We must act now to stop climate change | Helen Clark

08 Nov 2012

Haiti Floods A woman walks through a flooded market in Port au Prince. Hurricane Sandy passed to the west of Haiti October 25, 2012. Photo Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy reminds us once again of the destructive potential of extreme weather—even in a developed country such as the United States, and even with ample warning and swift emergency response. From Kingston, Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens, this “perfect storm” exacted a deadly toll that New York’s mayor said was even higher as a result of climate change.

But while developed countries dig ever deeper to fund elaborate flood defense systems, compensate farmers, and adjust thermostats to accommodate hotter summers, the consequences of climate change in Africa can be catastrophic: Crops fail. People go hungry.

We could, as a global community, make the transition to green and inclusive economies that tackle inequality, advance development, and stop the ongoing assault on our ecosystem.

This begs the question: Why isn’t the world doing more?

At the global level, policy responses lag well behind where science tells us they should be. Short political cycles discourage long-term thinking, particularly where up-front costs may be high. This is especially true in times of fiscal constraint and sluggish growth.

Little appreciation exists, further, of how climate change undermines gains in the developing world, hitting hardest precisely those people who have contributed least to the environmental damage that now threatens their lives, their livelihoods, and their countries’ prospects.

We must find agreement on who needs to do what and when, as well as on mechanisms needed to transition to a green and inclusive economy. All countries must adopt clean technologies, boost energy efficiency, and switch to more sustainable sources of energy and modes of production and consumption.

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

This requires engaged citizens and bold, far-sighted leaders. “Too little, too late” is not the legacy we should leave to future generations.

The need is urgent. There is no time to waste.

Tell us: with the next round of climate negotiations taking place in Doha at the end of the month, what should be done to resolve outstanding issues and deliver solutions at the speed and scale required?

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