Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 6 August 2007
Last week the United Nations held its first ever General Assembly debate on climate change, marking its rapid rise in the global agenda. Everyone agreed the problem is real and serious, but there are wide differences on how to tackle this crisis.
Climate change climbed another
rung up the global agenda last week when the United Nations General
Assembly held its first ever plenary debate in
Many speakers stressed that climate change has emerged as the major environment crisis of our times, but it must be dealt with in the context of development.
UN Secretary General Ban
Ki-Moon said climate change was finally receiving the very highest attention
that it merited. The
For countries in dry lands, climate change will worsen desertification, drought and food insecurity, he said, warning: “We cannot go this way for long. We cannot continue with business as usual. The time has come for decisive action on a global scale.”
“Climate change has many aspects, but it is fundamentally a development issue,” said General Assembly President, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa. “What is at stake is the fate and well-being of our planet.”
The General Assembly debate
is the start of a series of landmark meetings, especially a UN climate
change event on 24 September to be attended by heads of government in
The UN wants to continue
as the central venue for international negotiations and agreements on
climate change issues. This is somewhat threatened by an initiative
by United States President George Bush to set up an alternative framework
for “top emitting countries.” The
Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries committed to reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions, with targets up to only 2012. Negotiations will start soon on a post-2012 agreement. A major question is whether developing countries will also have to commit to reducing emissions in the new deal.
The question is to avoid catastrophic interference. There will be a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius even if the Greenhouse gas concentration can now be stabilized.
There is chance of reaching a “tipping point” if the rise is above 2 degrees. To avoid that, emissions must peak by 2015 and fall after that.
The scale of the problem is large because 80% of energy use is from burning fossil fuels. In 2005 CO2 global emissions totaled 28 billion tons. Tropical deforestation accounted for 4 to 12 tons of CO2 a year. Neither the energy system nor the drivers of the problem can be changed easily.
Sir Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics said if we do nothing, there could be at least a 5% loss of world national income due to climate change. Timely action could drastically reduce that risk, at a cost of 1% of GDP. The cost of timely action is much less than the cost of inaction.
the debate, the Group of 77 and
The rich countries should meet their commitments to reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions, and should provide funds and transfer technology to developing countries so they can better adapt to the effects of climate change, said the G77.
Many developing countries spoke on how climate change would affect them and asked for quick and fair solutions.
“It is unfortunate that the industrialized countries are responsible for the bulk of emissions but the poorer nations which did nothing to cause the problem are most exposed to its effects,” said Malaysia, which also called on the rich countries to transfer climate-friendly technology to developing countries.
In a hard-hitting statement,
Many African and
There were differences of views among developed countries. The European Union was the most forthcoming, proposing global targets to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade and to cut global emissions by 50% by 2020 (compared to the 1990 level).
The EU said that developed
countries should collectively reduce their emissions by 30% by 2020
and by 60-80 per cent by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). In
The US, Japan and Australia wanted developing countries (at least the leading ones) to undertake binding commitments in a new agreement, while the EU was more ambivalent about this.
The General Assembly debate has thus kicked off the global discussion on what to do about climate change, especially on negotiating a new phase of commitments to take effect after 2012.
The talks on this topic will be complex and difficult, as so much is at stake, environmentally, economically and socially.