WE SHOULD ACT NOW, WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME
Ibrahim Haruna Lipumba, National Chairman Civic United Front- Tanzania and Gareth Morgan MP, DA Spokesperson on Environmental Affairs- South Africa
The environment provides at least four keys services to humanity. It provides life support, particularly through the air we breathe; it supplies natural resources; it absorbs waste products; and it supplies amenity opportunities. There is now less doubt than ever before that climate change is taking place and is mainly caused by human activities that generate green house gases (GHG). The services that the environment provides us are now under severe threat. Urgent action is required to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The Science & Economics of Climate Change
The scientific evidence for this is overwhelming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report has concluded that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.” The warming of our climate system is directly linked to human activity. Climate change is a serious global threat, and it demands an urgent global response.
Climate change caused by GHG emissions is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen. The prices of goods and services produced since the beginning of the industrial revolution have never reflected the true cost to the environment. The vast majority of these goods and services are in someway linked to GHG emissions.
The Stern Review estimates that if we do not act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action – reducing GHG emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.
If no action is taken to reduce emissions, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could reach double its pre-industrial level as early as 2035, virtually committing us to a global average temperature rise of over 2°C. In the longer term, there would be more than a 50% chance that the temperature rise would exceed 5°C. This rise would be very dangerous indeed
All countries will be affected. Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world – access to water, food production, health, and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms. The most vulnerable – the poorest countries and populations – will suffer earliest and most, even though they have contributed least to the causes of climate change. The costs of extreme weather, including floods, droughts and storms, are already rising, including for rich countries.
The effects on Africa, are already proving to be dramatic and will accelerate. From 1900 to 2005 rainfall has significantly decreased in North Africa, the Sahel and Southern Africa. Mount Kilimanjaro has lost over 80 percent of its glacier. Sea level rise is threatening African islands and coastal communities.
It is estimated that by 2020 75 – 250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress. In some countries, particularly in the Sahel and Southern Africa yields from rain-fed agriculture will be reduced by 50 percent.
Scientists argue that the risks of the worst impacts of climate change can be substantially reduced if greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere can be stabilised between 450 and 550ppm CO2 equivalent (CO2e). The current level is 430ppm CO2e today, and it is rising at more than 2ppm each year. Stabilisation in this range would require emissions to be at least 25 percent below current levels by 2050, and perhaps much more. It is already very difficult and too costly to aim to stabilise at 450ppm CO2e. It is feasible to stabilise GHG levels at 500-550ppm CO2e if the whole world acts now. If we delay, the opportunity to stabilise at 500-550ppm CO2e will slip away.
It is only fair that industrialised countries that have contributed most of the GHG emissions carry responsibility for absolute cuts in emissions of 60-80% by 2050. Developing countries particularly India and China and other large ones that are currently growing fast must take significant action to reduce emissions. All countries particularly those in the tropical rain forest areas should contribute to reducing CO2 emissions by drastically reducing deforestation. Deforestation is responsible for more emissions than the transport sector.
Given the objective of stabilising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere at 500-550ppm CO2e, global required levels of emissions reduction is known. What is required is an international agreement to limit emissions for industrialised countries and large developing countries. It is critical to create an international market trade for CO2 emissions. Producers of emissions should pay for it. The objective should be to establish a global carbon price across countries and sectors. Hopefully with the demise of the Bush Administration in the US, the coming Obama Administration (?) will be a more responsible global partner. Emissions trading schemes, like that operating across the European Union, could be expanded and linked.
The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), an instrument that allows industrialised countries with a GHG reduction commitment to invest in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries as an alternative to more expensive emission reductions in their own countries, should be effectively promoted and better managed to remove actual and potential corrupt practices of awarding undeserved projects CDM status. The CDM allows net global greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced at a much lower global cost by financing emissions reduction projects in developing countries where costs are lower than in industrialized countries.
