized world, which is responsible today, stronger and better. as in the past, for most greenhouse gas emissions, has experienced prosperity for many decades. By contrast, the A B Yehoshua is the author, most recently, of Friendly Fire: A Duet. His son, Nahum, works for the Israeli government. developing world and the “failed world” of least-developed
America’s Great Test
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
he burden The impact of climate change on women and men is not the same. Women are increasingly more vulnerable, mainly because they represent the majority of the world’s poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources.
© EBERHARD KRAFT
Security of livelihood
Security of Survival
* Bearing the burden of taking care of the sick/disabled * Increase in mental stress * Lack of access to reproductive health services * Greater risk of HIV/AIDS due to early marriage, forced prostitution, sexual violence
* Bearing the burden of more * Adapting agricultural practices/ * Agricultural adaptation: time, energy and budget switching to other crops/animals mixed cropping, better suited * Saving food, seed and animals crops/livestock requirements for food * Adapting to new diet * Affordable and ecologically production and purchase sound Agricultural inputs * Stand in line for humanitarian * Nutritioning extension food distribution * Secure land rights for women * Increase in work burden * Credit and marketing facilities * Increase in calorie-deficiency * Managing fish stocks for local and hunger fishing communities
* Increase in infectious diseases * Physical and mental stress * Loss of medicinal plants/ biodiversity
* Harvests destroyed * Agricultural production changes/drops * Fish stocks decrease
* Lack of water * More time/energy needed * Water havesting, including * Pollution and water salination to provide water for household/ rainwater * Purchasing water from water* Flooding farm vendors * Suffer from water-related health problems
* Safeguarding affordable and safe drinking water * Efficient irrigation technologies * Safe sanitation facilities * Preserving wetlands
* Increase in tasks for family care * Access to health facilities, especially * Use of medicinal plants and reproductive health services application of alternative for women healing methods * Monitoring health situation of most vulnerable groups
* Searching for safe shelter/ * Gender specific and sensitive improving homes disaster risk reduction and * Disaster risk reduction and preparedness preparedness by womenâ€™s groups * Early warning systems
* Overall more women than men die or are injured
* Mortality/injury from different extreme weather events/disasters
POLICY OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN/MEN
Mortality / injury
COPING AND ADAPTIVE STRATEGIES BY WOMEN
IMPACT ON WOMEN
By Irene Dankelman, Professor, Centre for Sustainable Management of Resources, Radboud University, Netherlands.
Human Security, Climate Change and Women
Basic human rights
* More time and energy needed to collect fuel * Increase in work burden * Inferior energy sources—more indoor pollution
* Limited land rights * Not included in land management * Decrease in mobility
* Building more sturdy houses * Safe shelters and sturdy homes * Seeking shelter/migration * Land and housing rights for women
* Building more sturdy houses * Ecological restoration * Clean up and regeneration of * Safe shelters environment * Forming advocacy groups
* Providing fuel sources, especially * Switching to other energy clean sustainable energy sources * Use of energy-saving devices * Providing and training in using energy saving devices * Reforestation * Ecological restoration
* Saving expenses or money * Affordable and reliable credit and * Decrease in income generating * Women in informal sector financial facilities for women for lean time opportunities (eg, less credit) most effected * Household expenses increase * Selling of assets and services * Providing alternative livelihood * Males migrate—more female- * Alternative income generating options * Ensuring women’s access to climate headed households activities change funding and technologies * Increase in domestic violence * Social networks and groups * Counselling and legal services * Triggers violation of basic against women; suffering from * Defending women’s rights human rights wars/conflicts over resources * Lack of opportunities for * Girls drop out of school * Self-training, support groups * Ensuring education, particularly of education and income girls during/after disasters * Little time for education/ and networks generation * Skills training training/income generation * Environmental regeneration * Access to information * None or limited involvement * Lack of participation in climate * Organization * Ensuring women’s participation in change negotiations, planning * Advocacy in decision-making; lack of planning/decision-making/ and activities information; lack of time * Participation climate change and mechanisms * Women-specific priorities * Involving men in gender training neglected * Generate and use sex-disaggregated data
* Housing, infrastructure and services destroyed
* Environmental processes and * Poorest women living in insecure environments most services jeopardized affected
* Lack of biomass fuel * Dysfunctioning hydropower * Disruption in electricity supply
Women In The Shadow Of Climate Change
By Balgis Osman-Elasha climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of the twenty-first century. Its impacts vary among regions, generations, age, classes, income groups, and gender. Based on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc), it is evident that people who are already most vulnerable and marginalized will also experience the greatest impacts. The poor, primarily in developing countries, are expected to be disproportionately affected and consequently in the greatest need of adaptation strategies in the face of climate variability and change. Both women and men working in natural resource sectors, such as agriculture, are likely to be affected.1 However, the impact of climate change on gender is not the same. Women are increasingly being seen as more vulnerable than men to the impacts of climate change, mainly because they represent the majority of the world’s poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources. The difference between men and women can also be seen in their differential roles, responsibilities, decision making, access to land and natural resources, opportunities and needs, which are held by both sexes.2 Worldwide, women have less access than men to resources such as land, credit, agricultural inputs, decision-making structures, technology, training and extension services that would enhance their capacity to adapt to climate change.3 Why women are more vulnerable Women’s vulnerability to climate change stems from a number of factors—social, economic and cultural. Seventy per cent of the 1.3 billion people living in conditions of poverty are women. In urban areas, 40 per cent of the poorest households are headed by women. Women predominate in the Balgis Osman-Elasha is Principal Investigator with the Climate Change Unit, Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources, Sudan; and a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report.
world’s food production (50-80 per cent), but they own less than 10 per cent of the land. Women represent a high percentage of poor communities that are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood, particularly in rural areas where they shoulder the major responsibility for household water supply and energy for cooking and heating, as well as for food security. In the Near East, women contribute up to 50 per cent of the agricultural workforce. They are mainly responsible for the more time-consuming and labour-intensive tasks that are carried out manually or with the use of simple tools. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the rural population has been decreasing in recent decades. Women are mainly engaged in subsistence farming, particularly horticulture, poultry and raising small livestock for home consumption. Women have limited access to and control of environmental goods and services; they have negligible participation in decision-making, and are not involved in the distribution of environment management benefits. Consequently, women are less able to confront climate change. During extreme weather such as droughts and floods, women tend to work more to secure household livelihoods. This will leave less time for women to access training and education, develop skills or earn income. In Africa, female illiteracy rates were over 55 per cent in 2000, compared to 41 per cent for men.4 When coupled with inaccessibility to resources and decision-making processes, limited mobility places women where they are disproportionately affected by climate change. In many societies, socio-cultural norms and childcare responsibilities prevent women from migrating or seeking refuge in other places or working when a disaster hits. Such a situation is likely to put more burden on women, such as travelling longer to get drinking water and wood for fuel. Women, in many developing countries suffer gender inequalities with respect to human rights, political and economic status, land ownership, housing conditions, exposure to violence, education and health. Climate change will be an added stressor that will aggravate women’s
balgis osman-elasha women in the shadow of climate change
Worldwide, women have less access than men to resources such as land, credit, agricultural inputs, decision-making structures, technology, training and extension services that would enhance their capacity to adapt to climate change, including
According to the IPCC, in Africa, an increase of 5–8 % (60–90 million hectares) of arid and semiarid land is projected by the 2080s under a range of climate change scenarios.
Oxfam International reported disproportional fatalities among men and women during the tsunami that hit Asia at the end of 2004. According to an Oxfam briefing, females accounted for about three quarters of deaths in eight Indonesian villages, and almost 90 per cent of deaths in Cuddalore, the second most affected district in India. Of the 140,000 who died from the 1991 cyclone disasters in Bangladesh, 90 per cent were women.6 Women and girls in many rural societies spend up to three hours per day fetching water and collecting firewood. Droughts, floods and desertification exacerbated by climate change make women spend more time on these tasks, diminishing their ability to participate in wageearning activities.7 During natural disasters, more women die (compared to men) because they are not adequately warned, cannot swim well or cannot leave the house alone. Moreover, lower levels of education reduce the ability of women and girls to access information including early warning, and resources, or to make their voices heard. Cultural values could also contribute to women’s vulnerability in some countries, for example in Bangladesh, women are more calorie-deficient than men (the male members in a family have the “right” to consume the best portions of the food, and the female members have to content themselves with the left-overs) and have more problems during disasters to cope with. In Sudan the increase in the migration of men from the drought-hit areas of western Sudan increased the number of female-headed households and consequently their responsibilities and vulnerabilities during natural disasters. —Balgis Osman-Elasha
vulnerability. It is widely known that during conflict, women face heightened domestic violence, sexual intimidation, human trafficking and rape.5 improving women’s adaptation to climate change In spite of their vulnerability, women are not only seen as victims of climate change, but they can also be seen as active and effective agents and promoters of adaptation and mitigation. For a long time women have historically developed knowledge and skills related to water harvesting and storage, food preservation and rationing, and natural resource management. In Africa, for example, old women represent wisdom pools with their inherited knowledge and expertise related to early warnings and mitigating the impacts of disasters. This knowledge and experience that has passed from one generation to another will be able to contribute effectively
to enhancing local adaptive capacity and sustaining a community’s livelihood. For this to be achieved, and in order to improve the adaptive capacity of women worldwide particularly in developing countries, the following recommendations need to be considered: ÂÂ Adaptation initiatives should identify and address gender-specific impacts of climate change particularly in areas related to water, food security, agriculture, energy, health, disaster management, and conflict. Important gender issues associated with climate change adaptation, such as inequalities in access to resources, including credit, extension and training services, information and technology should also be taken into consideration. ÂÂ Women’s priorities and needs must be reflected in the development planning and funding. Women should be part of the decision making at national and local levels regarding allocation of resources for climate change initiatives. It is also important to ensure gender-sensitive investments in programmes for adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and capacity building. ÂÂ Funding organizations and donors should also take into account women-specific circumstances when developing and introducing technologies related to climate change adaptation and to try their best to remove the economic, social and cultural barriers that could constraint women from benefiting and making use of them. Involving women in the development of new technologies can ensure that they are adaptive, appropriate and sustainable. At national levels, efforts should be made to mainstream gender perspective into national policies and strategies, as well as related sustainable development and climate change plans and interventions. unc Notes 1 ILO, 2008. Report of the Committee on Employment and Social Policy, Employment and labour market implications of climate change, Fourth Item on the Agenda, Governing Body, 303rd Session (Geneva), p. 2. 2 Osman-Elasha, 2008 “Gender and Climate Change in the Arab Region”, Arab Women Organization p. 44. 3 Aguilar, L., 2008. “Is there a connection between gender and climate change?”, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Office of the Senior Gender Adviser. 4 Rena, Ravinder and N. Narayana (2007) “Gender Empowerment in Africa: An Analysis of Women Participation in Eritrean Economy”, New Delhi: International Journal of Women, Social Justice and Human Rights, Vol.2. No.2., pp. 221-237 (Serials Publishers). 5 Davis, I. et. al. 2005, “Tsunami, Gender, and Recovery”. 6 IUCN 2004 (a), “Climate Change and Disaster Mitigation: Gender Makes the Difference”. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001. Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC. 7 IUCN 2004 (b), “Energy: Gender Makes the Difference”. Gender Action, 2008. Gender Action Link: Climate Change (Washington, D.C.), http://www.genderaction.org/images/Gender%20 Action%20Link%20-%20Climate%20Change.pdf Third Global Congress of Women in Politics and Governance, 2008. Background and Context Paper for the Conference, Manila, Philippines, 19-22 October, www.capwip.org/3rdglobalcongress.htm IUCN 2007, “Gender and Climate Change: Women as Agents of Change”.
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
By Marian Chertow
hile not on the front line
of climate solutions, recycling of waste materials, wastewater, and wasted energy is a locally available and highly desirable means of reducing greenhouse gases. One potent greenhouse gas, the methane emitted from landfills and wastewater, accounts for about 90 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from the entire waste sector. That amount is 18 per cent of human-caused methane emissions globally and about three per cent of total greenhouse gases, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.1
Diverting waste bound for landfills and putting it to good use, then, is an obvious and proven means for conserving land and resources, as we have known for a long time; we can now add the knowledge from numerous studies that these practices also bolster climate protection. This article draws on examples from around the world to describe the climate effects of 1) household recycling and reuse, 2) the cyclic Marian Chertow is Director of the Programme on Solid Waste Policy, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University.
MARIAN CHERTOW the ecology of recycling
© ANDREAS KORNUSCH
According to the IPCC, a reduction in average rainfall would lead to a reduction in the size of the freshwater lens. In the Pacific, a 10% reduction in average rainfall (by 2050) would lead to a 20% reduction in the size of the freshwater lens on Tarawa Atoll, Kiribati. Reduced rainfall, coupled with increased withdrawals, sea-level rise and attendant salt-water intrusion, would compound this threat.
resource flows across clusters of companies known as “industrial symbiosis”, and 3) far reaching policy proposals for national scale resource use. It draws lessons from the system’s perspective provided by industrial ecology, a new field resolutely focused on the flows of material, energy, and water through systems at different scales, from products to factories to countries and regions. How does resource reuse affect climate? Cycling energy through cogeneration, reuse of agricultural wastes, or recovery of energy-intensive materials such as aluminium, reduces greenhouse gases. Since most commercial energy is produced from burning fossil fuels, the power generation sector emits more greenhouse gases than any other industrial sector. Cycling materials for use in other production processes reduces the lifecycle impacts, when compared with virgin materials that must be extracted from the earth and then transformed and transported through numerous stages. Recovered resources free up land and capital for other opportunities that would have been required for the equivalent amount of goods to be made from virgin resources. Cycling water means using it more than once, a critical and increasingly urgent practice where water is scarce owing to expected changes in precipitation patterns brought on by climate change. To capture these concepts, industrial ecologists use the term “embedded utility”: the total amount of the water, energy, and materials used for all different lifecycle stages of a product from beginning to end.2 Embedded utility is central to industrial ecology: if a product is landfilled, these resources are lost. Household Waste and Recycling Study after study in the last five years from Brazil to Canada and from Europe to Asia affirms the ability to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from household waste on a lifecycle basis. Each of these lifecycle studies finds a clear, UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
positive impact of recycling and reuse on reducing greenhouse gasses, principally because of recapturing, rather than discarding, the embedded energy, water, and materials used to make the products in the first place. These studies have included “upstream” (production stage) impacts, such as the effect of replacing virgin materials with recycled ones, as well as “downstream” (waste management) impacts that result from alternative strategies such as landfilling, incineration, composting and recycling. The sum of upstream and downstream amount to a dual benefit from recycling. Even when the emissions from collection trucks and additional transport to recycling facilities are included, greenhouse gas savings prevail. The scale and mechanism of greenhouse gas reductions for a particular location, however, depend on the specific materials involved, the extent of recovery, the availability of markets, and the mix of fuels avoided through recycling of resources. Recycling metals carries a large energy benefit, while paper recycling often contributes to forest carbon sequestration benefits. Replacing power generated by oil or coal, two carbonintensive fuel sources, adds more greenhouse gas benefits to recycling than replacing power generated from renewables or hydro energy. Thus, there are no universal claims, but significant regional differences occur when measuring comparative climate impacts from waste recycling and disposal. There are now many tools to calculate greenhouse gas impacts of different solid waste management options and materials. One example is the Environmental Benefits Calculator of the Northeast Recycling Council in the United Sates, which estimates the environmental benefits of a selected study area based on the tonnages of materials that are source reduced, reused, recycled, landfilled, or incinerated. The Calculator, a Microsoft Excel-based tool, incorporates findings from several lifecycle studies based on “typical” facilities 57
Recycled paper in % of paper consumption
in the European Union
and operating characteristics in the United States.3 The Brazil study measured in detail theRecycled greenhouse glass gas impacts of individual materials, including aluminium, in % ofsteel glass consumption plastic, paper, and glass.4 100% With some exceptions for mixed or contaminated materials that are difficult to categorize or recycle, a broad array of policy programmes is available to reduce Belgium Switzerland climate-related impacts of waste management. Some of the most successful proFinland grammes include recycling pick-up from homes or drop-off at district centres; Germany 90 requiring residents who generate a lot of waste to pay more than those who generate Norway, Sweden less (“pay as you throw”); instituting policies that originated in Europe and are difAustria fusing quickly Iceland in Asia that require producers of goods to play a larger role in taking Japan (extended producer responsibility); and assessing fees and taxes on back products categories of goods such as tyres or batteries, or on landfill use overall. 80
Industrial Symbiosis Denmark
Germany, Finland Switzerland Norway Sweden Japan, The Netherlands Republic of Korea * Austria
Denmark Spain France United Kingdom, Belgium Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Portugal Canada *, Slovak Republic
Greece, Ireland Poland Iceland
While geographic concentrations of industry are often heavy generators of greenhouse gases associated with global climate change, impacts can be modulated 70 70 through collaborative approaches. Emerging from industrial ecology is the notion Republic of Korea * of “industrial symbiosis”: where a cluster of geographically proximate companies exchange material by-products, energy, and water in a mutually beneficial manner, such that waste from one industrial process becomes the feedstock for another. Through such systems, transportation costs and emissions are minimized and 60 60 embedded utility is conserved, enabling greenhouse gas emissions to be greatly 59 reduced at the industrial scale. European 56 Union A simple France but prevalent reuse of an industrial by-product is fly ash from coal European average Union plants used Italy to make concrete. A British expert estimated that there were 600 million average tonnes of coal ash worldwide in 2000.5 For each tonne of fly ash that is substituted 50 50 Ireland for Portland cement to make concrete, the dual benefit is realized: not only is a tonne of material being diverted from landfill downstream, but assuming reasonable transportation distances, close to one tonne of carbon dioxide is also avoided upstream.6 Still, using the United States as an example, over 50 per cent of coal fly 40 ash40winds up in landfills.7 At the level of an industrial district, there are numerous cases of multi-firm Spain exchanges of process by-products. The most famous of these includes over 20 Portugal exchanges across eight member companies and many other ancillary operations in Kalundborg, Denmark. The primary partners in Kalundborg include an oil 30 30 refinery, a power station, a gypsum board facility, a pharmaceutical plant, and an enzymeGreece manufacturer. They share ground water, surface water, wastewater, steam, Kingdom *** and fuel,United and also exchange a variety of by-products such as coal ash and synthetic gypsum that become feedstock in other processes.8 20
Recycling rates for 2002 (except * 2001, ** 1999 and *** 1997). Source: OECD Environmental Data 2004.
