“Why Tackling Climate Change Matters for Development”

08 Nov 2012

“Why Tackling Climate Change Matters for Development”
Lecture by
Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator and UNDG Chair
Co-organized by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment & the Stanford Program in Human Biology

Stanford, California, USA
Thursday, 8 November 2012

Progress towards a new global climate agreement has been painfully slow.

In my lecture today, I will talk about key issues at stake in the negotiations, and why concerted international action to tackle global warming matters so much to poor people and poor countries on the front lines of climate change.

My hypothesis is that unless there is more co-ordinated global action to tackle climate change soon, it will be increasingly hard to reduce poverty, in all its dimensions, particularly in the world’s poorest countries. The costs of adaptation will also rise steeply everywhere.

Climate change threatens to undermine hard won human development and other gains – indeed the impact of severe drought and flooding around the world suggests that it already is.

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in the United States and the Caribbean in recent weeks reminds us how destructive extreme and volatile weather can be.

Yet, out of every problem comes an opportunity. Significant finance already exists for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Applied to smart strategies, we could as a global community make the transition to green and inclusive economies which tackle inequality, advance development and arrest ecosystem degradation.

Tackling climate change can help accelerate economic and energy transformations, drive revolutions in technology, and spur the creation of new production models. It can drive the creation of new goods, services, jobs, and exports. It can create new opportunities for both developing and developed countries.

Climate change is both the result of and a threat to current development patterns. To tackle climate change, the whole world must develop differently.

That requires engaged citizens and bold leadership, willing and able to take on entrenched interests and leave behind failed models. The issues and the politics are complex and challenging. It is vital to put aside division and inaction to head off the worst impacts and address the global climate crisis effectively.

The multi-disciplinary approaches fostered here by the Stanford Woods Institute and the Program in Human Biology are contributing to solutions. Just as fixing health problems requires not just better hospitals, but adequate education, nutrition, and a clean environment and peace, so tackling global warming requires us to focus on how we develop our economies and societies. A greater understanding of the way in which the challenges we face are interlinked needs to be translated into our national and global discourse.

For climate change cannot be relegated to the sidelines as a problem for only scientists and environmentalists to deal with. It must be brought into debates on how to stimulate economic growth, address deficits, generate decent work, achieve energy security, and lay the ground for a more stable and peaceful world. A quick glance at the Stanford website tells me that many leaders here are helping to make these connections .

In this lecture, I will first discuss ways in which climate change is affecting development. I will then look at the disconnection between the scale of the climate change challenge and the slow progress on multilateral efforts to address it.

I will conclude by suggesting what could be done to address the climate and development crises in an integrated fashion –including at the negotiations of the Eighteenth Conference of States Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which will take place in Doha in a few weeks.

1.      How climate change can stall and reverse development

For people living in developing countries, and in particular in least developed countries and small island developing countries, the impact of climate change can be catastrophic. With little ability to plan for disasters or adjust to shifting weather patterns, poor people and countries bear the brunt of more frequent droughts, intense storms, and floods. 

While citizens in developed countries too must dig increasingly deep to fund elaborate flood defence systems, compensate farmers, and adjust their thermostats to accommodate hotter summers, changing weather patterns in Africa mean that crops fail, people go hungry, and girls spend less time in school and more time collecting water . The food insecurity crises in the Horn of Africa last year and the Sahel this year have been very serious, and the effects of drought are being felt far south of there. I have recently been in Malawi, where fifteen per cent of the population needs food support because the last harvest was poor.

UNDP’s 2008 Global Human Development Report on Fighting Climate Change estimated that failure to deal with climate change would consign the poorest forty per cent of the world’s population – some 2.6 billion people to a future of diminished opportunity. 

That Report spells out five main ways in which climate change undermines efforts to reduce extreme poverty[4] and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

  • Effects on agriculture and food production

The IPCCC’s climate projections indicate that an increasingly dry & hot climate will make sub-Saharan Africa less suitable for agriculture, reducing the length of growing seasons, lowering yields, and shrinking revenue. Some African countries could see agricultural yields decrease by fifty per cent by 2050

Researchers studying the Indian Ocean have concluded that human-caused warming there will make rainfall in the Horn of Africa even more erratic and severe drought more frequent.

