Comment: Climate change and security

As South Africa and Durban get ready to host the 17th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 17) from 28 November-9 December, 2011, a key question is posed to all nations: where do we stand and how does this affect us?

Climate change is one of the greatest common challenges facing the modern world. Left untackled, it will lead to more extreme and unpredictable weather conditions, including widespread drought and flooding. As two island nations, the Maldives and the UK are also particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels – in fact, as the Maldives is well aware, the effects are potentially catastrophic.

All of us – political leaders, diplomats, business people, scientists, activists and citizens – need to work together to provide solutions to this climate change challenge.

Climate change is not just an environmental threat. It is also an economic and security threat. People are concerned about the cost of action on climate change. But lack of action will have significant costs: experts predict that the costs of climate change will be between 5-20% of global GDP if no action is taken to prevent it, with developing countries expected to face the highest costs.

The reality is that action on climate change makes economic sense for all of us: there are, for example, a great variety of measures that households and businesses could take which would not only reduce their carbon emissions, but also save them money.

The human impact of climate change also extends to food, that most basic need of humankind. Changing temperatures will alter crop distributions and crop yields. There are dire consequences in store for rice production, the staple of the South Asian diet. A recent study by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) shows that every 1o rise in night-time temperature – a rise so small your body would barely register it – will produce a corresponding 10% decrease in grain yield.

The demand for food is predicted to grow by 70% by 2050. For the Maldives, as with many other countries, this will mean higher prices; for agrarian economies in the developing world, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Moreover, climate change is expected to lead to key developments within the South Asian region. Natural resources such as water are likely to become scarce, leading to tensions and conflict among those countries that mutually depend on these resources. South Asia is already one of the most conflict-prone regions in the world and among those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The combination is combustive. Increasingly erratic weather patterns continue to threaten people’s homes and livelihoods, exacerbating social inequities and tensions, posing a real risk to peace and stability and affecting economy development. This reality was clearly recognised in the Presidential Statement issued after the UN Security Council debate on climate change in July this year.

The UK recognises that developed countries have to accept historic responsibility for creating much of the problem of climate change, and therefore, a greater responsibility for addressing it. The UK Government has committed to reducing our carbon emissions by 50% by 2025, and we are also encouraging the EU as a whole to increase the EU reduction target to 30% by 2020.

But the EU covers only some 12 percent of global emissions. We are coming to the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the need now is to build an ambitious, global, legally-binding regime, involving all major emitters. Only a legally binding approach will give business and investors the confidence they need to move rapidly on low carbon measures.

We have made some progress, as the small albeit definitive results of Cancun in 2010 reveal. But this is not enough. As John Ashton, the FCO Special Representative for Climate Change who visited the Maldives in July this year, said in a recent article in The Guardian, “The International Energy Agency has set the scene, with the timely warning in its new World Energy Outlook that we are way off track to avoid dangerous climate change, and that the window for effective action is closing fast.”

We need to summon the will, not just to avert disaster, but also to seize the opportunities of low carbon growth in trade, investment and new industries. Developing new technologies for sustainable development can be a driver for future growth. The Maldives, with its strong commitment to carbon neutrality by 2020, is well-placed to foster links with the most cutting-edge technologies in this field. The UK’s own clean technology goods and services market is now worth £112 billion and employs nearly a million people.

As President Nasheed said during his opening address at the recent SAARC summit, “The future is ours to shape.” It is up to the countries who meet in Durban over the next two weeks to shape the future of the world – to protect it from being further imperiled by climate change. The theme for COP17 is “Working Together: Saving Tomorrow Today.”

Five simple words – yet, they represent a world of a difference. What we do next week will determine what happens in the Maldives in the next decade – and beyond

John Rankin is the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Climate change a real and imminent threat to the Maldives

Climate change is a very real and imminent threat to the Maldives, the smallest nation in Asia, which lost 20 islands during the 2004 tsunami. Since then, the government has gone strictly carbon neutral in a bid to protect its population from the rising sea.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has described climate change as “perhaps the 21st century’s biggest foreign policy challenge”.

He has stressed that “a world which is failing to respond to climate change is one in which the values embodied in the United Nations will not be met”.

Indeed, the UN Charter makes clear that a central purpose of that organisation is to “achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character”.

Climate change is just such a problem – and its impacts and costs fall disproportionally on developing countries. That is deeply unfair. So it is only right that in Cancun last December the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reaffirmed the commitment from developed countries in Copenhagen in December 2009 jointly to mobilise $100bn of climate finance a year by 2020, to address the adaptation needs of developing countries and help them to limit their carbon emissions.

The UK takes this commitment very seriously and recognises the need for urgent action. The British Government has therefore allocated £2.9bn of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to international climate finance for the period 2011/12 to 2014/15 (including our Fast Start commitment). This will be administered through our International Climate Fund (ICF), which has just been formally established. We expect to spend about 50 percent of the total on adaptation in poor and vulnerable countries, with around 30% for work to reduce carbon emissions and 20% for forestry.

We have three overall priorities for ICF funding, which we will deliver through both bilateral and multilateral channels in a way which maximises its impact and value for money:

  • To show that building low carbon, climate resilient growth at scale is both feasible and desirable;
  • To support adaptation in poor countries and help build an effective international framework on climate change;
  • To drive innovation, creating new partnerships with the private sector to support low carbon climate resilient growth

The ICF will also fund the climate element of an Advocacy Fund to support the poorest countries to take part more effectively in international negotiations; this will be formally established later this year.

This UK funding will play an important role in helping to mobilise ambitious global action on climate change. But the UK is the only major donor so far to have made specific finance commitments up to 2015. More is needed to meet the Copenhagen commitment of $100bn a year by 2020. We look to other donors too to make significant and ambitious financial pledges, and we look to business to play an important role, since we expect the target to be reached through a mix of public and private finance.

As the Stern Review in 2006 made clear, the clock is ticking. With every passing year, the global cost of effective action to tackle climate change grows greater. The time to act is now.

John Rankin is the British High Commissioner to the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]