Emerging from industrial ecology is the notion Hungary ** of “industrial symbiosis”: where a cluster of 10 geographically proximate companies exchange material by-products, energy, and water in a mutually beneficial manner, such that waste 0 from one industrial process becomes the feedstock for another. MARIAN CHERTOW the ecology of recycling
Cycling water means using it more than once, a Recycled paper critical and increasingly urgent practice in % of paperwhere consumption water is scarce owing to expected changes in precipitation patterns brought on by climate change.
Recycled glass 100%
An even larger example is in Tianjin, China where over 80 exchanges of materials, energy, and water across companies have been identified at the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (teda), which hosts some 60 international Fortune 500 companies.9 Preliminary analysis at teda indicates substantial greenhouse gas reduction from process energy recovery and energy cascading80 (such as condensate recycling), significant water reuse, and savings in transport, given the shorter distances these materials travel in and around a region rather than being shipped in from more distant areas. Staff of the National Industrial Germany, Finland Symbiosis Program (nisp) funded by the British Government routinely use public70 Switzerland ly available conversion factors to assess the greenhouse gas impacts of every indusNorway Sweden trial exchange they broker across parties. In the last four years, nisp reports having Japan, The Netherlands diverted over five million tonnes of waste from landfill, saved nearly eight million tonnes of virgin material from use in the United Kingdom, while eliminating Republic of Korea *over 10 Austria five million tonnes of carbon emissions throughout its industrial network. 60 Denmark
Given the benefits to the climate of source reduction, reuse, and recycling over Union Spain other waste options, it is not surprising that some Governments have been inter- average France ested in implementing these practices on a national basis. Germany and Japan are50 United Kingdom, Belgium credited with the earliest legislation to encourage more recycling-oriented societies. In 1994, Germany passed the “Act for Promoting ClosedCzech Substance Waste Republic,Cycle Hungary, Italy, Portugalwith Management and Ensuring Environmentally Compatible Waste Disposal” the explicit goal of conserving natural resources and providing for sound waste Canada *, Slovak Republic 40 disposal.11 In 2000, Japan enacted the “Basic Act for Establishing a Sound MaterialCycle Society”12 and in 2003, established the “Fundamental Plan for Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society”, seeking reductions in waste disposal and Ireland increases Greece, Poland in jobs in businesses related to promoting recycling and the sound material-cycle society. Japan has taken this logic to the international community through its “3R30 Iceland Initiative” to urge waste policy based on the 3Rs of “reduce, reuse, recycle” that was agreed to at the G8 Summit of 2004. Most recently, China enacted, as of 1 January 2009, “The Circular Economy Promotion Law” a progressive and far-reaching policy based on the need to balance China’s rapid economic growth with the realities of a deteriorating environ-20 ment. The “circular economy” is defined comprehensively in the law referring to the reduction, reuse and recycling of resources during the processes of production, circulation and consumption. 10
It is important to keep in perspective that while climate-related impacts of waste management are significant, many other waste-related issues Recycling ratesmust for 2002also (except * 2001, ** 1999 and *** be addressed, from air pollution, to water quality at waste management 1997). sites, to Source: OECD Environmental Data 2004. land degradation and resource scarcity. In the least developed countries where0 waste scavenging is prevalent, often in highly organized pods of the informal economy, numerous social, economic, and public health issues accompany waste UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
in % of glass consumption
in the European Union Belgium Switzerland
Far-Reaching National Policy Proposals
Germany Norway, Sweden Austria Iceland Japan
80 The Netherlands Denmark
Republic of Korea *
59 European Union average
40 Spain Portugal
30 Greece United Kingdom ***
Hungary ** 10
management decision-making. Still, climate impacts in the waste sector are projected to rise by another 20 per cent by 2030, according to a study by McKinsey & Company. On the reduction side, a full 60 per cent of the potential to abate these increases could be achieved through recycling.13 Historically, increases in waste generation have had a clear statistical relationship with gross domestic product per capita: the stronger the economy, the more waste. Yet some countries have successfully decoupled economic growth from waste. Even with more income, less landfilling means more source reduction, reuse, and recycling which, in turn, reduces climate impact. Early studies about “green jobs” indicate that recycling and composting create much more employment than disposal, providing opportunities for training, employment, and new investment in next-generation waste technologies. Cascading benefits from technology and innovation for conserving and reusing materials, water, and energy are growing and are likely to make an enormous difference in decreasing climate impacts from waste. unc Notes 1 Bogner, J.E., 2007. “Mitigation of global greenhouse gas emissions from waste: conclusions and strategies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. Working Group III (Mitigation)” Waste Management & Research, 26 (1), pp 11-32. 2 Graedel, T. E and Allenby,B. Industrial Ecology, 2nd Edition: (New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 2002) 3 See: http://www.nerc.org/documents/environmental_benefits_calculator.html#whatinfo 4 Pimenteira, C., 2004, “Energy conservation and CO2 emission reductions due to recycling in Brazil”, Waste Management, 24 (9), pp 889897. 5 Tenenbaum, D.J., 2007. “Recycling: Building on Fly Ash Waste”, Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 115, no. 1, Jan 01. For comparison, 600 million tons is approximately twice the amount of municipal solid waste generated in the US every year according to US EPA. 6 O’Brien, K. et al, 2009, “Case Study Reducing GHG Emissions from the Concrete Industry”, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment; Springer. 7 American Coal Ash Association, 2008, 2007 Coal Combustion Product (CCP) Production & Use Survey Results (Revised), September 2009. 8 Symbiosis Institute, Kalundborg, Denmark, www.symbiosis.dk 9 Shi, H. and M. Chertow, 2009. “Developing Country Experience in EcoIndustrial Parks: a Case Study of the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area in China.” Working paper. Yale Center for Industrial Ecology. 10 National Industrial Symbiosis Programme, http://www.nisp.org.uk/ 11 “Kreislaufwirtschafts–und Abfallgesetz–KrW-/AbfG.” Federal Law Gazette (BGBl) I 1994, 2705 12 The Basic Act for Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society, Act No.110 of 2000, Japan. This is sometimes translated into English as the “Recycling-Based Society.” 13 McKinsey & Company, 2009, Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy.
A Student’s Wake-up Call
’m a thirsty guy and in my college senior year I became aware of my environmental impact. As I trudged up the dorm stairs with my daily panoply of water bottles, Gatorade, and iced teas, I saw a flyer on a bulletin board. The flyer described the enormous expenditure of oil the beverage industry uses in manufacturing, transporting and refrigerating plastic bottles. That was my wake-up call and spurred me to undertake a Master’s programme in environmental studies. A “greener” lifestyle doesn’t have to mean a complete upending of your current lifestyle. I know that as humans, we are all attached to our little comforts, be they driving cars or using electronic gadgets, but every small change we make to our lifestyle can help collectively reduce our environmental impact. Do we really want our legacy as humans to be a plastic island twice the size of France, floating in the Pacific, and which no government will touch? Or the destruction of countless fauna and flora due to burning of fossil fuels, logging, mining, and other physical alterations to the environment? Or the mountains of rubbish in our landfills that will not disintegrate for countless generations? Humans have made innumerable advancements throughout history, but today we are also making both a greater and a faster destructive impact on the environment than ever before. While there is no question that many advancements have benefitted us, we have to learn how to innovate techonologies that are not harmful to the environment. It wasn’t the “Don’t Litter” ads or the famous Native American television commercial that ignited my environmental awareness, but instead the amount of plastic I used. The flyer on the bulletin board caused me to spurn plastic bottles in favor of my recyclable steel container, which I can refill wherever I go (and, as my family and girlfriend can attest to, I do take it wherever I go) and begin my Master’s programme in Environmental Studies. Different issues will motivate different people, but it is my firm opinion that each person has to find what will motivate him or her to take better care of this planet, because if we don’t, there will be nothing left to pass on to our future generations. I want to make a difference and I want to raise awareness among my peers so that together we can save our environment. Alejandro Frischeisen has a BA in Military History from Dartmouth College and is currently completing his MS in Environmental Studies at Adelphi University in New York. He is also a volunteer firefighter and a volunteer soccer coach for the Police Athletic League in his hometown of Garden City Park, New York.
MARIAN CHERTOW the ecology of recycling
In fact, the climate and the jobs crisis have common roots. We have over-emphasized the economy, especially the financial sector, and undervalued the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability. The response to the crisis needs to redress this imbalance. A Global Jobs Pact
Workforce by Juan SomavÍa
he climate negotiations are entering into their most intense phase. Negotiators are aiming to put together one of most complex sets of international commitments ever. This goal is an ambitious package which can deliver within the short time frame that is left for preventing dangerous climate change. Such an agreement will massively redirect investments, trigger technology transfers and mobilize billions of dollars to help developing countries cope with climate change. The challenge of striking a deal in Copenhagen is not underestimated by the representatives of the world of work—employers, workers and governments—who come together at the International Labour Organization (ilo). They are aware of the profound changes in production and consumption patterns that a meaningful climate agreement will have. But their message to world leaders and to the negotiators is that they are ready for the challenges of the transformation of enterprises, jobs and employment patterns. Climate change and jobs in times of economic crisis In the last year, mounting concern over jobs and the state of the economy has been threatening to eclipse other priorities and is likely to linger. Thanks to decisive and concerted action by governments, markets show signs of bouncing back, but incomes, jobs and people have not. An ilo survey of 53 countries shows a 23.6 per cent increase in unemployment in the year to March 2009.1 With the world’s labour force rising by 45 million a year, some 300 million additional jobs will be needed from now to 2015 just to return to pre-crisis levels of unemployment. The impact of the crisis on poverty is even more challenging. The United Nations estimates that 73-103 million more people will remain or fall into poverty due to the crisis.2 But we cannot afford to wait to address the climate challenge until economies and labour markets have recovered. We have to tackle both climate change and the jobs crisis together, and we can.
Governments, employers and worker organizations of the ilo’s 183 member countries underscored this at the International Labour Conference in June 2009 when they focused on a productive and people-centred response to the economic crisis. They adopted a Global Jobs Pact3, which includes a shift to a low-carbon, environmentally friendly economy as part of a comprehensive and coherent set of policies that will help accelerate jobs recovery, recuperation of income levels and sustainable growth of enterprises and economies. The economic and jobs crises can be turned into opportunities to speed up the transition to low-carbon, high-employment, povertyreducing economies. The short-term green stimulus measures, as well as the longer-term policies adopted in a growing number of industrialized, emerging and developing economies, demonstrate that targeting economic growth and action on climate change can be mutually reinforcing. Measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate climate change have created millions of green jobs in countries at all stages of development through energy efficiency in buildings, in industry and in transport, in sustainable agriculture and forestry and through a shift to low-carbon, renewable energy. Developing and emerging countries can even “leapfrog” and directly adopt clean, twenty-first century technology and infrastructure. The gains in green jobs and in greener, sustainable enterprises far outweigh those that will be lost or transformed in emission-intensive sectors. This insight is beginning to resonate and translate into concrete policy. At their meeting in Pittsburgh, the g20 leaders agreed to put jobs at the heart of the recovery to a greener, more sustainable and balanced global growth.
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Juan SOmAvÍa is Director General, International Labour Organization.
The ilo estimates that the discretionary fiscal expansion in the g20 countries, together with automatic stabilizers such as unemployment benefit, will have created or saved between 7 and 11 million jobs in 2009. A significant proportion of these will be green jobs which help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. An ilo survey of government policy responses to the crisis has shown that many countries have included green jobs components in their recovery measures, for example, through stepped-up investments in infrastructure and energy efficiency. Under the “Green New Deal” package in the Republic of Korea, almost a million green jobs are being created or maintained in 2009/10 with an investment of US $30.7 billion. Measures in the United States include US $500 million to train workers for green jobs. China has the largest of all green stimulus packages, which could generate about 3.7 million jobs over the next two years. More needs to be done by more countries, but we can see the potential and the demand. Large as some of them are, investments in a green recovery are just the beginning of a longer-term programme of structural change. Broader and continuous efforts are needed to put the world on track for a lasting recovery from the crisis and sustainable growth and development, enabling all countries to create productive employment and decent work for all, to overcome poverty and to preserve the natural environment.
carbon economy and adaptation into an opportunity to create jobs and generate income. Policy instruments like namas (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions) and adaptation strategies like napas (National Adaptation Plans of Action) as well the financial flows and institutional arrangements for the implementation of a new deal ought to reflect this. The ilo tool of social dialogue with industry and trade unions is a vital mechanism for building coherent and effective policies for the transition. A global climate agreement that factors in the social and economic transformation it will bring about and that brings
The climate and the jobs crisis have common roots.