The volatile, warmer, and more extreme weather will lead to more crop failures, and, on current modes of production, to less agricultural output in all regions. This summer’s severe temperatures and drought in the mid-western USA, the worst in half a century, weakened crops and affected yields. I understand that here in California, higher temperatures are already affecting cherry and grape harvests , and are projected to inflict costly damages on the wine & dairy industries .

As the directors of the UN’s three major food and agriculture programmes warned recently, the cumulative impact of rising temperatures and water stress, including most critically on staple crops such as corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans, will make global food prices even more volatile .

In the last five years the world has seen two dramatic spikes in those prices, driven for the most part by a combination of growing demand and chaotic weather. The drought and heat waves in many food-producing countries this year – including in the US and India – have led to the prices of some food commodities soaring again.

While food price spikes affect us all, there is a disproportionate impact on the world’s poor who spend up to 75 per cent of their income on food. The impact on the urban poor has in recent years sparked riots and instability. The average price of staple foods is now expected to rise over the long term, with some scenarios suggesting that wheat prices will be locked in at fifteen per cent higher in 2050 . The World Food Programme estimates that climate change will put twenty per cent more people at risk of hunger by mid-century.

  • Increased water stress and water insecurity

Projections suggest that exceeding the two degree threshold for temperature rise above pre-industrial levels will fundamentally change the distribution of the world’s water resources. It is estimated that changes in run-off patterns and glacial melt will put an additional 1.8 billion people in a water scarce environment by 2080 .  

Accelerated glacial melt in the Himalayas will compound ecological problems across northern China, India, and Pakistan, initially increasing flooding, before reducing the flow of water to major river systems vital for irrigation. In Latin America, faster melting of glaciers is projected to threaten water supplies for agriculture and hydropower.

Scarce and fragile resources can become a source of conflict within and between countries. The causes of the conflict in Darfur in Sudan are complex, but are not unrelated to ecosystem decline and increasing water scarcity. Conflict in general causes major development setbacks from which recovery can take a long time.

  • Rising sea levels and more frequent climate disasters

Estimates suggest that global temperature increases of three or four degrees Celsius could cause rapid rises in sea levels and flooding, which could permanently or temporarily displace more than 300 million people. According to some predictions, over seventy million people in Bangladesh and 22 million in Viet Nam could be affected .

Small island states in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific are also likely to suffer catastrophic flooding and could in some cases become uninhabitable. We must now also be concerned about how the long term future of areas like lower Manhattan can be secured.

The Arctic sea ice has just reached its lowest level in thousands of years. In keeping with climate models, the rapid ice-sheet disintegration in the Arctic and warming seas are already fueling more intense tropical storms. Many have linked Hurricane Sandy’s intensity and path to both trend . For the more than 340 million people currently exposed to tropical cyclones, more intense storms threaten lives, property, and livelihoods.  

While media reporting of such severe shocks is transient,   the impacts of them are not short lived. Analysis from India suggests that women born during a flood are nineteen per cent less likely to have attended primary school. Desperate households with low incomes, no insurance, and meager assets cope with shocks however they can, including by eating less, or taking children, often girls, out of school. These coping measures contribute to life-long cycles of disadvantage.

  • Massive changes to the Earth’s ecological systems.

Increasing acidity in the oceans threatens coral reefs and the millions of species which depend on them. In Asia alone, some one billion people rely on reef fisheries for food or income. Local economies which rely on oysters, clams, or scallops are threatened .

While some species will adapt, for many the pace of climate change will be too rapid to do so. With a 3°C temperature rise, it is estimated that twenty to thirty per cent of land species could face extinction.This would devastate ecosystems and the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on them.

  • The impact on human health.

Climate variability and extreme conditions such as floods can trigger epidemics of diseases, such as diarrhoea, malaria, dengue fever, and meningitis. Rich countries are already preparing their public health systems to deal with climate shocks, such as that of the 2003 heat wave in Europe. The greatest health impacts, however, will be felt in developing countries with limited capacity to respond.

