Changing climate puts development goals at risk

By Eleanor Momberg Time of article published Dec 7, 2011

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Climate change threatens to negate the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

That was why a legally binding agreement setting targets for the reduction of carbon emissions, as well as the finalisation of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) agreement, was essential at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17).

The talks, which end on Friday, appear to have hit a roadblock as some developed nations, including Canada, Japan and the US, push for an end to the Kyoto protocol, of which the first commitment period comes to an end in December 2012, while developing countries, including South Africa, want to see at least agreement on the introduction of a Kyoto protocol second commitment to serve as a transitional agreement until all countries are able to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Such an agreement could be in place for several years as countries introduce programmes and economic means to encourage companies and society to go green.

Also apparently stalled is an agreement on the detail of the GCF, agreed to at the climate summit in Cancun last year, as several South American countries, the US and Saudi Arabia differ on the proposed means for funding mitigation and adaptation programmes in developing and least developed countries battling climate change.

Speaking at a COP17 side event last week, Abyd Karmali, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s global head of carbon markets, called on the GCF negotiators to agree to the fund’s design as soon as possible so that capital could start flowing.

“There really is no limit to the scale of the finance that is achievable; it is just a matter of making sure there are the right incentive mechanisms in place,” he said.

“Of the $100 billion (R800bn) a year by 2020 that is needed for the GCF, a huge chunk of that has to come from the private sector. Maybe not from carbon markets specifically, but certainly from capital markets. For me, ensuring that there is a specific unit (within the GCF) that is looking to engage with the private sector, that is non-negotiable,” he said.

Africa may be the lowest contributor to climate change, but it will be the hardest hit. It was for this reason Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said hosting COP17 on African soil was important.

“We are highly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as rain-fed agriculture. Combined with the severe development challenges the continent already faces, this makes Africans particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” she said.

World Bank special envoy on climate change Andrew Steer emphasised that climate change was about poverty reduction.

“Developing countries will bear three quarters of the negative impact of changing weather patterns, water shortages, and rising sea levels, and they are the least equipped to deal with them. Hard won gains in poverty reduction are at serious risk. This is no longer just tomorrow’s problem. Impacts are being felt today,” he said.

The UNDP, which helps developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change, said the Durban talks were essential for Africa because the continent might be better represented than in the past.

“The region has been speaking with one voice but is struggling to be heard,” a UNDP statement said.

For Africa, the outcomes required were the same. Countries from the region were asking that global warming be kept below a 1.5ºC temperature increase by the end of the century, something which was almost impossible now given the current trends in emissions. Secondly, Africa was asking that developed and emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil agree to massively reduce their emissions. The third was for the international community to help Africa adapt to the impact of climate change.

In a recent World Bank blog, Steer pointed out that four out of five countries that the bank worked with listed climate change among the top priorities for their anti-poverty plans.

In the past 12 months, nearly 90 percent of country assistance strategies requested by developing countries, and approved by the World Bank’s board, listed climate change as one of the major pillars for World Bank support.

As of September, the bank was actively engaged with 100 countries, supporting their efforts on adaptation and mitigation.

Figures showed that the average African generated about 13 times less greenhouse gases than his counterpart in North America. Despite South Africa now being 13th on the list of the world highest carbon emitters, in 2007 the continent accounted for less than 4 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Molewa said that without an overriding mitigation and adaptation agenda, Africa might see these figures rise as development and population rates grew in the future.

“The challenge for Africa is to decouple economic and social development from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation to an extent which has no precedent in the developed world. Africa needs to embark on a path of sustainable development with new, clean, appropriate technologies and to build climate resilient communities, so as to avoid the environmental mistakes of the developed world,” she said.

A recent UN report, titled “A Brief for Policymakers on the Green Economy and the MDGs”, stated that investing in clean energy, sustainable transport, forests and environmentally friendly agriculture were essential, if internationally agreed goals to reduce poverty were to be achieved.

The report, reviewing the implementation progress five years before the MDG deadline of 2015, made it clear that environmental degradation was making it more difficult for governments to achieve goals such as improving maternal health, providing safe drinking water and combating hunger and disease.

Conversely, the report said some countries and communities were finding that catalysing environmental improvements through deliberate policy choices, smart investments and private sector partnerships could be a big part of the solution.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said there was rapidly growing evidence that accelerating a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient, employment-generating green economy might not only be the key to meeting sustainability challenges of the 21st century, but also provide a considerable contribution to meeting other MDGs.

“It is likely that achieving all the MDGs by 2015 will be missed, in part because the responses so far have been embedded in a 20th century approach to a new century’s challenges,” he said.

The green economy, he added, put a spotlight on the many economic and social opportunities, from investing in clean energy to natural resource management of the planet’s ecological infrastructure.

“In doing so, it addresses the economic, social and environmental objective of sustainable development,” he said.

The report said the environmental goods and services that underpinned the global economy – and in particular the poor – were shrinking at a rapid rate.

The loss of ecological infrastructure, it said, not only undermined the MDG on environmental sustainability, but also all the other MDGs and their associated targets.

The loss of forests affected the MDGs on hunger, health and access to drinking water. While there was no specific MDG for energy, the report said providing clean energy would underpin the success of many of the goals.

According to the report, one way of financing the achievement of the MDGs was through re-directing subsidies.

“Fossil fuels, for example, still attract over $500bn a year in government subsidies,” said the report. “Investing all or part of these subsidies in renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind, could trigger new kinds of employment, faster access to electricity and greater social equity – a better overall standard of living.”

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