Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Political ways and means to address climate change

Amsterdam, 18 February 2008 – Since climate change is the hot topic on European political agendas, SID Netherlands invited two high-profile speakers to shed some light on ways to tackle global warming.

Gurmit Singh, Executive Director of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development (CETDEM) in Malaysia provided a passionate and critical 'Southern' perspective. Pier Vellinga, Professor in climate change and environmental science at Wageningen University and the VU Amsterdam, gave a 'Northern' viewpoint, emphasizing the recent political achievements.

Singh started by arguing that climate change is deeply submerged in politics. The post-Kyoto regime negotiations are obscured by vested interests, and characterized by a divide between North and South, between the largest greenhouse gas emitters and the most affected countries. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is just one example of the North-South domination. While the South gets "peanuts", the North makes money trading certificates at the stock markets. The CDM is a very unequal mechanism, because Africa is left out and does benefit at all. For Singh, the Kyoto and Bali agreements are "a lot of hot air, but almost nothing is done/"

The fight against climate change is just like "going to war", argued Singh, because it is "a greater threat than any war before." We have to mobilize resources and shorten the timeframe to achieve the 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that is needed to avoid more than a 2C rise in the world temperature. However, the context must be sustainable development, because the fight against climate change has to be accompanied by the fight against global poverty.

The EU disappointed hopes of strong leadership in Bali. Internal divisions, uneven commitment of its Member States, inconsistency and an incapability of creating alliances foreclosed strong leadership. Singh called on the EU to stop being subservient to the USA and giving way to the business lobby. Further, he lamented that “you have to de-carbonize yourself before asking Brazil, China and India to reduce emissions.” The EU should concentrate on actions instead of words, which lso applies to January's climate change action proposals of the European Commission. In the end, it is not the Commission who decides on commitments, but the Member States.

For Singh, the solution consists of sacrifices and toning down aspirations. On the one hand, people of all countries, and especially in wasteful areas, have to make sacrifices, while still having a good life. Developing countries, on the other hand, have to tone down their aspirations for an energy and resource intensive path of development, while still having a better quality of life. “Nothing comes easy”, Singh appealed, “we have to really change our lifestyles”.

While Vellinga agreed with Singh’s main points, he stressed recent political achievements. “During the last months, more has changed than in the 15 years before”, he reasoned, which is why we can be “slightly optimistic”. Climate change is the ultimate test for international cooperation. Without the EU, the USA and Russia, there cannot be an effective start, because they have the biggest power to reduce. And without China, India and Brazil participating within a decade, the initiative will be ineffective. The “polluter pays principle” will be the major fundamental for future commitments, and Vellinga estimated transfers of 50 billion Euro a year to be necessary.

Vellinga underlined that “we don’t have the wrong regime, but the wrong overtones”. The USA was simply not ready to join an international climate agreement. Also the CDM was in principle a very good and useful initiative, but it was in practice that it became an inequitable mechanism. However, it should still continue to stimulate money flows from North to South.

Concluding, Vellinga reminded that before stepping to action, we need thorough analysis of what climate change will do to different countries. The Netherlands, for example, will spend 50 million Euro for a strategy to firstly understand what adaptation means for the country, before even touching possible adaptation strategies.

Since October 2007, SID Netherlands and partners have organized monthly lectures around the theme 'Emerging Global Scarcities and Power Shifts.' The January lecture discussed biofuels. The The SID lecture series 2007/2008 continues until June 2008.

Story by Birthe Paul

Climate change and agriculture was the topic of recent discussions in Brussels and Lisbon.

See also Euforic newsfeed on climate change.