The reach of major killer diseases could expand. It is estimated that an additional two to four hundred million people could be exposed to malaria —a disease that now claims around one million lives annually. Dengue fever has already been found at higher altitudes than before, including in Latin America and parts of East Asia .

Stronger co-operation between the meteorological and public health communities at the international, national, and local levels will be critical to save lives. The death toll from cyclones in Bangladesh, for example, was reduced from around 500,000 people in 1970 to 3,000 in 2007, thanks in part to improved early warning systems . To facilitate such efforts, the World Health & Meteorological Organisations recently released an atlas illustrating the many ways in which health and climate intersect.

Taken as a whole, the evidence is clear that climate change threatens development progress in countries rich and poor.

As the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christina Figueres, has said, “climate change has become the amplifier and multiplier of every crisis we are facing – be it human heath, population growth, the strain on water, food and other resources, or energy insecurity” .

Yet, carbon emissions on current trends are projected to more than double from 1990 levels by 2050. The Earth has warmed up about 0.8 degrees Celsius over pre-industrialized levels as we continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere .

2. So, why is the world not moving faster on tackling climate change?

This begs the question: why is the world not doing more to head off the heavy and multidimensional costs of climate change?

The global negotiations are moving slowly. The policy responses are lagging well behind where the science tells us they should be. For the world to stay under the two degree Celsius increase in temperature, set as a threshold beyond which there is believed to be catastrophic & irreversible change to our climate, we all need to do much more, first to stabilise and then to reduce emissions radically.

To do that, agreement must be found on who needs to do what and in which timeframe, and on the mechanisms needed to make a transition to a green and inclusive economy happen. All countries need to be able to adopt clean technologies, boost their energy efficiency, and switch to more sustainable sources of energy and modes of production and consumption.

Among the reasons for slow progress to date are the following:

  • a tendency to think short-term rather than long-term, and therefore not to weigh the costs and benefits of tackling climate change appropriately;
  • a lack of appreciation hitherto of how climate change undermines equity and justice; and
  •  a perception that the global climate talks are going nowhere.
  • I will elaborate on each. Overcoming short-term thinking

Short political cycles do not encourage long term thinking, particularly where the upfront costs may be high. This is especially so in these times of fiscal constraints and sluggish growth. Yet as Nicholas Stern warned in his ground breaking report in 2006,[24] the costs of inaction on climate change will be far higher. As well, there are significant opportunities to generate growth and jobs through the transition which needs to be made.

A recent review by UNDP found that while there is little opposition to the view that integrating development and climate change solutions can result in cost-effective policy options with benefits across sectors, governments are reluctant to shift the resources necessary because of those perceived high, initial, political and fiscal costs.

Until relatively recently, however, the risk of climate change was widely regarded as something far away in the future. The frequent occurrence of extreme weather events now is rapidly changing that perception. As well, better ‘detection and attribution’ methods are enabling scientists to link weather events, with some degree of probability, to human-made global warming. More people are understanding that climate change has ramifications for them and for the future. A recent Yale survey, for example, found 74 per cent of Americans agreeing that “global warming is affecting weather in the United States”. 

Engaged citizens, armed with an understanding of the costs of climate change, can press leaders to act. That citizens are becoming more active and engaged was evident at the Rio + 20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June. There it was clear that global civil society, important parts of the private sector, and many subnational governments, including in the USA, are well ahead of the consensus which currently exists among UN Member States on what needs to be done.

Indeed, the voluntary commitments made by individuals through massive outreach by UN Volunteers, and through NGOs, CSOs, businesses, cities, regions, and multilateral institutions were among Rio’s most significant outcomes. More than 700 formal commitments by organizations and companies were registered, pledging more than $500 billion dollars to sustainable development actions. Many of those were addressed specifically to fighting climate change. For example;

  • the 1800 largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange committed to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, and
  • mayors from 58 megacities, meeting as part of  the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, agreed to actions which could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over a billion tons by 2030. 
  • Understanding the implications of climate change for equity & justice

According to the recent Yale survey, a growing number of Americans not only agree that global warming is happening - but also that it is already harming people at home and abroad.