We have over-emphasized the economy, especially the financial sector, and undervalued the social and environmental dimensions of sustainability. The response to the crisis needs to redress this imbalance. Making a climate deal work Coherent policies underpinned by a comprehensive international agreement can ensure that all countries pursue sustainable development and promote equity between and within countries. An important part of such a package must be resource transfers to support investments in a low-carbongrowth path in the developing world. Such an approach can help direct investments and benefits to those who need them most, in particular, the poor and other vulnerable groups. It can provide for a just transition for those who are bearing the brunt of adaptation to climate change and those whose jobs may be lost in the transformation to a low-carbon economy. These elements will be vital for equity and for the political sustainability of a new agreement. Synergies are not automatic. It takes coherent policies and integrated strategies to turn the transition to a low-
on board the relevant actors can put the world on a path towards a greener, fairer and sustainable global economy. Through the Green Jobs Initiative and the ilo global programme on Green Jobs, the world of work is actively contributing to attaining this goal. A forward-looking deal in Copenhagen in December 2009 will of course only be the start of a long process. The ilo looks forward to being part of the follow-up to making the deal on climate change work. unc Notes 1 ILO September 2009. Protecting people, promoting jobs. A survey of employment and social protection policy responses to the global economic crisis. ILO, Geneva. 2 United Nations 2009. World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009. UN, New York. 3 See: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_108456.pdf
juan somavía greening the workforce
©MERNYÓ FERENC/BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
Financial Innovations & Carbon Markets
By Graciela Chichilnisky
A Modest Extension of the Kyoto Protocol Can End the Impasse Between Industrial and Developing Nations The Point of No Return
or the first time in recorded history, humans are altering the planet in ways that can endanger its basic life-support systems. We are rapidly transforming the planet’s atmosphere, its bodies of water and the complex web of species that makes up life on Earth. Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have changed the Earth’s atmosphere, unleashing a potentially catastrophic climate change that can threaten the survival of human civilization. This is real, and it is happening now. As the polar caps and Greenland’s permafrost start to melt, the sea level rises. Entire towns in Alaska are sinking into the warming seas. Species such as the polar bear are on the verge of extinction. Island nations like UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
the Seychelles and low-lying countries such as Bangladesh risk sinking into the ocean. And hundreds of millions of people could follow suit. Indeed, 50 million “climate change refugees” are expected by 2010 and more than 200 million, by 2050—one out of every 45 people who will be alive at the time.1
Graciela Chichilnisky is Professor of Economics and Statistics, Columbia University.
In June 2009 the UN General Assembly invited the UN Security Council to intensify its efforts in addressing climate change and its possible security implications.2 In as little as 20 years’ time, we could be past the point of no return. We are at a critical point in the history of humankind. This article explains what we must do now to prevent significant and irreparable damage to our planet and its life support systems. The Kyoto Protocol is the only international agreement we have to address the risk of climate change, and it expires in 2012. Its fate will be decided this December at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. This may just be the most important event you read about in 2009. I will explain what we can do to resolve
Carbon Cycle and Kyoto Protocol
Developing nations house 80 per cent of humankind but emit only 40 per cent of the world’s emissions, while 60 per cent of global emissions originate from the rich nations that house 20 per cent of the world’s population. the climate crisis in practical terms, and how Copenhagen can resolve the impasse between the industrial and the developing nations in the global negotiations. I will propose two entirely practical and feasible solutions that build on existing law, in effect, modest extensions of the Kyoto Protocol’s “carbon market” and its Clean Development Mechanism (cdm). These two proposals can overcome the gulf between rich and poor nations. They involve financial and technological mechanisms and have elicited positive responses in various 64
nations including China, India and the United States; they reflect the requests of developing nations at the recent meeting of the Group of Eight main industrialized countries (G 8) in July 2009; and they elicited a positive reception at the Expert Meeting on Trade and Climate Change held by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (unctad), with the official participation of 100 nations and members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc) Secretariat, in April 2009.3 Copenhagen could be the beginning of a cold war about limiting emissions between the largest economies in the world—such as China and the United States—or it could initiate an era of international cooperation that could benefit all nations.
Climate change is a truly global issue and we all must be part of the solution. Carbon in the atmosphere is uniform across the globe and is produced by all nations. It resembles a physical law which does not depend on economics or politics. As the sea level rises there is nowhere to hide. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (oecd) ranks Miami, Florida as the most threatened city in the world, facing $3.1 trillion in damages from global warming: Shanghai comes second with $2.3 trillion. While much of the world remains in denial, UN representatives from all 192 Member States have been trying to hammer out a solution. The Kyoto Protocol, signed by 160 nations in 1997, is an historic agreement, based on the creation of a new market-trading in user rights to the atmosphere. The critical aspect is that it reduces emissions from wealthy nations, which cause the majority of the world’s emissions, and accelerates a solution by changing market values so that emitting becomes costly, while clean technologies and sustainable development become profitable.
Kyoto is the first global agreement based on a global market solution—one that changes the value of global commons. For the first time in history, we are enlisting financial innovation for the conservation of the planet’s global commons, and the survival of our species. Nearly 100 per cent of all species that have ever existed have become extinct. Our challenge is to be the exception, not the rule. The Kyoto Protocol took almost 13 years to negotiate and ratify. As an insider with 25 years of working with the UN system and an architect of the carbon market, I know how it originated, the main protagonists behind its creation and the current issues that threaten to undermine it.4 Key to the survival of the Kyoto agreement, and that of the Earth as we know it, is a greater cooperation between developing countries and the West, closing the global income divide while simultaneously resolving the climate crisis. The growing wealth gap between the rich and the poor nations is not incidental to this situation. It is its root cause. It is at the foundation of an unsustainable use of the Earth’s resources.5 The fate of the Kyoto Protocol will be decided this December in Copenhagen. The last and most formidable bastion of opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. House of Representatives, unexpectedly fell in the summer of 2009, endorsing emissions limits and capand-trade legislation. On the face of it, the Protocol’s record has been almost implausible—walking along a knifeedge of success and failure—the international equivalent of Rocky II. Yet, despite a heroic performance, it is now on its last legs. It is generally believed that its odds of survival at Copenhagen are vanishingly small. Modest changes in Kyoto’s carbon market could shift the playing field on which the Copenhagen agreement will be negotiated—making it much more likely to have a successful outcome— one that is more advantageous to the
graciela chichilnisky financial innovations and carbon markets
United States, the European Union and Japan while acceptable to Brazil, China, India, and Mexico as well as all the developing nations—and one that fits the needs of the Small Island Developing States (sids), whose survival is directly at stake. Oil nations could benefit from the technological innovation I propose—Saudi Arabia is on the record espousing a commitment to become a leader in solar power in this century.6 Significantly, a representative of the Chinese delegation at the April 2009 unctad Expert Meeting on Trade and Climate Change, has gone on the record agreeing to this proposal in principle, and several members of the U.S. Congress have expressed support. Copenhagen: “LAST STOP” The Danish capital city is the last stop on the rollercoaster ride of hope and despair since the Protocol became international law in 2005. Partial attempts to move negotiations forward have limped from failure to failure. The world’s two largest emitters—the United States and China—cannot agree on limits, and the outlook looks bleak. Every nation has an incentive to procrastinate: nobody wants to reduce carbon emissions on their own. Global warming is the first true global problem
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed jointly in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. The IPCC brings together the world’s top scientists in all relevant fields, synthesizes peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change, and produces authoritative assessments of the current state of knowledge of climate change. It produces periodic reports on scientific, technical, and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
we have ever faced, and we need every nation to participate, or else there is no solution. By burning its own fossil fuels, Africa could unwillingly cause trillions of dollars worth of damage to the United States when sea levels rise and polar caps melt. There is nowhere to hide—we must all cooperate. But at Copenhagen negotiators will be sophisticated diplomats who will not break cover. Without compulsion to agree, there will be no agreement. The Berlin Mandate in 1995 committed the world to an agreement, and the Kyoto Protocol was born in 1997. In 2007, the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali concluded that the 2009 conference in Copenhagen would resolve the problem of Kyoto post-2012. So, in this context, Copenhagen is truly “do or die”. The Conference could become the impetus for a major confrontation between the United States and China, and, more generally, the rich and the poor nations. The amount of greenhouse gases that these two nations alone emit into the Earth’s atmosphere could cause catastrophe for the world. The United States does not want to limit its emissions unless China does, but developing nations are not required to reduce emissions without compensation.7 This is where the environment meets geopolitics. Developing nations need energy to stave off poverty, and 89 per cent of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels. Over 50 per cent of the world’s population lives on less than $2 per day, and in excess of 1.3 billion people are at the edge of survival with $1 per day. Developing nations house 80 per cent of humankind but emit only 40 per cent of the world’s emissions, while 60 per cent of global emissions originate from the rich nations that house 20 per cent of the world’s population. Poor nations can hardly reduce energy use and compromise economic growth that is sorely needed to eradicate poverty. Independently from one’s sympathies, there is a stark reality that is UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
pointed out by conservatives in the U.S. Senate: there is no point for the United States and other rich nations to reduce emissions on their own. Developing nations contribute today a minority of the emissions, but in 20 or 30 years, as they grow, they will hold the deciding card on global warming. Undoubtedly, this is truly a global game of “chicken”: we are now playing with the metabolism of the planet and nobody can hide as the seas rise. The stand-off between the United States and China is reminiscent of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States in the middle of the twentieth century. Both refused to limit their nuclear arsenals unless the other did first. The times are different, the weapons are different, but the situation is the same. two-sided coin The carbon market that I designed and crafted into the Kyoto Protocol is key. Each year, $60 billion in carbon credits is traded in the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ets) and this promotes accelerated clean technology and financial assistance for sustainable development. It is the basis for a solution. Developing nations do not trade in the carbon market because they have no limits on emissions, but they use the cdm, which compensates (with carbon credits) private investments from industrial nations that do reduce emissions. According to the World Bank, this has led to more than $23 billion in successful, productive and clean transfers. So far, more than 60 per cent of all cdm funding has gone to China, because the cdm is designed to reduce emissions and China, the largest 65
emitter, has the most to reduce. Africa is responsible for only 3 per cent of the world’s emissions and therefore has little to reduce, obtaining little cdm f unding. The same is true for Latin America. This needs to change. How can we reach a consensus between the industrial and the developing nations? The interests of the industrialized and developing nations are so opposed that we need a solution that is truly a “two-sided coin”—one that looks the opposite to each party. Is this impossible? No. It was achieved in Kyoto when the carbon market became the two-sided coin that allowed the Kyoto Protocol to be signed by 160 nations. The carbon market starts from bounding wealthy nations’ emissions, and therefore was supported by developing nations. Yet the carbon market offers flexibility, since some nations can be above their limits and purchase rights to emit from others that are below—so the world implements important and needed reductions limits. The market flexibility appealed to the United States and to other industrialized nations. This is how the Protocol was born in 1997. It is possible to forge a similar solution now?
“The greenhouse effect was first described in theoretical terms by a Swedish researcher, Svante Arrhenius, in the late 1800s. However it wasn’t until the following century that Arrhenius’ theory was observed. In the 1930s, scientists realized that parts of the globe had warmed during the previous half-century. Then in the early 1960s scientists discovered that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was rising. Researchers began to take an interest and found a strong relationship between the increasing levels of carbon dioxide and average global temperature.”
We need two sides of the same coin. Indeed, it is the only type of solution that will work in Copenhagen. This is what I propose here. Consensus between Industrial and Developing Nations There is a formula that uses the Kyoto Protocol’s own structure and updates it to overcome the impasse and forge a consensus between the rich and the poor nations.
Copenhagen is the “do or die” mission for the climate negotiations. The price of failure could be catastrophic but there is a solution available.
It has two aspects, financial and technical assistance, both of which were highlighted at the G 8 Summit in July 2009, and it has been officially supported by the Chinese delegation at the April unctad Expert Meeting on Trade and Climate Change. The financial part is a modest extension of the carbon market—engineered so that both sides get what they want—and the technological aspect makes sure that the reductions are feasible. The former is a modest extension of the carbon market, and the latter a modest extension of the cdm. Both are reasonable and acceptable interpretations of existing law. unfccc does not say that China and the developing nations should never have limits. It says they should have no limits unless they are compensated. This is quite different. What we need, therefore, is a form of “compensation” that fits the bill and eliminates the opposition on both sides. I am talking
about trade rather than unilateral compensation—and in the United States, we are very comfortable with that term. Nobody needs to be the first mover: a simultaneous financial solution makes this all possible. For example, the United States can buy an option to reduce Chinese emissions, thus obtaining what it wants while providing “compensation” to China, as is required by the unfccc for developing nations. At the same time, the Chinese can secure a minimum price for the credits, ensuring that they would not be selling economic growth for a pittance. This one-two punch reduces the overall monetary exchange while giving each party what they want. It can be a modest extension of the carbon market and sold in secondary markets to provide liquidity and stability for the carbon market. The new financial mechanism I am proposing is a modest update on the carbon market I originally crafted, allowing the United States and China to each say that they are sticking to their original position—while at the same time both countries may also say that they got what they want from the other. Two sovereign options based on the carbon market do the trick. The United States buys an option sold by China which establishes a “compensation”, while China buys the right to ensure a minimum floor for its emissions reductions. This eliminates developing nations’ fears of the Faustian deal: selling much needed economic growth for a pittance. The entire transaction could involve little in terms of monetary exchange, but it will set emissions limits on both nations at the same time. Secondary markets can trade the corresponding options, thus providing liquidity and stability to the carbon market and its cdm.8 At the July G 8 Summit, developing nations were loath to accept any obligation without specific commitments of financial and technical assistance and failed to agree on a formula. This is the sticking point in the negotiations. The
graciela chichilnisky financial innovations and carbon markets
We need solutions that can reduce the carbon in the atmosphere rapidly, rather than gradually lowering emissions. These are called “negative carbon technologies”, because they reduce more carbon than they emit. Negative carbon technologies could work for both the industrial and the developing nations. formula proposed here provides for financial and technical assistance that should work for both sides. Compensation can also take the form of export credits for technology that makes emissions reduction possible; a modest extension of the cdm can certify new technologies that produce energy while reducing carbon from the atmosphere. When used in Africa, the technologies can help the region reduce more carbon than it emits, meaning the continent can attract significant cdm funding that was not possible until now.
For rich nations, this involves $43 trillion in energy infrastructure—the right size to stimulate today’s world economy—creating technology jobs, increasing exports and stimulating trade. FRAMING A RESolution Let’s zoom in to the solution that can be provided by Article 4 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change concerning commitments by developed and developing States Parties to, among other things, emmissions limits. My proposal is really a financial interpretation of Article 4 designed in a way that eliminates the most sensitive political opposition in the United States, as well as in China. The unfccc does not say that China and the developing nations should never have limits: it says they should have no limits unless they are compensated. This is quite different. What we need, therefore, is a form of “compensation” that fits the bill: a new financial mechanism that works as a combination of derivatives on the carbon market and uses widely-accepted financial principles. The oecd and the developing nations can each say that they are sticking to their original position—while at the same time both groups of countries can also say that they got what they want from the other.