Role of Technology
Technology has a critical role to play in averting climate change. National, regional, and international technology policy should drive the large-scale development and use of a range of low-carbon and high-efficiency products. Investment in technological advancement of non-polluting alternative energy including solar, geothermal, wind, ocean waves and hybrid batteries is important. Biofuels from non-food biomass can contribute to reducing dependency on fossil fuel for transport. The increased use of food products particularly corn to produce ethanol, soybeans and palm oil to produce bio-diesel has contributed to the global increase in the price of food. Large subsidies to convert corn into ethanol should be eliminated while more attention should be directed to supporting research that uses cellulosic feed stocks such as switch grass, grain stalks, wood waste, wood chips and even newspapers to produce biofuels. Tropical countries with twelve months growing seasons can have a comparative advantage in the production of biofuels. Jatropha can be planted in semi waste lands to prevent soil erosion and its seeds used to produce bio-diesel. Sweet sorghum that can grow in semi arid regions can be used as a feed stock for the production of ethanol. Increased biofuels production should however not be attained at the expense of deforestation.
Limiting deforestation and environmentally efficient harvesting of mature trees without clearing forests is the most effective measure of limiting GHG emissions. Development and use of non-tilling agriculture has the potential of limiting agriculture emission of GHG.
Climate change should be fully integrated into development policy. Developing countries should practice sustainable development which entails three sets of interrelated objectives: – economic, social and ecological. To attain sustainable growth, human and natural resources have to be used efficiently to promote growth of output and income. This growth should lead to reduction of poverty while protecting the environment. Sustained reduction in poverty and improvement in the provision of social services such as basic education, preventive and curative medicine, clean water and shelter requires broad based growth of output. Although sustained long-term growth is usually dependent on technological progress, it is also associated with capital accumulation because technical progress is usually embodied in new capital goods. The focus of policy makers should be to provide incentives to attain “green” technical progress.
Up until now much of the global debate around climate change, particularly among developed countries, has concerned climate mitigation that is, reducing emissions. The reality of these interventions is that we will only be lessening climate change, not preventing it. Much of the warming that is locked into the system is due to emissions that have already occurred. As countries move towards the finalisation of a post-2012 Kyoto framework it is imperative that cost effective policies are developed that combine mitigation of global emissions, adaptation measures and sustainable development.
Adaptation refers primarily to measures that lessen the vulnerabilities that arise as a result of the negative effects of climate change. While mitigation is mostly a global issue, adaptation is a local or regional issue, and therefore adaptation needs will be different in different parts of the world.
Those countries or communities with the least capacity to adapt are the most vulnerable to climate change. The worldwide cost of adapting will be between US$ 28 and US$ 67 billion per year by 2030. At the moment, the world’s Adaptation Fund, set up using funds from a levy on Clean Development Mechanism Projects, is estimated to be worth only US$ 36 million per year, and is expected to rise to no more than US$300 million per year by 2012. Hence, there is a significant funding gap, as the Adaptation Fund in its current manifestation will contribute only 1% of the funds required to help the world adapt to the climate change that is already likely to happen. Adaptation to climate change must be treated as a priority by the world’s leaders.
The difficult reality for politicians from the developed world, which is responsible for the vast majority of human-induced climate change, is that they are going to need to contribute significant resources to adaptation measures in the post-2012 climate framework. Further, any additional resources should not be allocated at the expense of current development aid.
Much more emphasis needs to be placed on adaptation measures in the period going forward. Besides the importance of adaptation as a means to sustain, and where possible, improve livelihoods, it is likely that no agreement on a post-2012 climate framework will be politically feasible if adaptation measures are not treated with the same importance as mitigation measures.
Africa’s own adaptation to climate change could benefit tremendously from the transfer of funds and technology from the developed world; we are going to need to redouble our efforts locally to improve our response time. Research in crop diversification, with the on-the-ground support and advice from agriculture extension workers to vulnerable communities is a priority. Increased investment in water infrastructure, including dams and irrigation, not to the mention the maintenance of current infrastructure is an imperative. Improved planning and more rigorous environmental authorisations that minimise the risks from extreme weather events such as flooding, wave damage and cyclones are a necessity. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Sustainable development also requires effective states that respect the will of the people. Citizens with knowledge about the impact human activities on the environment should support reasonable policies to protect the environment. Corrupt and undemocratic states are more likely to pursue policies that damage the environment. Democratically elected and accountable governments can be an effective instrument for protecting the environment. Africa needs to remove the democratic deficit to implement policies that increase the well being of all the people in a sustainable and ecologically responsible way.