This reflects a growing appreciation that the climate crisis has social ramifications. The next step is understanding that these ramifications violate basic concepts of equity and justice. Poor people and poor countries are disproportionately vulnerable to the impact of global warming, to which they have contributed little. This is unjust.

That disproportionate burden means that the impacts of climate change are exacerbating current inequalities, and, in so doing, dimming the prospects of those least responsible for the current carbon stock and for the emissions driving up global temperatures.

It is this inverse relationship between the responsibility for climate change and vulnerability to it which makes failure to address it decisively a violation of fundamental principles of equity and justice. By not acting, we undermine the vision of global co-operation and responsibility towards each other set out by the drafters of the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945 and of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

To eradicate extreme poverty and build a world without hunger, discrimination, and depravation, models of development and ways of living which inflict harm on others need to change.

This is fundamentally about creating a decent future for all. Developed and developing countries need to agree on the global solutions required.

In many areas of international relations, inaction or delayed agreements have limited costs. With climate change, however every year of delay adds to the greenhouse gas stocks which lock the world into rising temperatures. The poorest countries are the first to bear the brunt, and are thus most affected by delayed action. That is why least developed countries and small island developing states have made ambitious proposals to curb global emissions and make their own development trajectories sustainable. Their voices, however, often struggle to be heard.

Agreeing that “human beings, at the centre of sustainable development, are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” was important for the outcome of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It enabled world leaders meeting there to strike agreement between developing and developed countries.

That must now be achieved in a new global climate agreement. The same can be true for climate negotiations. Developed countries must commit to significant emissions reductions and to support for transferring the technologies, funding, and capacity-building assistance needed for others to develop in a sustainable way[28].

 

·         Overcoming the perception that the climate talks and associated action cannot succeed

There is reason for concern about the slow progress of the climate change negotiations, but it would be disastrous to give up on them.

The Copenhagen Conference of Parties in December 2009 could not deliver as envisaged in the Bali Roadmap of 2007. Yet, despite that disappointment and the global financial crisis and its ramifications, the international community has stuck with negotiations, and made important advances.

In Cancun two years ago, countries formally committed to regularly review their progress in keeping the average global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius, a threshold, which, if adhered to, scientists believe would keep us from dangerously bypassing planetary boundaries.

Last year, in Durban, countries agreed that, to be legitimate and workable, a new climate change regime must be a global one – adopted by developed and developing countries alike.

This was an important breakthrough – in moving discussion past the ‘who goes first’ question. The truth is that everyone must do more to address climate change.

The growing and large number of significant emitter countries makes the case for a global accord clear. Fifteen to twenty countries are responsible for 75 per cent of global emissions, but no one country accounts for more than about 26 per cent. The negotiators in Durban realized that a legally binding global agreement would be the only way to ensure that all countries meet their emission-reduction responsibilities and enable carbon markets to work at scale. They also understood the importance of the broad ownership and legitimacy a UN agreement can offer, in particular as the costs of climate change grow and new emitters come into play.

In Durban there was also recognition that targets for cutting emissions must be more ambitious. Even if all countries made the emission reductions they have already pledged to make, those would amount to only sixty per cent of the reduction needed to keep temperature increases below two degrees.  In Durban, that led member states to agree to :

  •  negotiate by 2015 a legally-based framework to cover all countries from 2020; and
  • consider the steps needed to raise ambition to cover the “two degrees gap” before 2020.

The focus in Doha at the Conference of the States Parties in November will be on implementation of agreements to date – while also addressing outstanding areas where agreement has not been reached.

Significant issues remain unresolved in the talks, but nonetheless there are grounds for optimism that the world is moving inexorably toward a new global regime to tackle climate change. What it is not doing yet is acting with the speed and at the scale which the science demands that it should.

  • National progress

To get a clearer sense of the way forward, global negotiators would be wise to heed the examples of countries, sub-regions, and states, such as California, which are alert to the opportunity climate change presents to advance multiple objectives.

