Climate Change won't go away – so get the basics right now

This page in:

ImageEditor's note: This post is part of Blog Action Day on climate change. For more information, visit

Apologies for having been out of touch since Carbon Expo. I needed a break, and summer in Croatia proved one can have a life beyond international development and carbon finance. Climate change, however, very much stayed on my mind with reports of wildfires in the United States and Greece. Clearly, one cannot escape all-encompassing global change, in particular when negotiations have now started in earnest on a post-2012 treaty to reduce carbon emissions and provide financing for developing countries.

Some still think that climate change is just a buzz topic and will quietly disappear from global attention. Let me assure you that many people in East Asian and Pacific countries would disagree. They are hit by natural disasters, which in recent years not only steadily increased in frequency, but also in intensity.

Just about a week ago the Philippine capital of Manila was flooded as a consequence of tropical storm Ondoy. One of my Filipino colleagues told me about how people there are now faced with mud and trash after the floods receded. At the same time Samoa and Tonga were nearly washed away by a giant sea wave from an undersea quake. Still skeptical about climate change? Then you may wish to talk face-to-face to these Pacific Islanders who are desperately looking for terra firma to escape further tragedy.

Better information is certainly crucial to a global wake-up call that we have to act now and act fast. One may not persuade the most ardent skeptics, such as Czech President Vaclav Klaus, but it might help increase the mass of people wanting change and empower governments to make the right decisions. Timely and precise knowledge might at least help journalists get the basics right, so the New York Times does not end up in Oslo when the final negotiating round takes place in Copenhagen, or the German TAZ might improve on its Japanese spelling (the city’s name is Kyoto not Kioto).

Quoi qu’il en soit key to ensure that land and sea don’t become uninhabitable for men, mice, and coral reefs is an agreement by all nations to cap greenhouse gas emissions after 2012 and to finance technology transfers and adaptation to the unavoidable changes. Much is at stake in Copenhagen in December: the foundation of the wealth of nations has so far been powered by dirty industrial growth and the unsustainable usage of basic resources such as forests and simply the lives of future generations.

Clearly this is not an easy call. Powerful financial interests are at stake in both developed and developing countries. Though all concur on the baseline that something has to be done soon, agreement how exactly and who coughs up how much money is still far away. The three big negotiating powers – the G77, the US and the European Union -- cannot even agree from which baseline to start negotiating – the old Kyoto treaty, something like it or a new treaty entirely.

Copenhagen could be a big success or leave the world in a situation similar to the Doha round – only that less trade does not destroy the planet (economists are invited to disagree). At present, everybody is set for an intermediate failure and more negotiations in 2010.

This will most probably involve the prickly topic of financing change, especially in developing countries. After all they need more than just funding to introduce low carbon economies, trying to fundamentally change the development paradigm (growth based on dirty industries and cheap and carbon intensive energy). They also face the biggest adaptation challenges to the rising uncertainties of droughts, storms, rising sea levels, salination of rivers, falling crops, and unpredictable weather events.

As in a divorce settlement, we are likely to see lots of true and untrue arguments, outright lies, and efforts to charm the rival party. Only thing is that we are all affected by it and need action fast. But more about that in my next post, “It’s all about the money.”

This word cloud gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in this post. Hi-res version. Created using Wordle.



Florian Kitt

Sustainable Development

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000