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Vulnerable communities demand climate justice

~Dr. A. Atiq Rahman

THE COP-15 Summit in Copenhagen is aimed at implementing the Bali Action Plan as well as ensuring a credible follow up to the Kyoto Protocol. Many meetings across the world, of heads of governments, climate change negotiators, civil society groups, activists and the scientific community, are calling for the implementation of the Bali Action Plan. At the Copenhagen Bella Centre the parties to the UNFCCC Conference of Parties and the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol must seal a deal that significantly reduces greenhouse gases, and save the most vulnerable from increasing climate risks.

The recent catastrophic and extreme climate events across the world, including cyclones in the Bay of Bengal, typhoons and floods in Philippines and China, floods in UK, droughts in Africa and hurricanes in the Caribbean and Central America -- all seem to confirm the worst predictions of IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

The recent global food crisis and virtual disappearance of the global rice market point towards greater forthcoming food related crises. This is also consistent with the impacts of climate change. The sufferers of all these are mostly the poor communities across the world.

A recent FAO report suggests that currently one billion people go hungry everyday. Three factors responsible for this are market failure, poor global governance and impacts of climate change. In fact, climate change itself represents one of the greatest economic and market failures in the history and is also a failure of global governance.

Annex-1 must act now
The industrialised countries must take the responsibility for financing the global regime of the GHG reduction and adaptation, and for providing technologies. Any serious effort to raise a significant global fund is often answered by the knee-jerk reaction that industrialised governments have no funds. But recent history testifies otherwise.

When the recent financial crisis became evident due to callous, irresponsible mismanagement of a number of sectors, including banking, insurance, housing etc., trillions of dollars flowed as economic stimulus. Huge funds were made available in US, European countries, Japan, China and other countries to save those financial institutions that mostly supported the rich and demonstrated irresponsible financial management.

So when the rich suffer, funds are found but when the poor suffer and are bound to continue to suffer due to impacts of climate change, funds are not available.

It is a question of urgency, priority and decision. Copenhagen must see huge funds on the table and this deal must also be sealed.

Climate victims
The victims of today and tomorrow are the poor across the world, particularly in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The leaders of the LDCs and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and poor countries of Africa are amplifying their voices through the formation of an informal emerging group of the most vulnerable countries (MVC). Their communities are already suffering from sea level rise, food shortages, human displacement and increasing threats of social conflicts.

Greatest strategic threat
Climate change is rapidly emerging as the greatest strategic threat. Over three hundred million people, mostly from the developing world, are likely to be displaced. The industrialised countries, who are mostly responsible for the forthcoming climate change catastrophe, must bear the responsibility of rehabilitating these displaced people in the geographical areas of their own respective countries.

This migration challenge is going to be even greater than some of the climate related extreme events. So, time is running out fast for completing a "just" and "legally binding" deal at Copenhagen. This agreement must ensure:

-Rapid reduction of GHG by the industrialised countries within shortest the possible time,

-A massive (at least one hundred billion dollars annually) fund where more than 50% should be allocated for adaptation, particularly for most vulnerable communities and poor countries,

-Provision of required technologies for free or at a concessional rate, both for mitigation and for adaptation, from industrialised countries to developing countries, and

-Starting the process for managing massive climate induced migration.

Limit to adaptation
Adaptation is the need for today, but cannot be a long term solution of climate change. The imperative of GHG emission forces many communities to adapt to agricultural productivity, infrastructural damage management, public health protection, disaster risk reduction and climate induced migration. But adaptation has limits.

The adaptation potential comes to an end when ecosystems or human societies collapse. Hence, we must build resilience in human and natural systems to reduce the risk and vulnerability from climate change impacts through reducing the GHG emission drastically and providing risk reduction strategies and actions.

Climate politics: Poor US leadership
US was the greatest stumbling block in achieving the Kyoto Protocol objectives in relation to GHG reduction. The change in the administration and the emergence of Obama indicates some progress. But the legislative requirements of the decision making process of US have blocked the global progress of a climate change deal. US recent offer of a 17% reduction of GHG by 2020 from a baseline of 2005 does not deceive the world. This is equivalent to less than 5% reduction from 1990 level.

This basically means that US intends to achieve the Kyoto target of 5% reduction of 2012 by 2025. This is a great and grave injustice that US has done to planetary decision making, and has lost credibility as a world leader.

