Global emissions just crossed 400 parts per million, an ominous threshold for the climate. Despite this marker, there are signs of new life for international climate action, including during the recent United Nation’s climate meeting in Bonn, Germany.
It’s become abundantly clear in order for the world to reach an international climate agreement by 2015, the usual approach isn’t going to work. World leaders need to find common ground and work toward solutions. They need to engage their citizens and infuse new passion into the issue. Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it is one of the great moral tests of our times.
In Chile, we know all too well the impacts of climate change, marked in particular by more frequent droughts and increasing water scarcity. This affects people and our economy across sectors, from agriculture and manufacturing to mining and energy. Sadly, the people most affected by climate change are the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.
In the face of this challenge, we need a new narrative that engages people and presents the issue as a social and economic story rather than as just an environmental one. We need to create a world in which people prosper but without increasing pollution. This is not a distant dream but it is a real possibility.
Chile has an advantage compared to many richer countries as we are still building our infrastructure and can do so in a clean, green way, rather than waiting to retrofit later. This requires planning and investing for the long term in the type of society we want our children and grandchildren to live in.
LATIN AMERICAN LEADERSHIP?
Across Latin America, there is an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in solving the climate problem. We are the region with the highest rate of deforestation in the world, accounting for over half of our greenhouse gas emissions. Anything we do to slow down and reverse the rate of deforestation can have a global impact and will ultimately reduce the negative effects climate change.
We can benefit from the measures agreed in the Kyoto Protocol which allow us to access funding to plant trees and reduce deforestation. Immediate action makes sense. It is less expensive to tackle the causes of the problem today than to wait for the impacts to worsen, which will be increasingly costly and deadly.
We have another advantage in Chile: The amount of greenhouse gases we emit per person is already at the level that other countries need to reach to stabilise the climate. For many countries, such as the United States and Europe, this means making significant changes in the way they do business. For us, we just need to find ways to grow without polluting – and this is most definitely within our grasp. At the end of the day, climate change is caused by people and will be solved by people.
AN ISSUE OF JUSTICE
Acting as the world is now– like climate change isn’t happening and the impacts aren’t real— is an issue of justice. Climate change is causing droughts and exacerbating food shortages. This undermines people’s basic rights to food, to water and to health. It hits poor and vulnerable communities the hardest.
Climate justice requires us to acknowledge our responsibility and then orient ourselves towards a new kind of future, one that is hopeful and filled with opportunity. Developing countries don’t need to copy the outdated version of development that produced great growth, but with the cost of destabilising the climate system. We can follow a better, more sustainable and ultimately more just and equitable path.
I believe in a new paradigm of development based on dreams and hopes. To achieve this we need to win hearts and minds. We need the minds to produce rational thoughts and creative ideas and the hearts to have the passion to tackle the problem.
Over the coming months, we need to listen to the voices of the vulnerable and the rich alike. We need to disregard old pathways and knock down the barriers of inaction. Countries need to move closer together around a common plan. Emerging countries, including those in Latin America, can do their part by making commitments to action. Big players, like the United States, must also come to the table with a strong will to reach an international agreement.
We can imagine a better and safer future. Now, we need to turn that future into a reality.
Ricardo Lagos is the former President of Chile.