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The first part of the mechanism works as an option that is bought by the oecd nations and sold by developing nations. Think of it as the United States buying a “call” on emission reductions from China. It puts a relatively low upper limit on the cost to the United States of getting China to reduce its emissions. This is a “derivative” with the carbon market of the Kyoto Protocol as the “underlying” market, and the actual price to be paid is determined through use of classic financial formulas for derivatives that are used every day in the global economy. In this way, we establish the “compensation” I just mentioned. The second part of my financial mechanism is critical to giving both sides what they want while reducing monetary costs to them. It behaves as a “put option” bought by China from the United States. It is again a derivative of the Kyoto Protocol carbon market. China can put its emissions reductions to the United States at a minimum price that is related to the carbon credit price, thus eliminating fears about selling emission reductions for nothing. The best analogy is to view this financial mechanism as two interlocking options: one that the United States will buy from China and another that China will buy from the United States. In practice, the entire transaction would almost be a “wash” in monetary
exchange, while setting emissions limits on both nations at the same time. In addition to overcoming the diplomatic stand-off, the proposal can also help implement a real solution: a practical way to reduce carbon concentration from the atmosphere when the options are called, without undermining urgently needed economic development. This involves a modest extension of the cdm to certify technologies that can increase available energy, while at the same time reducing carbon in the atmosphere. It seems a tall order, but it is real and possible.9 Given a modest extension of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism could provide the financial and technical assistance needed to increase energy sources while reducing carbon emissions. We need solutions that can reduce the carbon in the atmosphere rapidly, as opposed to providing for gradually lowering emissions. These are called “negative carbon technologies”, because they reduce more carbon than they emit. Negative carbon technologies could work for both sides—the industrial and the developing nations. There are new technologies that can extract carbon from air while producing electricity, thus transforming fossil fuel plants into net carbon “sinks” and solar plants into even larger sinks, while also encouraging a transition to renewables.10 Such technologies can produce more energy in developing nations, while cleaning up the atmosphere at an accelerated pace. The capital cost involved is about $100 million for one million tonnes of CO2 captured per year,11 and a total of $3 trillion would suffice to capture the entire stock of human emissions today.12 Less than 5 per cent of the gross domestic product (gdp) of the planet would have to be deployed over a ten year period, or 0.5 per cent of the gdp each year, which compares very favourably with Government subsidies to the financial industry in 2008/09. The total amount of the stimulus for G 20 nations alone 68
is about $692 billion for 2009, approximately 1.4 per cent of the combined gdp of these nations.13 In the United States alone that figure was $825 billion, and in China $586. The cost involved is definitely lower than the 2.5 per cent premium that the world economy pays today to insure catastrophic risks.14 It is reasonable and possible. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States’ aspirations to reach a leadership role in solar power will be boosted by such technologies, which increase the deployment and profitability of solar plants, such as concentrated solar power (csp). For the 42 island nations whose populations are at risk today, negative carbon is the only accelerated mitigation policy that can work in the short and medium term, while boosting energy production and improving development infrastructure. For the rich nations this encourages technology exports that create jobs in a $43 trillion energy infrastructure market: a global stimulus package of the right proportions for today’s global economy. Perhaps most important is that the plan would allow developing regions with little emissions, such as Africa, which accounts for only 3 per cent of the world’s emissions, to benefit from the Clean Development Mechanism in a way that has not been possible before—by capturing more carbon than they emit. This creates jobs, improves productivity, alleviates poverty and cleans up the planet’s atmosphere, benefiting everyone involved. Next Steps A modest extension of the Kyoto Protocol carbon market, which would fix a heretofore intractable impasse, will itself not solve all the political challenges that still remain. However, I believe it is necessary to have any chance of a successful outcome. The United States has a unique political opportunity to be the country spearheading the push for this critical change.
Of course, there are many terms to determine here—when and how and how much. But this is good, not bad: it provides a framework that can be established in principle and allows for serious negotiation in Copenhagen and beyond. This is what happened after the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. We need a solution to the zerosum game of escalating emissions. Otherwise, we face a new cold war, all about warming. Copenhagen could be the dawn of a new cooperative global future. unc I thank Nemat Sadat for data support.
Notes 1 IOM Report: www.iisd.org/pdf/2008/ migration_climate.pdf and UNDP Human Development at: hdr.undp.org/en/reports/ global/hdr2007-2008/.../brown_oli.pdf 2 http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE5525W920090603 3 See http://www.unctad.org/Templates/ meeting.asp?intItemID=1942&lang=1&m=1 5861 4 See Chichilnisky and Sheeran, Saving Kyoto (2009). 5 Chichilnisky and Sheeran, Saving Kyoto (2009); Chichilnisky and Heal, Environmental Markets: Equity and Efficiency (2000); Chichilnisky, Beyond the Global Divide: From Basic Needs to the Knowledge Revolution, to appear; Chichilnisky, Development and Global Finance: The Case for an International Bank for Environmental Settlements (1996). 6 This statement was made by Ali Al-Naimi, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Saudi Arabia, at the Energy Pact Meeting in Geneva, 2009, http://www.energypact. org. 7 This is Article 4 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (1992). 8 This was proposed earlier by the author in Chichilnisky, “The Greening of the Bretton Woods” (1996). 9 See N. Jones, Nature December 2008, April 2009 and G. Chichilnisky, Nature June 2009. 10 The technologies described here involved air capture of CO2 and are different from the traditional carbon capture from the flue, also called CCS (Carbon Capture of Sequestration). The latter is at best carbon neutral and has been opposed in the climate negotiations because it seems to encourage the continued use of fossil fuels. The former (air capture) can be carbon negative, namely it cn reduce more carbon than is emitted in the process of producing power. See Jones, “Sucking carbon out of the air” (2008) and Jones, “Sucking it up” (2009); Chichilnisky and Eisenberger, “How air capture could help to promote a Copenhagen solution”
graciela chichilnisky financial innovations and carbon markets
(2009); The Royal Society, “Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty” (2009); and Chance et al, “Global Warming and Carbon-Negative Technology: Prospects for a Lower-Cost Route to a Lower-Risk Atmosphere” (2009). 11 See Chance et al, op.cit. (2009) and Chichilnisky and Eisenberger “Energy Security, Economic Development and Carbon Capture” (2009). 12 Each million of CO2 captured requires a $100 million plant, approximately. There are today approximately 30 gigatons of carbon emitted from human sources. 13 The Group of Twenty (G 20) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors was established in 1999 to bring together systemically important industrialized and developing economies to discuss key issues in the global economy. According to the Brookings Institute, the total amount of stimulus for G 20 countries totals approximately $692 billion for 2009, which is about 1.4 percent of the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of these countries, see Report at: http://www. brookings.edu/reports/2009/03_g20_stimulus_prasad.aspx. This figure does not account for what the individual countries spent in fall 2008 to rescue their own banks and shore up their national economy. For that figure, the U.S. alone spent $825 billion,
$586 billion for China, etc. Please see this Report for exact figures for the major countries in the global economy: http://www. ppionline.org/ppi_ci.cfm?knlgAreaID=108 &subsecID=900003&contentID=254895 14 See “Insuring the Future”, Chapter 2 in Chichilnisky and Sheeran, op.cit, 2009
References Chichilnisky, G. and K. Sheeran, Saving Kyoto, New Holland, London, 2009. Chichilnisky, G. and G. Heal, Environmental Markets: Equity and Efficiency, Columbia University Press, New York, 2000. Chichilnisky, G., Beyond the Global Divide: From Basic Needs to the Knowledge Revolution, to appear, 2010. Chichilnisky, G. Development and Global Finance: The Case for an International Bank for Environmental Settlements (IBES), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Office of Development Studies, New York, Discussion Paper no. 10, September 1996. Chichilnisky, G., “The Greening of the Bretton Woods” Financial Times, Wednesday, 10 January, 1996, p. 8.
Chichilnisky, G. and P. Eisenberger, “How air capture could help to promote a Copenhagen solution”, Nature vol. 495, 25 June, 2009. Chichilnisky, G. and P. Eisenberger, “Energy Security, Economic Development and Global Warming: Addressing short and long term challenges”, International Journal of Green Economics, 2009. Eisenberger, P., R. Cohen, G. Chichilnisky, Chance, R., et al., “Global Warming and CarbonNegative Technology: Prospects for a Lower-Cost Route to a Lower-Risk Atmosphere”, Energy and Environment, 2009. Jones, N. “Sucking carbon out of the air”, Nature, 17 December, 2008. Published online at http://www.nature.com/news/ 2008/081217/full/news.2008.1319.html Jones, N. “Sucking it up”, Nature vol. 485, 30 April, 2009. The Royal Society, UK: “Geoengineering the climate: science, governance and uncertainty” September 2009 Report, hyyp://royalsociety.org/displaypagedoc.asp?id=35217 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 1992.
Global Warming: Could Be Cool by Tamim Ansary
am both alarmed and encouraged to realize that global warming and the finitude of oil are really the same problem. Oil is running out so fast that by the time my daughters are my age (I am sixty), it will all be gone; but if global warming goes unchecked, it won’t matter because melting icecaps will have triggered worldwide catastrophe. What could I possibly find encouraging in all this? Well, with oil running out, we absolutely must harness wind and sun to power our civilization (using hydrogen to store and transport the energy) and if we do, we’ll also stem our contribution to global warming. Amazingly enough, the necessary technology already exists in embryo. Our only real hurdles are social and political: to make wind and solar energy viable, we’ll have to generate power not from a few centrally controlled plants but from millions of tiny facilities distributed across the globe, with just about every household
arvesting and feeding energy into a flexible global grid h for all to draw upon as needed. I see no other option. The industrial age saw catastrophic wars driven by competition for scarce fossil fuels. Wind and sun are not scarce; they pose a different problem. In any one place they are erratic. Only in sum is their output constant and dependable. Making use of these energy sources will, therefore, require cooperation instead of competition, which implies a landmark social transformation. Wind and sun exist everywhere. Even the (currently) poorest folks on Earth will be able to (and must) contribute to the global grid. With our very survival at stake, the only viable solution to the twin problems of global warming and the finitude of oil may drive our species to invent the social and political institutions we need to build a better and more peaceful world. Tamim Ansary is the author, most recently, of Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes.
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
BIOTECHNOLOGY By Kaiser Jamil
orld hunger and food insecurity is a recurring problem in most parts of the developing world. Among the many potential biotechnologies that are available, and the different ways in which they can be applied, genetic modification (gm) of crops demands particular attention. Genetically modified crops possessing genes from different species, could possibly relieve
global food shortages. Although initial excitement surrounded the use of gm crops—that they will provide bigger and better harvests for farmers— there are still questions about the benefits of such crops. In addition, the general public may not
© MATHIAS MORITZ
kaiser jamil biotechnology: a solution to hunger?
welcome the creation of “super plants” as a viable option in solving global hunger. The environmental impact of gm crops is important with regard to creating food security in developing countries. Genetically modified crops can potentially fail to germinate; kill organisms other than pests that are beneficial to plants and reduce soil fertility; and potentially transfer insecticidal properties or virus resistance to wild relatives of the crop species. A segment of the scientific community often proposes that export earnings from higher agricultural yields can contribute to reducing food insecurity and hunger in developing countries. However, there are many issues and challenges that beg the practicality of this proposal. A few crop varieties, specially created through biotechnology, can improve yields, but biotechnology alone cannot solve the problem of hunger in the developing world. Nevertheless, the potential advantages that biotechnology can confer across a wide range of agricultural applications are in areas such as livestock management, storage of agricultural products and sustaining current crop yields, while reducing the use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. The real challenge is whether we are smart enough to harness the benefits of biotechnological solutions. But what are these solutions? Biotechnology offers a very promising alternative to synthetic foods and an improvement on conventional plant-breeding technologies. Combined with other advanced agricultural technologies, it offers an exciting and environmentally responsible way to meet consumer demand for sustainable agriculture. When the benefits of gm crops reach small and marginal farmers, more Green Revolutions may become a reality. Combating Hunger and Malnutrition Malnutrition is the related term in medicine for hunger. The most recent estimate of the Food and Agriculture Organization says that 854 million people worldwide are undernourished. This is 12.6 per cent of 6.6 billion people in the world. Many of the 820 million that are undernourished, children being the most visible victims, live in developing countries. Undernutrition magnifies the impact of every disease, including measles and malaria. One example tells us how biotechnology can contribute to combating global hunger and malnutrition.
Kaiser Jamil is an internationally renowned biotechnologist and President of the Third World Organization for Women in Science (http://twows.ictp.it/).
Golden Rice Approximately 140 million children in low-income groups in 118 countries, especially in Africa and South-East Asia, are deficient in Vitamin A. This situation has compounded into a public health challenge. The World Health Organization reports that an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 Vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. Golden Rice, created by researchers in Germany and Switzerland, contains three new genes— two from the daffodil and one from a bacterium—that helps it to produce provitamin A. This rice is available as a possible option for mass distribution, in part due to the waiving of patent rights by biotechnology companies. This is just one among the hundreds of new biotech products, which point to the contributions of biotechnology to society. Intellectual Property and Food Security There are concerns about a technological landscape controlled almost exclusively by the private sector and defined by patent protection. Patents allow large, private firms substantial control over plant genes, which has worrisome implications. If farmers have to purchase seeds during every sowing season, it affects their income and food security. Although biotech companies such as Monsanto and AstraZeneca have announced that they would not commercialize the so-called “Terminator” or seed-sterilization technology, which is genetically designed to “switch off” a plant’s ability to germinate a second time, the biotech industry collectively owns at least three dozen patents that control either seed germination or essential plant germination processes. This privatization of a plant’s genetic resources puts not only agricultural research in developing nations at a disadvantage, but might ultimately threaten the livelihoods of a majority of small farmers in Africa, Latin America, and Asia who largely depend on seed saved from one crop to sow in the next. In developing countries, there may be a potential negative impact from Intellectual Property Rights (ipr) over biotechnological products or the processes used in producing them. iprs have been held not only by private companies, but also by some public organizations making it impossible to use any aspect of biotechnology for improving major crop species without infringing a patent somewhere in the process. Because of iprs, it has not always been possible to separate the biotechnology prospects from the business interests involved. A major consequence of ipr in agricultural biotechnology is that many developing countries which have not yet invested in biotechnology may never be able to catch up in the future.
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possibilities Sound decisions need to be based on diligent research. Biotechnology scientists are often highly specialized and technique-focused and may also need additional competency in handling the complicated issue of hunger and food security in developing countries. Biotechnology holds tremendous possibilities for the developing world. The use of high-yielding, disease- and pest-resistant crops will have a direct bearing on improved food security, poverty alleviation and environmental conservation. gm crops will hopefully produce more yield on less land. This may increase the overall productivity and may offer developing countries a means to sustain themselves and reduce worldwide hunger. Ninety per cent of the world’s 13.3 million “biotech crop farmers” are from developing countries. India, with 7.6 million hectares, is the fourth among the 14 “mega-biotech crop” countries. For instance, five million farmers in India are engaged in planting 7.6 million hectares of Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis, cotton, which protects itself from insects without requiring external pesticide. The shift to Bt cotton has been possible because of the 31 per cent increase in its yield, 39 per cent decrease in insecticide use, and higher profits equivalent to $250 per hectare. It is now also possible using biotechnological approaches to increase the extraction of oil from a plant source up to 90 per cent. With the depletion of world hydrocarbon reserves, in the future it is probable that plant oils, such as biodiesel, may compete in terms of price and quality with oil, coal and gas.
shows that solutions to eliminate hunger are not technological in nature, but rooted in basic socio-economic realities. This is not to say that technology, including biotechnology, does not play a role in reducing, say, malnutrition, but there is no technology that can override the immediate political and social forces that keep people poor and hungry. The global biotechnology industry has funnelled a vast majority of its investment into a limited range of products that have large, secured markets in the First World—products which are of little relevance to the needs of the world’s hungry. Biotechnology has applications that can significantly solve the problem of world hunger. Green is the colour of agricultural biotechnology, of fertility, self-respect and wellbeing. In my opinion, policymakers should pragmatically consider modern biotech discoveries and assets as an important tool for solving the problem of global hunger. unc
Privatization of a plant’s genetic resources is putting government agricultural research at a disadvantage, and might ultimately prove life-threatening to the majority of small farmers in Africa, Latin America, and Asia who depend on saved seed from year to year.
Final Thoughts The world’s food supply is abundant, not scarce. The world’s production of grain and other foods is sufficient to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person, per day. The real reason for hunger in the world is poverty, which often strikes women--the nutritional gatekeepers in many families--the hardest. Economists argue that resolving hunger requires political solutions and not just agro-technical solutions. According to them, instead of looking at biotechnology as a yet unproven and non-existent breakthrough, decision makers should look at the full body of research that
A major consequence of Intellectual Property Rights in agricultural biotechnology is that many developing countries which have not yet invested in biotechnology may never be able to catch up in the future.
kaiser jamil biotechnology: a solution to hunger?
