Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tackling climate change: First mitigation, then adaptation

Amsterdam, 17 March 2008 - Jan Pronk, prominent former Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation and the Environment, and now professor at the ISS in The Hague, filled the lecture hall in the Free University of Amsterdam.

Looking back to the Kyoto negotiations, Pronk highlighted the uniqueness of the agreement. The participating parties for the first time accepted an integrated and differentiated approach, concrete targets, sanctions (though not very hard ones), and realized the importance of mitigation and adaptation, capacity building and the potential of greenhouse gas absorption. The result was positive, because it was equitable, concrete, binding, flexible and innovative.

How is our situation today different from 10 years ago?
  • There is much higher economic growth than we expected (India, China, Brazil, South Africa)
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are higher than we expected.
  • The mechanism of climate change is more complex than we knew.
  • The physical consequences are more extreme than we suspected.
  • The economic consequences of these physical changes are greater than we anticipated.
  • There are more climate-related environmental disasters than we imagined 10 years ago.
  • Climate change is an unpredicted additional factor to more inequality.
  • The conflict potential of climate change is greater than we feared.
  • The shortage of fossil fuels came earlier than we forecasted. Also uranium for nuclear power is already becoming scarce.
  • The problem of energy security is greater than we expected.
  • We have more scientific knowledge and certainties on climate change.
  • There is a greater awareness on globalisation and global environmental change.
  • There is more technology research in private business.
  • The EU package to tackle climate change suggests a leading role.
For the Bali negotiations, Jan Pronk was quite critical. The countries are still blaming each other instead of implementing the decisions taken in Kyoto, although compliance is politically highly important. Pronk admitted that he "was ashamed" of the weak outcome of the implementation negotiations in the Netherlands, in which he participated. The biggest blockers of effective implementation were private business lobbies.

Above all, Pronk regretted that the focus of attention is so much on deforestation and adaptation, and shifts away from mitigation. Mitigation should be at the core of every climate change strategy, and adaptation the second priority. Adaptation through compensation payments, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is not enough. Instead, it is a "lip service" and means that "you do not have to do anything at home". "We first, then the others", Pronk appealed, "we have to mitigate in order to be credible in the eyes of others to follow". Continuing our Western lifestyle means heading for disaster. Not population growth, nor the rise of global income is the problem ... our material consumption is.

For the future, Jan Pronk appeared to be quite pessimistic. Although there are good policies and institutions, consumption patterns and values have not change fundamentally. The big problem lies in "the capitalist system which tells us to keep on consuming, consuming, consuming". The growing resistance and curiosity amongst the youth, nevertheless, to something different, offers some hope.

Since October 2007, SID Netherlands and partners have organized monthly lectures around the theme 'Emerging Global Scarcities and Power Shifts.' The January and February lectures discussed biofuels and political ways to address climate change. 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.