By Laurie Goering
The messages coming out of the U.N. climate talks in Durban could hardly be more at odds.
Climate change is a present threat that is driving more extreme and expensive weather all around the world, and that threatens everything from the world’s food production to the lives of the world’s most vulnerable.
But addressing it, with policies that will effectively cut climate-changing emissions and help those most at risk, is something that can afford to be put off year after year after year.
Clearly, progress against climate change is happening, in thousands of cities and villages and companies around the world. But those pioneering efforts add up to less than what is needed – scientists say the world is headed toward global temperature increases that are twice what is considered relatively safe, which will make adapting difficult.
So where is the international leadership? How do we square thousands of negotiators flying to seaside resorts each year, expending vast amounts of money and carbon in the process, to achieve minimal progress toward a pressing goal?
It’s a question many people at the talks – and outside them – would like answered.
“Every dollar we are spending on this meeting could have been spent to help people,” says Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, a Bangladeshi economist, contributor to a range of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, and an increasingly fed-up longtime participant in the U.N. climate-negotiating process.
“We have to look into our own conscience. Are we doing the right thing here?” he asks.
At negotiation after negotiation, “I see the same people, making the same statements, changing a word here and there.” But “I don’t see anyone taking this by the horns, taking it forward.”
Whose fault is that? Developed countries, particularly the United States, fairly get most of the blame. But China is now the world’s biggest carbon emitter, one on a trajectory to eventually dwarf the United States with its much larger population.
If climate change is such an urgent problem, one likely to afflict even giants like the United States and China with worsening droughts and floods, higher food prices, growing security risks and just plain high costs, why don’t more nations step up with emissions-reduction commitments purely out of self interest?
What the world’s biggest countries don’t seem to fully realise, says Ahmad, who comes from hugely at-risk Bangladesh, is that “everybody will be in this together… (Climate change) is intensifying everywhere. Maybe some have better capacity to manage it. But eventually they will go our way also. That’s something I don’t see sinking into the leadership of the developed world.”
In the places where climate change impacts are hitting first and hardest – among them African countries reliant on rain-fed agriculture, small low-lying island nations and countries like Bangladesh with big populations and a large at-risk coastline – the rhetoric around the notable lack of action is ramping up.
Failure by the world’s biggest carbon emitters to reduce their emissions “is a new kind of terrorism – carbon terrorism,” insisted Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, from the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods in Bangladesh, during a programme at this year’s talks in Durban.
If large areas of Bangladesh are inundated or uninhabitable as a result of climate impacts, as scientists expect on the world’s current trajectory, the failure to take action to stop the problem “is a sort of genocide that is about to be triggered,” he said.
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, of the Justice Working Group Bangladesh, insists that now is the time for negotiators to respond to the threats scientists say will only worsen with lost time.
“Agreeing to any delay means, according to present scientific assessments, more deaths and destruction across the globe, which the global community – especially the innocent victims in the most vulnerable countries – can hardly afford,” he said in Durban.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)