Over the past three years all industrialized countries and fifty-five developing countries have made voluntary mitigation pledges covering approximately eighty per cent of global emissions. For example :

  • China will begin next year piloting emissions trading in seven of its largest cities and provinces.
  • A very large emission-trading scheme will start in California next year.
  • The European Union has the world’s largest, well-established emissions trading scheme, covering forty per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In July, Australia adopted a far-reaching carbon tax, and will join the EU’s carbon emissions market in 2015. Amidst fierce political debate, the prospect of joining the EU’s market scheme helped dilute criticism that a carbon tax would put Australian firms at an international disadvantage. This helps build momentum towards an international trading system . 
  • India plans to start emissions trading in 2014, covering 54 per cent of its industrial energy consumption.
  • Thailand has plans for a voluntary emissions trading market in 2014.
  •  Last year, Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, launched an ambitious low carbon, climate resilient, green economy strategy, under which the government will invest US $150 billion to fight poverty, while meeting a zero-carbon growth target.

Countries, localities, and businesses in the North and the South are seeing the potential for sustainable ways of operating to be transformational in economic, social, and environmental terms.

3.       Bringing it all together in Doha

At the UNFCCC meetings later this month in Doha, negotiators could move forward in a number of areas.

(a)    There is a need to move on from the lengthy negotiations on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to implementation from January 1st 2013.

In Durban, last year, member states agreed to a second commitment period for the Protocol, ensuring that industrialized countries continue to take the lead on legally binding emission reductions.

It is well understood that the Kyoto Protocol is dramatically insufficient in its current form, as it covers only ten to twelve per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Maintaining it is important, however, because it is legally binding and contains infrastructure and accounting rules which are critical to making a global climate change regime viable.

To uphold the Protocol’s framework of accounting rules and institutions, and to avoid a ‘legal gap’ in implementation, negotiators in Doha need to move forward from their decision at Durban and agree on a second commitment period from 1 January 2013 - the day after the first commitment period expires.

Doha is the last opportunity for a seamless transition from one Kyoto commitment period to another. Failure to agree there could gravely affect future negotiations. Agreement by all Parties, however, on an amendment extending the Kyoto Protocol, and on expressing ambitious and unconditional commitments to emission reductions could help accelerate progress on a new global climate agreement.  The elements of a decision on such an amendment of the Kyoto Protocol were discussed in September, and negotiators have been working since on agreed language.

    (b)        In Durban all countries agreed to hold an international scientific review, beginning in 2013, as a reality check on climate actions taken and planned thus far – in light of the overall objective of the Convention to address climate change. It could be important in raising awareness of the issues & engaging citizens globally. In Doha, countries will seek to give this review further shape & definition.

(c)     Doha also needs to make more progress on arrangements for climate finance.

Significant climate finance is needed to fund climate-integrated development strategies. To access the finance currently available, countries must navigate a maze of more than fifty international public funds, sixty carbon markets, and some 6,000 private equity funds. They must meet diverse criteria for funding, and they need to be able to use public funds in a catalytic way to leverage additional – in most cases private -investment. Many countries, however, lack institutional capacity to access the finance available and therefore miss out on funding opportunities. Support is needed to expand their “climate finance readiness” through capacity building – an area in which UNDP is heavily involved.

Agreement is needed in Doha to operationalize the Green Climate Fund quickly, as a portion of the additional climate finance committed under the international negotiations is expected to flow through it. The Fund has the potential to become a hub for climate financing, by providing catalytic support for countries, to secure the funds they need to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

For it to play this role, decisions on the Fund’s rules and procedures in Doha must seek to lower the transaction costs of accessing its monies. Sufficient financing must also be committed to it. In Durban, only $50 million was promised as seed funding for the Green Climate Fund. This must be stepped up, in keeping with the commitments developed countries made in Copenhagen to make available $100 billion annually by 2020.  For developing countries, it is also important that the funds committed are not simply a repackaging of money already allocated through existing aid packages .

Private climate financing is also essential. The private sector can be incentivized to invest in sustainable energy and low carbon solutions.

Carbon trading markets are one way to achieve that at scale. As I noted earlier, a growing number of countries and states, including California are adopting such schemes. The World Bank recently noted that, the carbon trading market is growing at an accelerating rate.

