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UN: Rich Nations Must Lead Fight Against Global Warming

The world’s richest nations have failed to reach internationally mandated targets in cutting greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, which will mostly hurt the poor and damage United Nations programmes to reduce poverty worldwide, a UN report said Tuesday.

The report fired a warning shot ahead a much publicized UN conference in December in Bali, Indonesia, where governments hope to kickstart negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first attempt to set binding targets on industrial nations’ emissions that expires in 2012.

The Human Development Report 2007-2008 called for solidarity in fighting climate change in a divided world. It lamented the fact that poverty reduction efforts may be seriously derailed by global warming and pointed a finger at rich countries for failing responsibilities.

The authors of the report warned that rich countries – especially the wealthy Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations – are driving an ecological crisis that will hit the poor hardest.

“Governments of rich countries negotiating the post-2012 framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol need to take the lead and align credible national carbon emissions targets with any multilateral agreements around the ‘global carbon budget,'” said Kevin Watkins, the lead author of the report.

“We do not need high level communiques reminding us that we have an urgent problem – we need solutions and practical measures to cut emissions,” he said.

The UN said the world’s 2.6 billion poorest people – those living on less than 2 dollars a day – and poorest countries will spiral downward as the earth heats up. Sea levels will rise and agricultural systems will be flooded or wilted by implacable droughts.

The statistics are dire: 600 million more people will face malnutrition. The sub-Saharan region with its large concentration of poverty would suffer the potential of productivity losses of 26 per cent by 2060.

By 2080, 1.8 billion people will face water shortages, and large areas in South Asia and northern China will be hit by ecological problems as the glaciers retreat and rainfall patterns change.

Flooding and tropical storms would displace up to 332 million people in coastal and low-lying areas. The report said more than 70 million Bangladeshis, 32 million Vietnamese and 6 million Egyptians will be driven inward by global warming.

The report said France, Germany, Japan and Britain have reduced emissions by “modest amounts” but the current trends point to wealthy countries falling short of Kyoto’s emissions targets for 2012.

The report called for emissions cuts of 80 per cent by 2050, calling on governments to take urgent action to align energy policies with commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States has a “unique responsibility” to abide by international agreements on emissions reduction to protect both its economic growth and to prevent catastrophic reversals to progress made in health, education and poverty reduction for the poor. The report criticized Washington for not imposing nationwide mandatory cuts on industrial emissions.

Stating the fact that the world’s richest countries are also the biggest carbon emitters, the report said the US has to take the lead by cutting emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 in addition to contributing to a new 86-billion-dollar annual global fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

The report said the 19 million inhabitants in New York state have a higher carbon footprint than 766 million people living in 50 least developed countries.

An average air conditioner in Florida emits more carbon dioxide in a year that an Afghan or a Cambodian during their lifetime.

Efforts to adapt to climate change are also unequal, the report said. The total adaptation efforts by developing countries are about 26 million dollars to date. Britain, by contrast, spent about 26 million dollars a week on flood defences, the report said.

Dutch homeowners received government assistance to build homes on foundations like the hull of a ship that floats on water. But Vietnamese in the Mekong Delta have to adapt to climate change with swimming lessons and lifejackets, leading South African Bishop Desmond Tutu to describe the discrepancy as “adaptation apartheid.”

The report criticized the European Union for setting an ambitious goal of reducing emissions up to 20 per cent by 2020, but failing to back that commitment with policies. The EU made “fatal flaws” in the first phase of its cap-and-trade programme. The EU’s emissions trading system is valued at 24.4 billion dollars and accounted for more than 80 per cent of the world’s carbon market.

Part of the criticism has been that the EU gave away emissions permits to industries too easily, lowering the trading price of carbon. But the report said the EU can redeem itself in the second phase running from 2008 to 2012.

“There is a strong case for empowering the European Commission to set – and enforce – more robust targets aligned with the EU’s 2020 emissions targets,” the report said.

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