Climate Change: Averting the Grimmest Scenarios

Amanda Bransford

HAVANA TIMES, Sep 22  (IPS) — The catastrophic floods in Pakistan have added urgency to a high-level United Nations summit this week, with delegates from mostly South Asian nations convening Tuesday to call for increased technology transfer from richer countries and to compare strategies to avert the worst effects of climate change.

“Climate change is a reality,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed at a side event of the Millennium Development Goals Summit, which concludes Wednesday. “We in South Asia know it through experience. The onslaught of natural disasters has increased in frequency and ferocity in our region. Moreover, the abnormal, rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers and the rise of sea level portends cataclysmic consequences.”

Several factors make South Asian nations particularly vulnerable to the effects of a climate shift – high poverty rates; high reliance on industries like fishing that are vulnerable to changing sea levels and more powerful storms; already existing stresses on health and well-being, like HIV and illiteracy; poor economic and social infrastructure in many places; and a lack of technology and resources that make adaptation more difficult.

Though less developed countries are low contributors to global warming, they are often the first to feel its effects through natural disasters like hurricanes, droughts, and floods. Agricultural production can be harmed and vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue can increase as the climate changes.

“Climate change is imposing additional burdens on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable and threatens to reverse hard-won development gains,” said Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Program. Natural disasters halt the progress that must be made to achieve the MDGs by 2015, she stressed.

Delegates discussed ways to mitigate future problems. Clark emphasized the importance of investing in disaster risk reduction and preparedness, which costs less and saves more lives than waiting until a natural disaster has struck. South Asian countries are currently working together to establish a regional system for early warnings and risk management.

The support of the international community, through financing and technology transfer, is essential, said delegates.

Unilateral action is also important, however, as countries already affected by climate change cannot afford to wait for the world to act. The Maldives, for example, has taken it upon itself to become carbon neutral within 10 years through legislation regulating emissions.

Though delegates expressed disappointment over the failure of U.N. member states to agree on a binding treaty on climate change last year in Copenhagen, they are preparing to bring their ideas to the U.N. Climate Change Conference to be held in Cancun later this year.

As Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Patricia Espinosa said, countries cannot simply wait for experts to solve the problem but must make real changes. “This is a political matter that goes to the heart of the way our societies are organized,” she said.

Civil society groups also met Tuesday to discuss the changes needed to mitigate environmental damage in a panel linking environmental sustainability (MDG 7) and maternal health (MDG 5).

Excess population increase puts stresses on both mothers and the environment. Those countries with high population growth and high vulnerability to climate change are in an especially precarious position.

Universal access to reproductive healthcare, said Population Action International’s Kathleen Mogelgaard, could be a tool in the fight against climate change. Millions of women worldwide currently want to be able to control their reproductive lives but lack access to services.

Unplanned pregnancies increase the rate of maternal death and impede development, said Musimbi Kanyoro, director of the Population and Reproductive Health Program at the

Packard Foundation. Failing to meet the need for family planning limits the life choices of women and forces the land in countries with limited resources to support more people than it can handle.

Speakers stressed that family planning costs less and is easier to implement than many other environmental programs.