A Loss of Memory
Love and Respect
by Jose Dalisay
y first novel, Killing Time in a Warm Place*, opens with a man’s recollection of an idyllic boyhood summer spent in the seaside village where he was born, in the central Philippines. It was, of course, partly autobiographical. For me, as for millions of Filipinos, the sea is both the symbol and substance of plenitude, the bringer of many things good and wonderful. With a coastline of over 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles), the Philippines should be richly blessed, materially and culturally, by its proximity to water. Today, however, those bountiful and beautiful seas I remember so well seem a far cry from what my memory keeps returning to—and we have no one to blame but ourselves. The pristine beach I set part of my novel on has been despoiled by industrial effluents that have also ravaged the coral growth in the immediate area; nothing grows there now but the despondency that comes with thoughtlessness and neglect. And almost everywhere I go in this great archipelago, the same sad turn of things has happened, not just in water but on land: mud flows from treeless slopes have obliterated whole villages and snuffed out hundreds of lives; industrial waste has turned rivers into virtual vats of death and decay. Perhaps just as ominously, we have been visited by literally unseasonable storms, even in the very heart of the Christmas season, when a gentle chill was all that we used to wake up to, with much eagerness. When I see what we have done—or failed to do—to our natural surroundings, I lament not only the physical and economic damage wrought, but also the cost of these changes to the imagination. What will we leave behind for our children to greet and to remember with joy and wonderment? Jose Dalisay most recently wrote Journeys with Light: The vision of Jaime Zobel and The Knowing is in the Writing: Notes on the Practice of Fiction.
by Daniel de Cordova
pon birth, we greet a human being by saying: welcome to the world. The contrary happens when someone close to us dies; we find ourselves saying: he has left. If we understand how fragile life is and comprehend that when passing away, the only things we take with us are our memories and life experiences, we would learn how to love and respect our planet; a planet that presently is found on the border of a global warming process. Why? The nations, with their rush to progress and need to dominate the economic market due to the control they have over natural resources, do not take into account the risk that the destruction of the environment represents. Supremacy is above the values, the ecosystem and life itself. With the increasing population, industries have found themselves in the need to increment their production to satisfy the growing consumption; inherited by the constant publicity bombardment that encourages the acquisition of unnecessary products. To avoid reaching and uncontrollable level of global warming, we should consider the following measure: Design educative programs that can stimulate the reduction of unnecessary massive consumption in the population. Industries will be forced to manufacture products with more durable quality of components; this will contribute to the reduction of gas emission, deforestation, extraction of raw materials, and oil dependency as a primary means of energy. Although this measure is a challenge for the economies of all nations, it will influence the development of new ideas that will allow the continuation of progress without risking the future of mankind. Daniel de Cordova is the author, most recently, of La Estrella de David.
*Manila: Anvil Publishing, 1992
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
GLOBAL WARMING AND S U R G I N G
During global warming, solutions to surging glaciers and their unpredictable behaviour are still far from being found and demand organized national and international research.
By VLADIMIR Kotlyakov
he Earth’s climate undergoes fluctuations and for the past thousand years has experienced periods of warming and cooling. In the seventeenth century, severe and long-standing winters, known as the Little Ice Age, recurred in the south of Europe. One can see frozen channels and snow-covered Holland in the paintings of famous Flemish artists.
Traces of a Surge: On 20 September 2002,
huge masses of ice, water and stone rushed down a valley in the Kazbek mountain in the Caucacus. Around 110 million cubic metres of ice got stuck in the valley’s narrow gorge, causing a natural dam, but soon the dam broke and ice rushed down the valley, in “waves” leaving traces on slopes. Following the surge, blocks of ice and stone were seen deposited at a height of 100-140 metres from the river bed. Kolka’s surge caused further destruction down the gorge as the heavy mudflow and ice blocks surged for another 12 kilometres killing 130 people.
© vladimir kotlyakov
Little Ice Age The cold epoch ended in the middle of the nineteenth century and the climate began to warm in the last century and a half, quicker in the first half especially in the Polar regions. In the decade starting 1920, average annual temperatures in the Arctic had risen by 2° to 4°C, along with frequent cyclonic activity in the northern latitudes. Glaciers retreated in mountains almost everywhere: By 1950, glacier area shrunk by 25 per cent in Switzerland and by 15 per cent in the Caucasus. Although mountain glaciers sporadically advanced in the 1920s and 1960s, these cold periods were short and limited in scope and, by 2000, the steady rise in temperature became global. Global warming has caused serious concern and has been the subject of discussions amongst scientists and decision makers. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) assessment reports verify that surface air temperatures are rising. Undoubtedly, this warming is one of the factors for faster melting of mountain glaciers and ice sheets, with the exception of the Antarctic ice sheet that stores about 90 per cent of global ice. And studies of the Antarctic ice sheet over the past 50 years show that, not
Vladimir Kotlyakov is Professor and Academician, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of S ciences
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
withstanding measurement errors, the ice mass did not diminish, which demonstrates its stability. However, the slow rise in sea levels caused by thermal expansion of oceanic water and by the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other polar and mountain glaciers is of great importance to coastal populations. Against this background of climate change, I will try to explain how glaciers become unstable, or surge into surrounding areas threatening human populations, and how to monitor against such surges. Special Class of Surging Glaciers On occasion, individual glaciers advance quickly against a general shortening of glaciation—the term for a glacier’s growth and maturity. For instance, in 1963, the glacier Medvezhiy, “awoke” and surged down the western slope of the Academia Nauk mountain range, the highest of the Pamirs in Central Asia. The glacier’s usual velocity had been 200-400 metres per year, no more than 1 metre per day. But in April 1963, its velocity suddenly shot up by a hundredfold, and it surged down the valley at 100 metres a day. Within a month, Medvezhiy’s tongue measured almost 2 kilometres (km) as it split a valley into two, forming an 8-metre-deep lake. The lake’s pressure eventually fractured the ice coffer dam and soon water flooded the Vanch River at 1000 cubic metres per second, ferrying large chunks of ice and stone. (Fig. 2) Medvezhiy’s surge lent impetus to a study of surging glaciers in the former Soviet Union. Starting in 1963, a special expedition regularly explored the glacier, recording thorough observations which formed the basis for predicting the next surge. Follow75
© vladimir kotlyakov © vladimir kotlyakov
Figure 1. Large chunks of ice and stone blocks, caused by a surging Medvezhiy glacier, rush down in the Academia Nauk mountain range in the Caucasus.
Figure 2. The mass of ice and stone from the Kolka glacier’s surge
According to the IPCC, changes in snow and glacier melt, as well as rising snowlines in the Himalayas, will affect seasonal variation in runoff, causing water shortages during dry summer months. One quarter of China’s population and hundreds of millions in India will be affected 76
ing several surveys of Medvezhiy, it was possible to predict the time and scale of the next surge, which happened in the summer of 1973. It was the first-ever scientific prediction of a glacial calamity. A few months later, in the spring of 1973, Medvezhiy again began to advance. Within two months its tongue lengthened 1.8 km and lapped up the remains of its surge 10 years ago. The glacier again dammed the tributary in the valley, and a lake again welled up behind the glacial barrier, which broke twice, flooding the surroundings with a discharge of 1000 cubic metres per second. Since the 1960s and 1970s, studies of surging glaciers, particularly of Medvezhiy, painted a scientific picture of the structure and nature of glaciers. It was found that a glacier repeated its surge in almost equal time intervals provided that external conditions did not change. Yet even under similar geographic conditions, different glaciers reacted differently. Medvezhiy surged every 9-17 years. According to indirect data and local sightings, the glacier advanced in 1937 and 1951, while direct observations noted surges in 1963, 1972, and 1989. The sudden surging of glaciers is not related to climatic fluctuations, and surges can take place even at times when glaciers retreat. This is the usual behaviour of some glaciers and can not be evidence of an impending surge. A time interval between the start of a surge and its end is called a pulsation and, in fact, periodic pulsations arise due to instability within the glacier. The frictional force at the glacier’s bed breaks the ice. Hundreds of surging glaciers are now known in many glacial regions, with the largest numbers in Alaska, Iceland, the Spitsbergen—the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean—as well as in the mountains of Central Asia and in the Pamirs. A glacier’s pulsation consists of two main stages: a surge and a regeneration. During a surge, a glacier releases accumulated tension from its preceding stage of regeneration. The glacier splits,
vladimir Kotlyakov global warming and surging glaciers
its velocity shoots up, and ice mass from the top of the glacier is displaced into its middle and lower zones. As this happens, the glacier’s upper and lower zones come closer, forcing the glacier’s tongue to lengthen. At the end of a surge, the regeneration begins when ice accumulates in the upper pulsating zone, while the front end of the activated area gradually moves. But there is an unsolved question: what is the difference between a “normal” and a surging glacier, and can a normal glacier turn into a surging one? In any case, as mentioned earlier, a glacier’s activation does not always result in a surge. But the glacier’s movement does disrupt the structure and regime of the glacier as a whole: as ice accelerates, cracks appear in it that are filled with stone and new morainic deposits.
According to IPCC, in the Polar regions, Northern Hemisphere permafrost extent is likely to decrease by 20–35% by 2050. The depth of seasonal thawing is projected to increase by 15–25% in most areas by 2050, and by 50% or more in northernmost locations. In the Arctic, disruption of ecosystems is projected as a result.
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
© Robert Bauer
Generally, a glacier surges when narrow mountain valleys or morainic cover holds back the discharge of ice, creating instability. Unfortunately, direct observations of a change in the movement of a The Rhône glacier at 3,600 metres is the largest glacier in the Urner Alps. Easily glacier at the onset of a surge are still very accessible, the Rhone’s evolution has been observed since the 19th century. The rare, and the causes for surges are not yet glacier lost 1.3 km in the last 120 years, leaving a trail of naked stone. clear. At present, some hypotheses are being proposed in an attempt to explain the mechanism of surges. A glacier’s velocity increases abruptly either due to intensification of forces that drive it (mainly gravity) or a more problematic cause is the weakening friction inside the glacier and on the mountain bed. Both these processes are connected. The flow of ice increases suddenly after overcoming a threshold load, which happens as a result of accumulation of ice over the years in the glacier’s reservoir. One of the factors that increases the glacier’s slide along the bed is the formation of a film of liquid water. Small obstacles (several centimetres in size) on the rock bed resist the flow of ice until it melts into a film of water that equals the volume of the obstacles. Glaciers also surge when a layer of snow, say 25 to 50 metres thick, A lake forms at the tip of the Rimpfischhorn glacier, at 4,199 metres, in the Swiss Alps.
© Robert Bauer
Causes and mechanisms of glacier surges
Sudden surging of glaciers is not related to climatic fluctuations, and they can take place even during periods when glaciers retreat. It should be emphasized that the problem of climate change is extremely difficult to understand, and it has still not been possible to know what factors in the past decades—natural or anthropogenic—have caused the warming. accumulates over time on the surface, exceeding the critical mass of a glacier and causing it to slide on a layer of water. The thicker the glacier, the more difficult it is for the cold flux to penetrate into the lower zones, while the heat flux from the Earth remains unchanged. A surge also results in a decrease in its thickness, and temperatures at its bed fall below zero, which slows down its movement. Acceleration of glaciers can also be explained by the appearance of hollow, water-filled areas, between the glacier’s ice and the bed, that are under great pressure; the ice moves above the mountain ledges and along the bed’s irregularities owing to the melting and repeated freezing of the melt water, as well as to plastic deformations of the ice. Catastrophe in the Caucasus A small glacier, Kolka, 3 km long, located on the north slope of the Kazbek mountain, one of the highest peaks in the Caucasus, belongs to the class of surging glaciers. Kolka surged in 1902 and again in 1969 when it grew to almost twice its length and a thick mud stream with ice stones gushed out. Kolka had been predicted to surge in the 2030s. But it happened much earlier. On 20 September 2002, huge masses of ice, water and stones rushed along the valley and stopped before a ridge in the Skalisty range, forming a lake and a dam 100 m thick and 4 km long (Fig. 3). Around 110 million cubic metres of ice
got stuck in the valley’s narrow gorge. This mass of ice soon broke the dam and rushed down the valley, forming “waves” on slopes (Fig. 3) and depositing blocks of ice and stone 100-140 m higher than the river bed. Further along the gorge, a heavy mudflow with ice blocks traveled a distance of 12 km causing further destruction and killing 130 people.1 Kolka’s unexpected behaviour opened an “eye” in the glacier cirque (a bowl-shaped depression on the side of mountains). It turned out that the glacier had “moved away” from its bed completely. Nowhere in the world had a similar event ever occurred, especially noteworthy, as Kolka was not a hanging glacier: it was located in a cirque and had a small slope on its surface of an angle of 7o to 9o. A similar event could happen only due to the accumulation of a great volume of water under the glacier, caused by anomalous melting of ice and snow in the Alpine zone of the Caucasus in the preceding four years. An abundance of water on surrounding slopes and the thickness of the glacier itself had prepared the glacier for further catastrophe, which included an avalanche of ice and rocks coupled with small volcanic and seismic events. This catastrophe of the Kolka Glacier had demonstrated a necessity to permanently monitor and observe surging glaciers.
Monitoring Surges Glaciers about to activate and surge show some changes to their outlines: the tongue shapes itself into a tear drop; fault lines and zones of crushed ice appear on the edges; a number of crevasses open up; the tongue thrusts over other glaciers; and mountain slopes and lakes take shape. At the end of a surge event, the tip of the glacier’s tongue is a chaotic pile of ice blocks. Repeated satellite photos and aerial and ground observations are especially valuable to discover surging glaciers and study their behaviour. I first gained experience in the Pamirs where many glaciers surged between 1972 and 1977. Using satellite photos and orbital stations, more than 20 large surges were discovered in the Central Pamirs between the 1960s and the 1990s. An inventory of surging glaciers in the Pamirs was published 10 years ago.2 Cataloguing this large region had been possible due only to Russian satellite surveys of the Pamirs conducted between 1972 and 1991. In total, 630 glaciers with signs of instability were discovered in the Pamirs, including 51 with fixed large surges, 215 with signs of dynamic activity, and 464 with signs of past surges or unstable activity. I propose the establishment of a system of regular monitoring of changes to sizes and forms of surging glaciers and of their dynamic behaviour through ground, aerial and space observations.3
vladimir Kotlyakov global warming and surging glaciers
Ground observations include setting up regular photogeodetic measurements of glacier fluctuations, permanent glacialmeteorological stations, and conducting field studies. Aerial observations include regular aero-visual monitoring and periodic distant aerophotogrammetric surveys. Space observations include continual satellite photography, with a resolution of 15 m to 20 m. Currently, such information is available from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (aster), a cooperative effort between nasa and Japan, flying on the Terra satellite; from Landsat 7; as well as from the Russian section of the
International Space Station, where cosmonauts photograph glaciers. During global warming, solutions to surging glaciers and their unpredictable behaviour are still far from being found and demands an organized national and international research. It should be emphasized that the problem of climate change is extremely difficult to understand, and it has still not been possible to know what factors in the past decades—natural or anthropogenic—have caused the warming. There are still many uncertainties in solving this problem. ipcc estimates are rather wide in their range of accuracy and, therefore, cannot predict
with confidence the emergence of an ice age on Earth—at least not in the coming decades and centuries. unc Notes 1 Kotlyakov V.M., Rototaeva O.V., Desinov L.V., Osokin N.I. Causes and effects of a catastrophic surge of Kolka Glacier in the Central Caucasus/Zeitschrift für Gletscherkunde und Glazialgrologie, 2004, Bd. 38, Ht. 2, s. 117128. 2 Osipova G.B., Tsvetkov D.G., Rudak M.S. Inventory of the Pamirs surging glaciers/Data of Glaciological Studies, 1998, issue 85, pp. 3-136 [in Russian]. 3 Kotlyakov V.M., Osipova G.V., Tsvetkov D.G. Monitoring surging glaciers of the Pamirs, Centrla Asia from space/Annals of Glaciology, 2008, vol. 48, pp. 125-133.