In Durban, governments agreed that market mechanisms will be an important component of a new more ambitious climate agreement. In Doha, governments should decide to fix, not scrap, the world’s only dedicated carbon market for developing countries the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Set up under the Kyoto Protocol, the CDM allows projects which reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in developing countries, to earn a carbon credit for each tonne of carbon dioxide avoided. The CDM has helped reduce carbon emissions by a billion tonnes and attracted $215 billion of green investments to developing countries. 

There have been difficulties with slow approval processes and wasted funds under the CDM, but important reforms to it are now underway. Policy action is needed, including in Doha, to accelerate those reforms to keep the CDM relevant and sustainable. A reformed CDM is needed to fund projects and attract financing to the world’s least developed and most vulnerable countries for adaptation and mitigation. 

Steps could also be taken in Doha to make it easier for governments to link their trading schemes. It is only through this kind of innovation that we will be able to manage the high price tag of addressing climate change .

          (d)   A fourth way representatives in Doha can make progress is by agreeing to step up co-operation to develop, deploy, and share appropriate technologies and know how on climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

In Cancun member states agreed to establish a Technology Centre and Network. In Doha, they have the opportunity to define how it will work, decide where it will be housed, and make it operational. The Centre & Network can help make existing co-operation more systematic and bring technologies and know-how to vulnerable and poor countries at the scale needed to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change.

UNDP has learned, for example, the importance of early warning systems to save people’s lives. We help countries establish such systems wherever we can. In Bhutan, we helped establish a warning system for those living below glacial lakes, to alert them to periods of excess snow melt.

To prevent disasters and plan for climate change, we also facilitate co-operation which enables poor countries access to climate projections and improved methodological data. The numbers of poor people already impacted by climate change, make scaling up such co-operative efforts an urgent priority.

Through its work, UNDP has learned that some of the most important innovations come from communities and people already taking action to adapt to a changing environment.   It’s important that in discussions of technology and innovation, including in Doha, member states consider the support poor countries need to identify, encourage, and replicate local good practice.

      (e) A fifth opportunity, available to member states in Doha is to address the drivers and underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation - which causes up to one-fifth of global carbon emissions.

Doha’s focus on preventing deforestation reflects an acknowledgement of how the economic, social, and environmental factors behind climate change are interconnected. The evidence suggests that for example, that corruption and weak enforcement institutions are behind much of the world’s deforestation.

A recent Report by the UN Environment programme found that organised crime was behind as much as 90 per cent of illegal logging in parts of Central Africa and Southeast Asia . In Doha, negotiators should agree to strong measures to prevent deforestation, including through tackling criminal activity.

To do this, and to tackle other areas of climate change in a similarly holistic fashion, dedicated financing and technical support will need to increase –to support countries working to make their governing institutions more effective, fight corruption, and become more responsive to the needs of vulnerable people. Drawing on its experience advancing good governance in countries around the world, UNDP is working and can work more with governments to make the necessary reforms and investments.

 Doha, the climate negotiations must focus on implementation of agreements already reached and action to resolve outstanding issues. Current efforts are not delivering at the speed or scale required.

 International Energy Agency (IEA) warned in April this year that on current energy and emissions trends and policies, global temperatures will climb by at least six degrees Celsius by 2100 – putting the world into dangerously uncharted territory

The costs of inaction are increasingly clear to all, as extreme weather inflicts loss of life and livelihoods and the destruction of property and infrastructure on communities around the world.

cent estimates suggest that our carbon-intensive economies cost the world around US$1.2 trillion a year -or 1.6 per cent of total global GDP. They warn that with the current level of greenhouse gas emissions & carbon pollution, those costs could double by 2030. Therefore it is vital that the costs of inaction are made as visible as the costs of taking action. The longer we wait to act, the more costly the damages and solutions become. The cost curve has already risen steeply.

Alcountries can act to head off climate change’s worst impacts while also generating new industries, jobs, and more sustainable ways of living.

Doha, member states must build on what has already been agreed to build a sufficiently ambitious, fair, and legally binding climate change regime.