Europe: Early efforts
The European Union committed to reduce 20% by 2020 from the baseline of 1990, which also falls far short of the IPCC requirements as the impacts of climate change are happening so fast that we will reach a tipping point in the near future. China, the greatest future emitter (though currently a global average per capita emitter) has declared its own carbon development index, which will need further carbon reduction and de-carbonisation of its development process.

Emerging economics, LDCs and MVCs
The very recent meeting of the four major developing country emitters (China, India, Brazil and South Africa) was right to call on industrial countries to reduce GHG, but they also have to demonstrate their sincerity and commitment for GHG reduction.

The LDCs and most vulnerable countries (MVCs) should also explore low-carbon sustainable development paths and enhance their adaptive capacities to reduce climate risks and vulnerabilities.

For this, a major funding drive must be one of the key objectives of the Copenhagen deal. The $10 billion mentioned in the Commonwealth Summit and the earlier announcement of $1hundred billion per year up to 2020 by the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown are merely numbers, but must be realised in the Copenhagen deal.

Also preferential access to this fund by the most vulnerable and poor communities must be ascertained. Fund management has a frustrating history for poor countries, and must be managed independently, efficiently urgently and in a pro-poor manner under the guidance of the UNFCCC.

Both poor and rich must adapt
The experiences from adaptation practices and country-based actions show that adaptation will be context specific but its learnings will have generic value. Pro-poor and climate risk reducing practices must be the focus of adaptation investment. The achievements of poverty eradication efforts must be protected from the cruel hands of climate change impacts. The threats faced by the farmers of today due to erratic rainfall, enhanced flooding, droughts and cyclones sometimes make their knowledge accumulated from previous generations non-functional.

New knowledge continuum
A new knowledge continuum must emerge, which will connect local experiential knowledge with the global scientific knowledge of climate change. The rapidity with which climate change impacts are being manifested makes this new knowledge accumulation urgent and challenging.

Hence, there is a need for collaborative and participatory research where multidisciplinary scientific community will work with the vulnerable communities and innovate appropriate responses, technologies and processes.

The poorest pay the highest costs
The poorest are paying the highest costs with their lives, livelihood and health risks. The developing countries are waiting for resources to mainstream climate change into their development process. A lot needs to be done in this area in each country. Climate change will affect almost all aspects of their development process. Hence incorporation of climate change into development is not a choice, but an obligation for their survival, particularly in LDCs, SIDS and the poor countries of Africa.

Mitigation first and adaptation too
The industrialised countries must lead by example in rapid and drastic mitigation, resource contribution, technology transfer and capacity building of the poor and vulnerable countries. Any delay in doing so will cost them heavily in the near future.

In Copenhagen, the parties must decide on a fair and just deal. The risks of failure will be costly, not only for the poor but also for the rich, who face unprecedented instabilities in one global system. Climate change is a global phenomena and Copenhagen must succeed in a global deal, including all states with no exception or renegades.

Copenhagen: A key milestone
The Copenhagen Summit will come and go. It is a milestone. Success will depend on the sagacity, sincerity and seriousness of the global leaders. The days of hiding behind, or sitting on, the fence are over. As Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, recently said: "We have read the science. Global warming is real, and we are a prime cause. [�] We must set an agenda -- create a roadmap to the future, coupled with a timeline that produces a deal by 2009. In this, it helps to have a vision of how the future might look if we succeed."

Such milestones have come and gone, in Rio De Janeiro in 1992, at Kyoto in 1997, in Johannesburg in 2002 and in Bali in 2007. Aspirations were created and frustrated time and again. A few rich countries are beneficiaries of the GHG emission. The victims of GHG accumulation and consequent impacts are becoming more visible. Frustration, because of indecision and inaction by the US and inadequate actions by the other industrialised (Annex 1) countries, is increasing. If this frustration is not contained, the global community will face severe conflicts and greater instability.

Get a deal or face destabilisation
The destabilisation will not spare the rich. So we must seal a fair and just deal in Copenhagen. The basis for this is a "climate justice framework." Continued, urgent and sustainable efforts, rapid GHG reduction, significant fund and technology transfer from developed to developing countries and protection of the most vulnerable are the essential criteria of a fair climate deal. History will judge the success of the Copenhagen Summit. We all either swim, or sink, together. Copenhagen is not only a challenge, it is an opportunity also. All the parties must rise to take this opportunity to make a safe and fairer world.

Dr. Atiq Rahman is Executive Director of BCAS and Chairman of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA).

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