triangular island jam-packed with magenta bougainvillea, lament for trees I have lost during my many migraa chikoo tree on my left, a jamun tree on my right, a neem tions in the city and today, I am very possessive about my tree next to the wall, gulmohar around the corner and handkerchief-size garden. Having lived in different parts parijat in between, while overgrown creepers fell graceof Ahmedabad, I have seen different attitudes towards fully on the boundary walls. It was a pleasure to walk in trees. Like, a vegetable vendor has grown tulsi and lili these lanes and watch parakeets, bulbuls, tailor birds, chai next to his shop for business and beauty, and holy common green bee-eaters and other birds in the lush trees like banyan and peepal are always looked after well green foliage. The chikoo tree belonged to the neighbourfor religious reasons. Then, there was this autorickshaing bungalow and was framed in my bedroom window. wallah who insisted on receiving a free sapling from the One morning, I heard great comofficer in charge at Parimal motion next door and saw that the garden nursery as he wanted chikoo tree was being axed down. I to plant it in the courtyard of Ahmedabad Days was helpless as I did not know the his house. I have seen some owners nor could I stop them. When architects design houses by Esther David somebody asked them the reason, around trees, while some high they said something about the invarise apartments have special sion of langoors and insects. I felt parks of their own, while othit was not enough reason to cut down trees, as it takes ers cut down trees and flatten out areas to construct high years for a tree to grow and just about a couple of hours to rise buildings. Then there are those huge estates on the cut it down. At the end of the day, the tree was no longer highway where they grow everything exotic from kadframed in my window; instead it had been lugged off as amb, geraniums to basil. Actually, I envy all those who firewood by the sweeper woman’s family. Few days later, live on the lush green landscape of the Indian Institute of in a similar fashion, when the next door neighbour started Management, the place is a green island in the city, what cutting down his young neem tree, hesitantly, I requested with its lawns, gardens and trees, a virtual bird watcher’s him to reconsider his decision, as trees take years to grow paradise. Similar luxuriant green zones exist at the for that much needed green cover, which is also a haven Centre of Environment Planning and Technology, better for birds. I thought, he would resent my interference, but known as CEPT University, and the National Institute of much to my surprise, he stopped operation demolition. I Design. heaved a sigh of relief that I could save a tree and start At the moment, I live on the ground floor of a low rise dreaming about a green future for Ahmedabad. housing society in the centre of the city, amidst bungalows and private properties with gardens. When I came to live here, I felt comforted to see a public garden nearby and a
Esther David is an author from Ahmedabad. Her novels revolve around the Jewish experience in India.
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
Tracking Climate Change from jacques descloitres/modis rapid response team, NASA/GSFC
NASA’s Terra satellite captured this true-colour image of Hurricane Ivan on 11 September 2004, at 16:10 UTC, approximately 50 kilometres southwest of the western tip of Jamaica.
By Juan Carlos VillagrÁn de león
or centuries, rural communities in the high plateaus of the Andes have utilized water from melting glaciers that typify this amazing mountain range. But the retreat of these glaciers is forcing the communities to reconsider their livelihoods and ways to adapt. From a wider perspective, the melting of glaciers is an iconic Juan Carlos Villagrán DE LEÓN is Programme Officer with the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs, Vienna.
warning to the larger cities in the Andes that rely on glaciers for potable water. Unfortunately for these communities, the source of this particular problem and its potential solution lie far away from their arc of influence due to the fact that local actions contribute very little to remedy this problem. As noted in 2003 and 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc) the melting of glaciers in the Andes, the Himalayas, and the Alps is a consequence of global warming, a process induced by humans, and directly related to industrialization that
has fuelled this century, particularly in terms of demand for energy from fossil fuels. The emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and the emission of aerosols have a direct influence on the radiative forcing (the difference between incoming and outgoing radiation energy) in the atmosphere, leading to global warming. Such global warming manifests itself through higher temperatures in the oceans and the atmosphere. In the case of oceans, heat absorption is the main factor leading to the increase in their levels. In the
juan carlos villagrán de león tracking climate change from space
case of glaciers and polar caps, it leads to melting of ice. As expected, the melting of glaciers and ice in continental land masses in Antarctica and Greenland also contributes to the increase in sea level. Governments recognized the need to address this problem at the global level, and established the ipcc to provide the scientific basis on which to characterize the scale and depth of the problem, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc) as the mechanism to facilitate the political discussion on this issue at the international level. Organizations within the United Nations also play other relevant roles. For example, the World Meteorological Organization (wmo) has long supported the establishment and operation of national meteorological departments or offices which generate the data that are required to monitor the Essential Climate Variables (ecvs) such as air and water temperatures, sea ice, water vapour and salinity, etc. In addition, wmo heads the Global Climate Observing System (gcos) which tracks these essential climate variables. Furthermore, national agencies and regional organizations around the world also contribute to monitor more variables such as ocean levels, the ozone layer and the chemical processes which affect it, and the role of forest fires as sources of some of these greenhouse gases, as a way to contribute to understanding the interactions between the oceans, land, and the atmosphere. For example, information gathered through satellites is ideally suited to track changes in the amount of ice stored in polar caps and glaciers. The capacity of satellites to provide standardized global coverage of all glaciers and ice caps on a permanent basis permits scientists to measure changes in a uniform and periodic fashion. The use of satellite instruments is ideal since harsh climatic conditions make it difficult to have a permanent human presence in all these areas yearlong. In addition, at the polar caps, it would be nearly impossible to measure in a periodic fashion and with sufficient accuracy the extension of ice caps and their dynamics, as there are no landmarks on which to set benchmarks to conduct the required geospatial measurements. Considering the critical nature of climate change in recent years, space agencies have begun to establish space programmes
dedicated to monitor and to track climate change. Dedicated satellites from a variety of space agencies now provide data related to atmospheric chemistry and its dynamics, changes in vegetation cover and the oceans. All this data contributes to a more precise estimation of climate change required by decision makers in Governments who demand such information to make commitments of various kinds along the lines of mitigation and adaptation contemplated in the Kyoto Protocol. Other space applications including assessing the impact of global warming on wetlands that host a variety of ecosystems and species; in the perennially frozen ground (permafrost); and in the oceans targeting plankton, marine ecosystems, and biochemical interactions at the surface of the oceans which are influenced by air and sea interactions. In addition, satellites are being used to acquire the necessary data to track cloud formation and dissipation and convections processes between the troposphere and the stratosphere. The role of clouds on the radiative processes and in the hydrological cycle is essentially not well understood, and therefore, satellite data will allow ipcc to refine models and reduce uncertainties. Satellites are also finding uses in the assessment of vulnerability to climate change. Space observations are ideal to complement ground-based measurements with the most up-to-date information on types of land-use and changes in land-use practices arising as a consequence of population growth, urban migration, conflicts and poverty. For example, vulnerability of coastal cities will be essential to identify adaptation measures. Assessing the vulnerability of crops in low-lying flood plains in coastal areas can also benefit from space-based information. In the context of risk assessment, space-based tools offer an ideal platform to assess the exposure of vulnerable elements not only to climate change, but also with respect to other hazards. In the context of the United Nations, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (copuos) is the forum where global agreements are reached, among others, on space debris, policies on the use of specific types of orbits, and more recently, global navigation systems and space legislation. In 1999, during the international conference, unispcace iii, Member States recognized the contribution of space science
Space observations are ideal to complement ground-based measurements with the most up-to-date information on types of landuse and changes in land-use as a consequence of population growth, urban migration, conflicts and poverty.
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
According to NASA, the Greenhouse Effect obtained its name from the behaviour of a green-house. The glass of a greenhouse allows shortwave radiation to enter but then prohibits outgoing longwave radiation from exiting, thus warming the air in the greenhouse. Although the behaviour of the atmosphere is different from that of a greenhouse, the result is similar and thus the warming effect was termed the “Greenhouse Effect.”
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and space applications to the well-being of humanity and sustainable development in areas such as disaster management, meteorological forecasting for climate modeling, satellite navigation, and communications. The issue of climate change has been addressed within copuos recently in a dedicated symposium organized during the forty-sixth session of its Scientific and Technical SubCommittee, and more recently during the fifty-second session, which took place in June 2009 in Vienna. Supporting copuos in its role as a Secretariat to facilitate the political dialogue among Member States, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (unoosa) has been doing a variety of work in recent decades to promote the use of space-based information. unoosa recently established un-spider—Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response. In addition, in recent years, the Space Applications Section and the Committee Services and Research Section of unoosa have been conducting a series of conferences and workshops targeting climate change in the context of mountains, sustainable development, agricul82
ture and food security, and on the legal implications of space applications for climate change. The vision of unoosa in the context of climate change is to promote the acquisition and subsequent use of data gathered through satellites to contribute to the understanding and modeling of climate change as a means to identify adaptation and mitigation measures, and as a means to track their impact in the long term. Such a vision may indeed pave the wave for communities in the Andes, as well as communities around the world, to make use of space-based information and become aware of the global extent of this problem, and for decision makers to grasp the full dimension of the problem in order to seal the deal in Copenhagen. unc The views expressed in this article may not necessarily reflect the views of UNOOSA.
References IPCC (2001): Third Assessment Report. Climate Change 2001. http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_ reports.htm#1 IPCC (2007): Fourth Assessment Report. Climate Change 2007. http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_ reports.htm#1 OOSA (2009): Conference Room Paper No. 6. Ref. A/AC.105/2009/CRP.6.
juan carlos villagrán de león tracking climate change from space
was born in the 1950s. When I was a child, my p arents, who were part of the agricultural society, started their day by observing the weather. We did not have sufficient clothing or electric fans. We were always short of supplies and we had very little to withstand the winter’s cold and the summer’s heat. However, we managed and the sun was adequate for harvesting crops and the winter gave us enough time to rest and prepare for the next farming season. By the time I turned into an adult, Korea had become a fast-changing industrial society. We couldn’t resist the allurements and the daily conveniences of civilization. They were sweet as chocolate. But we were unable to ponder and evaluate the negative consequences. We continued to enjoy and consume all we could and believed it to be a blessing. This self-deception didn’t last long.
The reckless use of fossil fuels soon produced greenhouse gas emissions to the point where it suffocates the Earth. I welcomed my youth in a rapidly progressing industrial era, busy experiencing the conveniences of civilization, and not aware of the environmental pollution it brought. Now, as a consequence, we are faced with an appearing threat. However, it may not by Kim Young Mi be too late. There are many concerned people in the global village who are striving hard to save this planet. However, this is not enough. Anyone who lives and partakes what Earth has to offer is obliged to participate in saving it and taking part in the beautiful mission of passing on the dreams of our planet to our future generations.
An Appearing Threat
Kim Young Mi is a writer of award-winning children’s books.
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UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
Unlayering of the An Earth Sans Sunscreen
By Jonathan Shanklin
he formation of the Antarctic ozone hole is a graphic demonstration of how rapidly we can change the atmosphere of our planet. There are many other environmental issues facing us today and we must link them together to understand and debate the underlying causes, rather than treat each issue in isolation. Antarctica is a wonderful continent. Glaciers carve their way to the sea where the waters teem with penguins and whales. Although 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water resides in the polar ice cap, the continent is a veritable desert, with liquid water in short supply. The frozen ice takes on many shades, from the brilliant white of freshly fallen snow to the deep indigo at the bottom of a gaping crevasse. This land of contrasts is where the Antarctic ozone hole was discovered. Ozone is a form of oxygen, similar to the gas that we breathe, but with three atoms instead of two. This makes it highly reactive, and in high concentration it is a toxic gas. When formed by air pollution near the surface it can trigger asthma attacks, but high in the atmosphere it forms a protective sun-shield. This is the ozone layer, a region from about 10 to 35 kilometres in altitude, where the natural concentration of ozone is highest. Ozone forms at this level in the stratosphere through the action of ultraviolet sunlight on oxygen gas, and in the process the most harmful ultraviolet radiation is totally absorbed. Some ultraviolet light does reach the surface, and the intensity is controlled by the amount of ozone—the more ozone the less ultraviolet, and vice-versa. With a thinning ozone layer more ultraviolet light reaches the
surface, exposing us to a greater risk of sunburn, skin cancers or cataracts of the eye. Ozone observation in the Antarctic began over fifty years ago with the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58. As part of this scientific endeavour, a network of observatories was set up across Antarctica, several of which measured ozone. One of the first to report was the British research station Halley, and the results from the first year of operation showed a surprising difference to those from the equivalent latitude in the Arctic. This was soon recognized as being due to a different stratospheric circulation in the atmosphere above the two poles: in the north the circulation is relatively complex, whilst in the south it is relatively simple with a strong, long lasting winter polar vortex or a large-scale persistent cyclone.
Jonathan Shanklin discovered the Antarctic ozone hole in 1985 as a member of a British Antarctic Survey team. He is head of the Meteorology and Ozone Monitoring Unit of the BAS.
jonathan shanklin unlayering of the ozone
The Human Fingerprint
Antarctic Ozone Hole
Total Ozone (Dobson Units) 110
The blue and purple colours indicate where there is the least ozone, and the greens, yellows, and reds, where there is more ozone.
The Dobson Unit is used to measure ozone concentration. One Dobson Unit is the number of molecules of ozone required to create a layer of pure ozone, 0.01 millimetres thick, at a temperature of 0° Celsius and a pressure of 1 atmosphere–the air pressure at the surface of the Earth. The ozone layer’s average thickness is about 300 Dobson Units or a layer that is 3 millimetres thick. How much is this, compared to the rest of the atmosphere? If all of the air in a vertical column that extends from the ground up to space were collected and squeezed together at a temperature of 0° Celsius and a pressure of 1 atmosphere, that column would be 8 kilometres thick (or about 5 miles). Compare that to the 3 millimetres of ozone described above, and you may realize just how tenuous the Earth’s ozone layer is. (NASA)
Nacreous (also known as mother of pearl or stratospheric) clouds at the British Antarctic Survey station at Rothera. These clouds form at around 20km in altitude in the ozone layer and are instrumental in the process of ozone depletion. Because of their altitude they remain illuminated by the sun, long after sunset on the ground. © BAS.
Ozone observations at Halley continued using the same type of instrument, the Dobson ozone spectrophotometer, designed in the 1920s by an Oxford professor of physics, Gordon Dobson; it remains the standard for ozone observations today. The instrument uses ultraviolet light from the sun coming through the ozone layer to measure the amount of ozone. It is very much a manual instrument, and the calculations required to extract the ozone amount from the observations are quite complex, to the extent that in the 1970s a stack of unreduced observations began to build up. When I joined the British Antarctic Survey, one of my first jobs was to write computer programmes that would process the observations once they were entered into electronic form. Making sure that the entered data was correct was the first part of the process, followed by verifying the software. At about the same time, concern was growing that spray cans and the Concorde supersonic airplane could destroy the ozone layer. When the British Antarctic Survey held its Open Day, it seemed a good opportunity to reassure the public that the ozone layer above Antarctica had not changed. Surprisingly, the data seemed to show that the spring-time ozone values of that year were much lower than they had been a decade earlier, but in the meantime I had yet to process the intervening 86
Chlorofluorocarbons and allied substances are very stable, so their atmospheric concentration drops very slowly and will not reduce to pre-ozone hole values until at least 2070. It is likely to be several more years before we can be confident that the ozone hole is shrinking and many decades before spring-time ozone levels return to those of the early 1970s. data. Once this was done, it was obvious that there was a systematic effect, giving rise to the paper that Joe Farman, Brian Gardiner and I wrote, announcing an unexpected effect over Antarctica. Elsewhere in Antarctica, other observatories had continued to make ozone measurements on a sporadic basis, but they lacked the long-term continuity of the same instrumental
jonathan shanklin unlayering of the ozone
technique that was available at Halley. This was a key factor in our discovery, and set a valuable lesson for monitoring the environment. In addition, the centre of the ozone hole is often offset towards the Atlantic, allowing Halley to start making observations several weeks before the sun rose high enough at the South Pole. Once the paper was published in Nature, satellite data was reprocessed to reveal an “ozone hole” over the Southern continent. Whilst satellites give an excellent overview of the changes within the ozone layer, ground-based observations are still needed to provide them with an accurate calibration. Today we know that this Antarctic ozone hole is caused by chlorine and bromine from ozone-depleting chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (cfcs) and halons. The reason for the particularly severe ozone depletion over Antarctica lies with its stable polar vortex, which makes the Antarctic ozone layer roughly ten degrees colder than that in the Arctic. This means that unusual clouds form widely in the Antarctic ozone layer during the winter, and chemistry on the surfaces within these clouds conditions the ozone-depleting chemicals. When
sunlight returns, very efficient photocatalytic reactions take place which destroy ozone. The Montreal Protocol has been a very effective response to the shocking and rapid change in the ozone layer over Antarctica. Now ratified by all but one of the UN Member States, it is having a clear effect in reducing the amount of ozone-destroying substances in the atmosphere. cfcs and allied substances are, however, very stable, so their atmospheric concentration drops very slowly and will not reduce to pre-ozone hole values until at least 2070. It is likely to be several more years before we can be confident that the ozone hole is shrinking and many decades before spring-time ozone levels return to those of the early 1970s. One unintended consequence of the reduction in ozone-destroying substances has been its significant effect on reducing global warming, as the substances are often also powerful greenhouse gases. Treating the ozone hole was relatively straightforward, with both general acceptance of the need to change and the possibility of alternative products. Another environmental symptom—that of climate change—is currently generating much debate, but the amount of greenhouse gases in the Continued on next page▶
eriods of global warming are not in and of themselves New technologies could help to reduce carbon dioxide a human invention. But humans have invented emissions, but it is unlikely that this would be sufficient ways of turning a natural cycle into an abnormality in a world that is just at the beginning of its capacity to whose severity can exceed the tragedy of one atomic consume, to squander, and to destroy. Trying to reduce bomb or even several atomic bombs. However, we cannot environmental pollution without reducing consumerism see the explosion because we live in it, because it seems is like combatting drug trafficking without reducing the to be an evident freak of nature to which we must all drug addiction. resign ourselves. Wasteful and irrational consumerism has no limits; it The world’s governhas not prevented the death of ments are too busy trying millions of children from hunger, The Pandemic of Consumerism to save humanity from the but it has endangered the exist“great crisis” —the ecoence of the entire biosphere. If by Jorge Majfud nomic crisis— by stimusuccessful consumerism is not lating the same consumpreplaced by the forgotten values tion that is leading us to of austerity, soon we will choose unmitigated disaster. If the level of global destruction has between war and misery, hunger and epidemics. not yet reached the dreaded status of full-blown catastroIt is in the hands of governments and in the hands of phe, it is only because consumerism has not yet reached each of us either to organize the salvation or accelerate its supposedly desired levels. the destruction of our own world. In this collective delusion, development is confused The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is a with consumerism, wastefulness with success, and new opportunity to prevent the greatest calamity humangrowth with fattening. The pandemic is considered a sign ity has ever faced. Let us not have another opportunity of good health. Its “success” has been so overwhelming missed, because we certainly do not have all the time in that there is no ideology or political system in the world the world. that is not bent upon reproducing and multiplying it. Jorge Majfud is the author, most recently, of La Ciudad de la Luna.
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009
Antarctic scenery near the British Antarctic Survey Rothera station.
When a doctor treats a patient with an illness, it is essential that all the symptoms are taken into account in making a diagnosis. It must be exactly the same when we are looking after the health of our own planet. ▶Continued from previous page
atmosphere is rising at the worst-case rate predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc). In addition, there are many other global symptoms of environmental stress ranging from water and food shortages and fishery collapses to deforestation habitat destruction, amongst others. When a doctor treats a patient with an illness, it is essential that all the symptoms are taken into account in making a diagnosis. It must be exactly the same when we are looking after the health of our own planet. My diagnosis is that we must urgently debate and act on reducing our effect on the planet, otherwise evermore symptoms will appear. Such
reduction could be achieved through decreasing the consumption of our planet’s resources, particularly reducing consumption amongst the developed nations; but we are also likely to need to reduce our own numbers if we are to sustain a healthy planet in the long term. How to do so is the big debate that we must urgently conduct if we are to avoid a fate such as the inhabitants of Easter Island, who used up all their resources. Unfortunately, these warnings, like those of Cassandra, are unlikely to be heeded and it may require a major disaster before action is taken. The United Nations is one forum where the debate should begin. unc
jonathan shanklin unlayering of the ozone
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Edited by Romuald Sciora and Annick Stevenson Éditions du Tricorne, 2009 pp. 164, $16
UN PHOTO/MARK GARTEN
Romuald Sciora collaborates with the United Nations on audiovisual, literary and educational projects. His most recent project is a television series on the UN’s history as told by its SecretariesGeneral, which has been broadcast in more than 20 countries. The series grew into a documentary called “Planet UN” and a book of the same name. Below is an excerpt from Mr Sciora’s introduction in the book. The four of us, which included Staffan de Mistura, were standing on that blue line that separates southern Lebanon from Israel and that is overseen by the United Nations. The distant throbbing of engines from vehicles driven by the Blue Helmets could be heard over the subtle fluttering of the blue UN flag flapping in the wind. It was dusk. In silence we stared out over the horizon formed by this border under surveillance, in the reassuring harmony of the pink and blue pastel shades of evening that illuminated our faces. In a spontaneous gesture, Staffan drew us all even closer together with an embrace. A bit earlier, Jean Lacouture had asked him: ‘I have to ask you the question. Are you really accomplishing anything here?’ Staffan de Mistura, who has the passionate and fiery characteristics of his Italian father and the pragmatic and peaceful personality of his Swedish mother, in his sing-song accent, had given us a brilliant elucidation of the usefulness of the United Nations presence: removing land mines, planting trees, building hospitals ..., so many essential gestures in anticipation of peace in the region, he had explained, ‘so that we just don’t stand around waiting for peace instead of working toward peace, because peace, like friendship, is made up of small gestures.’ Jean had understood completely.
The purpose of the United Nations was to be a sort of “plantation of peace”, he had concluded. The United Nations, a plantation of peace ... the image seemed to me an obvious one. It was at that moment that I was struck with the necessity of going urther; the work that I was in the process of completing was, in essence, but a beginning. I had already begun to purge from my thoughts the heavy-hearted mood that we all felt on this evening that marked the end of the filming, that emotion that becomes so strong when you are putting the finishing touches on a film in which you believe will shed a necessary light on a situation little-understood: the kind of melancholy that punctuates the end of a never-to-be-repeated adventure. “Cut!” The camera motors had been switched off, the microphones had stopped recording, the technicians had begun packing up their equipment and those involved in the film were returning to their cars. But I was elsewhere, my thoughts focused on the idea that had just taken root in my mind which I shared with Jean Lacouture. He subscribed to it immediately: the idea of making a major film on the United Nations. It would be an all-encompassing work on the history, the evolution, the challenges and the multiple facets of this Organization that was also so little understood and so criticized, but which nevertheless produces the miracle of performing millions of little gestures all over the world to prepare the ground for a “plantation of peace”.
Romuald Sciora (right) with United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka.
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Renewable energy is expensive
enewable energy is expensive—we cannot afford it.” I have heard this argument many times over. But those who bring it up are wrong. The costs of renewable energy are not higher than those for conventional energy. Instead people confuse costs with prices and need to be better aware that the market price of conventional energy does not tell the truth. Costs vs. Prices
Market price of conventional energy does not tell the truth 90
The price of the most commonly used energies—electricity and automobile fuel—is listed on your monthly electricity bill or displayed at the gas station. This price is well known and the consumer pays for it individually. At first glance, renewable energy really seems more expensive than conventional energy. This changes as
soon as one looks at the complete energy-supply chain where renewables are in a better position costwise than conventional energies. In addition, renewable energy protects air, water, soil, flora and fauna from pollutants, saves resources and uses less land. Clearly, renewable energy installations can be deconstructed and recycled easily at the end of their lifetime, while societies worldwide are burdened with financial liabilities caused by the use of such conventional energies as nuclear and coal and by the environmental damages resulting from uranium and coal mining and the storage of radioactive waste. Carbon emissions from fossil and nuclear energy are considerably higher than those from most renewables. Costs to mitigate climate change, 50 per cent of which is caused by carbon emissions,
hÉlÈne pelosse the true costs of renewable energy
The True Costs of Conventional Energy By Hélène Pelosse
have only recently been brought to the attention of a broader public by the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. The use of renewables on the other hand, as the report says, leads to decreasing costs. For instance, wind, hydropower and biomass emit an average of 40 grammes CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity (kWh), while a nuclear power plant, depending on the origin of the uranium fuel, emits 31-130g CO2 per kWh and a coal-fired power plant emits 800-1400g CO2 per kWh. Add-on costs caused by conventional energies, such as remedying environmental, climate and health damages, are not yet reflected, for instance, in monthly electricity bills. Nevertheless, the general public has had to share the burden of these add-ons. We therefore start out on the wrong foot if we only look at prices and choose the cheapest form of energy without factoring in add-on costs. Unlike conventional energy prices, renewable energy speaks the ecological truth and reduces the macro-economic costs of energy supply. There is a Huge Market Failure Price distortions go even further. For many decades, renewable energies have been at a disadvantage because of low research and development (r&d) support, minimal subsidies and global energy structures that are tailored to the needs of conventional energies. Comparing renewable
with conventional energy prices therefore does not do justice to the financial and political support which conventionals gained in the past and the advantages they still enjoy. Between 1974 and 1992, the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (oecd) spent, for example, $168 billion on nuclear energy r&d and only $22 billion on r&d in renewables. Between 1990 and 2004, r&d expenditure on renewables in the European Union rose from 9 per cent to only 20 per cent. An estimated $1 trillion was spent on nuclear energy subsidies in the form of preferential credit, investment grants, tax exemption for fuels and release from liability obligations. In contrast, for renewable energy, subsidies amounted at the most to $40 billion over the past 30 years. In spite of the apparent lack of public support, renewable energy technologies have performed exceedingly well in the past years. Economies of scale as well as r&d by many small- and medium-sized companies have led to considerable cost reductions in technologies. Since 1990 these have amounted to 68 per cent for solar power, 60 per cent for wind power and 40 per cent for solar heat, averaging a 50 per cent reduction in total costs. The industry is aiming at an additional 40 per cent reduction by 2020—today’s prices will not be tomorrow’s! In September 2009, experts in Germany announced that within one year, the price of electricity from solar
Add-on costs caused by conventional energies, such as remedying environmental, climate and health damages, are not yet reflected, for instance, in monthly electricity bills. Nevertheless, the general public has had to share the burden of these add-ons.
Hélèn Pelosse is Director General, International Renewable Energy Agency (www.irena.org).
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Despite remarkable technological development in solar panels and wind turbines, these are still at a disadvantage because the global energy infrastructure. panels will equal the price of electricity from conventional energy sources. Similar developments can be witnessed in Spain. In the past few years at the Spanish Energy Exchange, wind energy has reduced the overall electricity price on windy days and was sold at a lower price than electricity from the most expensive coal-fired plant. The same has happened in Germany. In 2006, while consumers had to pay an extra €3.3 billion for renewable energy, this sum has been more than covered by the €5 billion revenue from renewable energy. And renewables have another, very important side benefit: they are veritable job-creating machines. In Germany, the number of people employed in the renewable energy sector has quadrupled since 1998; worldwide, two and a half million people now work in this sector. However, despite remarkable technological development in solar panels and wind turbines, these are still at a disadvantage because the global energy infrastructure—built around the requirements and characteristics of coal, gas, oil and uranium—favours conventional fuel. Countries and scientific institutions recognized the problem and began to focus r&d on smart grid infrastructure and integrating renewable energy into the grid, storage technologies to balance different renewable sources, and grid extensions to connect locally produced renewable energy to the main grid. A redesign of the global energy market’s regulatory structures might become necessary to accommodate the decentralized and fluctuating production of renewable energies, along with a new global regulatory regime for renewable energy technologies. Renewable
energy prices will come down further when the global energy system takes heed of their cheaper costs. How To Set Things Right An approach that focuses solely on current market prices does not adequately reflect the benefits from renewable energy. Moreover, we have to remedy the existing imbalance. I suggest a two-fold approach: Publishing sustainability analyses: We need to raise the awareness of the add-on costs of conventional energies. i rena, the International Renewable Energy Agency, will promote the existing sustainability analyses of all energy sources, display their respective carbon footprint, the amount of water they require for production and follow-up costs, and make them accessible to the general public. irena will establish a knowledge base and gather sound information on the global energy sector. In its outreach to governments, the public and other stakeholders, i rena will continuously argue against well-established prejudices—one being that renewables are expensive. Internalizing the externalities: Carbon-emitting energy technologies have to come up with a way to lessen the impact of the add-on costs they create. To that end, a carbon tax is an adequate instrument. Another solution is direct support for renewable energies. A feed-in tariff for electricity that decreases over time to account for technological development guarantees that renewable energies can make their contribution to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. A tax exemption for sustainably-produced biomass is another solution. It is up to each country to decide which path to take. irena will assist its members in designing the right political, economic and social framework conditions to ensure that their policies, programmes and regulations have the desired impact. Although renewables have been “underprivileged” in the past, they have been developing exceedingly well. Considering their benefits to society, the environment and the global climate, it is definitely not too expensive to introduce them on a large scale in the global economy. irena will assist its members in accomplishing that, heading for a world that is powered 100 per cent by renewable energy. I am sure that renewable energy equipment will be on sale in large supermarkets in the future—like notebooks and mobile phones today. unc
Renewables take you a long way
he phone rings, ruining my morning silence. I hesitantly pick it up. The caller: my son, a student in South Africa. “Yes, Papa, everything is fine. But there is something strange here in Johannesburg. The streets are covered in snow, the whole town. It snowed last night. People don’t know what to do, or what to call it. Even the elders do not remember a single local language with the word ‘snow’. There is no name for it. Children are being warned by their parents not to go out. They say it is a bad omen.” Anguished wonder in my heart, on my face! Snow in my village. Snow in a country where the name for it does not even exist. In my youth in the 1970s, summer rains came on or about 15 October and ended by the first week of April, with celebrations of joy and gratitude to the Creator for the granaries which would soon be filled with fresh food and hope. The rainy season was regular. Farmers knew when to prepare the land for the coming of the rains of life. The rain songs and dances flourished in our season-tuned hearts. Forty years later, in 2009, farmers no longer know when the rains will come. Seven in ten rainy seasons are almost rainless. Livestock die, and the once prosperous farmers depend on the humiliation of food handouts. It is no longer a thing of pride to farm.
“The skies have humiliated us,” my elderly mother says. “Maybe there is something we have done wrong,” she continues. The local vegetation has changed. Trees that always bloomed with leaf and flower, are dying, withering away. The fireflies of the dark summer nights are only left in the nostalgic stories which parents dare tell their children.
The Cycles of the Seasons by Chenjerai Hove In Norway, where I now live, skiing, and the love for this Norwegian sport, is becoming endangered like all those animals in Africa which now have learnt to sniff at the empty sky as their forests dwindle and they fight for space with humans. A losing battle! The ice and snow melt faster than ever before in Norway. The sportsmen and women are miserable at the prospect of their offspring not skiing within the next hundred years. Our race, the human one, will be known for pouring our rejects and rubbish into the air and the waters with total disregard for the consequences. The technological luxuries that we boast of are soon facing possible extinction as nature fights back with a vengeance. The demolition of the systems of nature have become our selfdemolition.
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Our mistake was to believe the philosophers who told us that man’s mission was to conquer nature, as if man was not part of the natural harmony of things. African philosophers were more cautious: man’s mission is to harmonize with other aspects of nature, they said. In an age of scientific advance, no one listened. New diseases emerge. Our ancient natural herbs for treating them are no longer growing in the forests. The food basket shrinks at the same time as our food is impoverished by science and technology. Our once plush, green valleys are transformed into deserts, and the seas threaten to drown our coastal cities and villages. Human obsession with scientific evidence for everything reminds us that there are other forms of traditional knowledge which could save humans. Sometimes so-called “superstitious” taboos about nature could work in making us respect nature. A fusion of all streams of knowlegde needs to be engaged to save our earth and the beauty of all its creatures, including man. “Trees, birds, wild animals and the skies, are our life. They talk to us, but we are too stupid to listen. Now we have killed them, and there is no one to warn us about the dangers to the cycles of the seasons,” my father used to say. Chenjerai Hove is the author, most recently, of The Keys of Ram and a book of poetry, Blind Moon.
By Wael Hmaidan hen it comes to the subject of energy in the Middle East, we instinctively think of oil—the black gold that has been the source of stable and healthy economies in the region. Nevertheless, this is about to change. With the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Governments are realizing the imminent threat of climate change, and that there is no choice but to act fast. According to the “2009 World Economic and Social Survey: Promoting Development, Saving the Planet”,1 we need to transform our economy similar to a wartime setting. When United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that he will convene an unprecedented Climate Change Summit at UN Headquarters on 22 September 2009, he said that we have less than ten years to halt the rise in greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences for people and the planet. Small Island Developing States that are under the threat of rising sea levels are calling for a peak in emissions by the end of 2010, and to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration at 350 parts per million (ppm) CO2 equivalent as fast as possible.
No matter what the future holds, the Arab world will continue to play an important role in providing the planet with energy. However, whether this energy will be clean and will insure the planet against climate change, does not depend only on the region, but also on world leaders. The opportunity to do so is only a month away in Copenhagen.
This rapid transformation has of course raised tremendous concern in the oil-rich countries of the Arab region, whose economies are mainly dependent on oil trade. The cost of climate change is too high to accept. Even the Arab region will suffer, especially with agriculture and water resources. Sea level rise will also threaten many low-lying countries and agricultural areas in the region, such as Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Nile basin. Lebanon is currently battling with increased forest fires that are devastating its forests. Therefore, the overall transformation of our societies to a low-carbon economy needs to happen. The question for the region should be, “What is our role in the campaign for a low-carbon economy?” Although the region is the main supplier of the world’s oil, it still has one of the richest areas to generate renewable energy. If only around one per cent of Arabian deserts are used to produce solar energy, it can supply Europe, Africa and most of Asia with clean solar energy. This concept is not new, and there have already been reports and studies on Wael Hmaidan is Executive Director of IndyACT, the League of Independent Activists, Lebanon.
In a Low-Carbon Economy
According to the IPCC, by the 2070s, hydropower potential for the whole of Europe is expected to decline by 6%, with strong regional variations from a 20–50% decrease in the Mediterranean region to a 15–30% increase in northern and eastern Europe.
how to make this happen, including foundations such as the desertec Industrial Initiative, which aims to analyze and develop the “technical, economic, political, social and ecological framework for carbon-free power generation in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East”. The desertec concept focuses mainly on one technology, concentrated solar thermal power (csp), which uses huge mirrors to concentrate sunlight on one spot to create heat, which in turn produces steam to drive a turbine that generates electricity. In the future, solar power plants like these will be constructed all over the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, and already several pilot projects have already started. In July 2009, twelve major European companies signed a memorandum of understanding2 in Munich to start the desertec Initiative, Although these initiatives are mainly aimed at providing solar energy to Europe, they can easily be expanded, and a super-smart electrical grid to transport solar energy to African and West Asian countries. The Arab region could therefore continue to play a key role in the energy sector in the future, and the strength of this role will be determined by the decisions it takes now. The first to invest in developing csp technology will benefit from selling the technology or the energy generated by it in the future, similar to what wind energy technology did for some European countries. Renewable energy brings a unique opportunity to the Arab region. If the newly industrialized oil-exporting Arab countries invest their healthy revenues from oil trade into solar technology, they will not only help save life on the planet from climate change, but also ensure that their economies will benefits from exporting clean solar energy. At the same time, this will help them diversify their economy, and prolong the life of their oil, which will become even more valuable in the future. Some oil-exporting Arab countries are starting to see this opportunity. The United Arab Emirates is becoming one of the leaders in the
development of renewable energies, establishing the Masdar Initiative3 which aims at developing the first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city. This initiative attracted renewable energy researchers and developers from across the globe. Masdar is now also the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (irena), an intergovernmental agency aiming to be the main driver to promote renewable energy deployment on a global scale. Deciding on the United Arab Emirates as the hub for renewable energy shows that Governments are recognizing the role that the region can play in the renewable energy sector. In the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, the Arab region can also play an important role. It is unlikely that the world will be able to switch from oil and coal to renewable energy as fast as needed. There will be a transformational period, where many countries will still need to expand their energy production. This is especially true in emerging economies like China and India, where the demand for energy is growing fast. In these countries there will still be a need to construct conventional power plants. Nevertheless, the choice of fuel can make a big difference. If these countries opt for natural gas—the cleanest of the fossil fuels—as a way to produce electricity, they will reduce emissions by a substantial amount. Natural gas produces more than 30 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal when combusted. Therefore, during the transformational period, natural gas power plants should have a higher priority over those producing coal and oil. Here, again, the Arab region has an important role to play: Qatar is estimated to have has the third largest natural gas reserves, followed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the fourth and fifth place respectively, while Algeria and Iraq come in ninth and tenth. No matter what the future holds, the Arab world will continue to play an important role in providing the planet with energy. Choosing whether this energy will be produced in a clean and sustainable way that will insure the planet against climate change does not depend on the region alone, but also on world leaders. The opportunity to do so is only a month away in Copenhagen. unc Notes 1 http://www.un.org/esa/policy/wess/wess2009files/wess09/wess09pressreleases/pr_en.pdf 2 http://www.desertec.org/en/press/press-releases/090713-01-assembly-desertec-industrial-initiative/ 3 http://www.masdar.ae/en/home/index.aspx
UN CHRONICLE No. 3 & 4 2009 © MARIA JOÃO ARCANJO
Ecology by Alain de Botton
he environmental dangers that now face mankind put the reflexive non-scientist in an awkward situation. He must acknowledge that he can have precisely nothing interesting to say on the two most important questions in the air, namely, “What is going to happen to us?” and “What should we do?” It is not from a philosopher that you stand to be enlightened. Which is not to invalidate the attempt to contemplate, rather than simply find a way out of, our ecological dilemmas. It remains valid to try to fathom what the idea of planetary abuse has done to our minds. We may ask what the awareness of the crisis has done to our inner landscape, how it has altered the human psyche. One should begin by observing that there is nothing new for mankind about confronting the possibility of its own destruction. The feeling that the present order – the neat fields, the ordered laundry cupboards, the full granaries – might soon disappear, would have been intensely familiar to any inhabitant of medieval Europe. One need only study the carvings on the sides of the cathedrals to see that our imaginations have for centuries been haunted by visions of Armageddon.
animal can, while being denied enough wisdom to keep our baser sides under control. Yet despite similarities, environmental destruction differs from its nuclear counterpart in a crucial component. Generals who blow up bombs know they want to kill people. Chief executives who manage lorries transporting milk from depots to supermarkets generally have no motives more sinister than the wish to make some money for their shareholders. When we use ample water to brush our teeth or fly to Florence to see some Titians, aggression is far from our minds. However, we are daily reminded that innocent quotidian actions have a cumulative destructive potential greater than an A-bomb. We have been asked to reconceive of ourselves as unthinking killers.
However, we have grown used to conceiving of our present environmental situation as unparalleled, perhaps because we have learnt of it through the media and because for the daily paper, everything must, from an a priori position, be novel. There never was a Lisbon earthquake or a sack of Rome. No one has ever murdered their children or wasted their fortune. This isn’t to deny some intensely novel features behind our anxieties, just to insist that we must carefully separate out the familiar, longstanding morbidity of homo s apiens from the particular features of the current predicament.
At the same time, troublingly, we are told that the destruction is occurring not primarily through what any one of us has done, but through what we are doing as a race. We are implicated in a crime we cannot control singly. None of us can alter the situation through a personal commitment alone. Salvation must be collective. So we are guilty, but also unusually powerless. Murderers have it easy beside the ordinary citizen of the modern world: they can at least free themselves from sin by repenting and then changing their ways through their own willpower. They have no need to secure simultaneous agreement from six billion others across a hundred and ninety two countries. Yet to give up altogether, to do nothing, is also not an option because we are sternly reminded that if everyone thought this way, we would be lost. We are returned to the Christian injunction to avoid despair, not because there is anything to feel especially cheerful about, but because hope is equated with humanity and a concern for others.
One might do worse than to date our present ecological awareness to the moment when the two bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These weapons showed us not only that mankind was perishable (an old thought), but that it was perishable through human action (rather than because of diseased rats): in other words, that we have acquired the power to commit species-suicide. We have always known ourselves to be short-sighted and murderous. We have only in the past few generations learnt that we are also very powerful. We have been blessed with enough intelligence to alter our fates in a way no other
The ecological situation has forever changed our relationship to nature. An unusually warm spring day cannot now be what it was for Chaucer and Wordsworth: a manifestation of the mystery and power of the non-human realm. Since our beginnings, the experience of nature involved an encounter with the Other. The mountains and valleys reminded us that the planet was built by something other than our own hands, by a force greater than we could gather, long before we were born, and set to continue long after our extinction. We could go into nature and see that we were the playthings of forces that laid out
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the oceans and chiselled the mountains. At first nature was God, later (in mid-eighteenth century Europe) it became a more general representative of all that exceeded man. But both as a distinctly religious and then a pantheistic experience, man’s connection to nature was essentially deflationary. Out in the deserts and mountains, we were returned to a smaller sense of ourselves. Part of this involved experiencing time in a particular way. One would leave cities and understand that man was a highly temporary creature, while nature was eternal. Humanity’s achievements were on a pathetic time-scale next to the millennia inscribed in stones. “There is for man no antidote against the opium of time,” wrote Sir Thomas Browne in the 17th century, “Generations passe while some trees stand, and old Families last not three Oaks”. In the Prelude, Wordsworth prized nature for its capacity to make us feel properly, redemptively small. Its works were to be valued for holding up:
before the mind intoxicate
With present objects, and the busy dance Of things that pass away, a temperate show Of objects that endure How mindsets have changed. The equation has been reversed. Men are no longer temporary and oak trees eternal. Nature no longer endures. Nature doesn’t remind us that we are small, but rather provides chilling, awesome evidence of our size and strength. We glance up to the snows of Kilimanjaro and think of how quickly our coal generators have heated the earth. We fly over the denuded stretches of the Amazon and see how easily we have gashed the earth. Nature used to terrify us, now we terrify ourselves. The natural sublime has given way to the technological sublime. The unusually warm spring day doesn’t allow us to escape ourselves. It doesn’t provide us with a traditional benefit of nature: to quieten our minds with evidence of something distinctly non-human, unconnected to our cares, gloriously indifferent to our vanities. Now the day only makes us think of our works with renewed emphasis. We are responsible for the early flowering of those Wordsworthian daffodils. Our fingerprints are all over the uncannily early return of the migratory birds. We control not only the traffic and the planes, but also the very cycle of the seasons.
Even when we are up against evidence of the more indomitable sides of nature, we’re likely to respond to its unruly force with a half-hearted compliment: ‘What a show,’ we might say on the shores of a furious winter sea, ‘nature does still have some life in it, this beast we thought we had killed…’ We have in response to our murderous behaviour become hysterically sentimental towards nature. We take pity on her. We treat her like a wounded panda. We have come far from the attitude of the Ancient Greeks who saw nature as their adversary, potentially generous, but at heart a foe. We have lost all sense of the ancient fight and now feel responsible. Despite our puny frames and lifespans, we have even succeeded in feeling guilt towards glaciers. Nietzsche knew how to rail against such concern: “Is there anything more nauseous than the sentimentality exhibited towards plants and animals by a creature who from the very first dwelt among them as a raging foe and who in the end claims to feel affection for his exhausted and mutilated victims! In the face of this kind of ‘nature’ the proper attitude of a man rational in other respects is before all one of seriousness.” The role of the commentator on the environment is at one level to enable us to notice changes that are occurring. But at another level, it is also a question of getting us to care. And this is tall order, for we are being asked to worry about the possible reduction in the number of our species three generations hence, when we all have to deal with a far more imminent problem: our own death. We are being asked to worry about other people who are not yet born as much as we worry about ourselves. Never before in the history of humanity have we been asked to care so much about others of whom we know so little. Our empathetic powers have been stretched to breaking point. This may be where art comes in. It is artists who are going to have to help us to picture – literally and figuratively – dangers which are generally invisible and are therefore constantly subsumed under the weight of our more mundane or personally intense concerns. Artists may have no solutions, but they are the ones who can come up with the words and images to make visible and important the most abstract and impersonal of challenges. Alain de Botton is the author, most recently, of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.
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Bare Sanctu A polar bear hunting on rapidly retreating sea ice in the Spitsbergen Island of the Svalbard Archipelago between Norway and the North Pole. © PHOTO/Robert Bauer
oss of habitat is the greatest threat to biological diversity, and 85 per cent of the species on the 2006 Norwegian red list are threatened by changes in habitat. Highly-specialized species appear to be the most vulnerable. The polar bear is one such species, and the extent and sustainability of sea ice is essential for its survival. The global population of polar bears consists of roughly 20,000-25,000 individuals spread between 19 subpopulations. However, polar bears wander across enormous
distances, so there are no major genetic differences between these populations. On Svalbard, for instance, polar bears live mainly in areas where there is sea ice, and most of them are therefore found along the eastern coast and in the fjords in the north. The most important hibernation areas on Svalbard are located on the islands of Kongsøya, Svenskøya, Edgeøya, Nordaustlandet and Hopen. However, because the sea ice is retreating as a result of climate change, polar bears have stopped hibernating on Hopen. This is an indication
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nctuaries Ursus Maritimus - Bear of the Sea
that these hugely important hibernation areas are under direct threat from global warming. In 2006, the polar bear was categorized as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union red list. Because of the polar bear’s specialization for living on the marine sea ice, it is particularly vulnerable to large-scale changes in its habitat. A low reproduction rate and a long generation time means that this species is poorly equipped for tackling rapid changes in its habitat like
those currently being experienced in the Arctic. Based on extremely conservative forecasts about the future extent of the sea ice, scientists have estimated that two thirds of the polar bear population could become extinct by 2050. If the sea ice continues to retreat at the speed witnessed during the last few years, the situation will become even more critical. (Adapted from www.wwf.org)
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Bearing the Burden Impacts on human security
Vulnerability of women Household food provision; agricultural work Household fuel provision; food-fuel conflicts
SHORTAGE OF SAFE, CLEAN WATER
Economic drawbacks; lack of land tenure; resourcedependent livelihoods; school dropouts; early marriage
Greater incidence of mortality; reduction of life expectancy; violence and conflicts
Lack of access to healthcare; increased burden of caring for young, sick and elderly
Loss of livelihoods; lack of adequate shelter; conflicts
Source: Women’s Environment and Development Organization
Household water provision; exposure to contaminated sources
CIVIL WAR / CONFLICT
Loss of livelihoods and lives; sexual violence and trauma
Source: Women’s Environment and Development Organization 2008 USD $8 ISBN 978-92-1-101205-7
Printed at the United Nations, New York 09-53411—October 2009
United Nations Department of Public Information, Outreach Division
Women and Climate Change
UN Chronicle United Nations in a united world Volume XLVI - Number 3&4 - 2009