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Climate Justice: Easing the unjust cause and effect of global warming

Climate Justice: Easing the unjust cause and effect of global warming
Residents of one of the flooded towns in Taytay in Rizal, East of Metro Manila, await aid coming from different international organizations and concerned groups. More than 500 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced after Typhoons Ketsana and and Parma ravaged and crippled most of the island of Luzon in the Philippines. © Veejay Villafranca / Greenpeace

By Catherine Dominguez

Climate change is a phenomenon that most people may not take seriously, but it is a significant peril to the global sustainable development and the fight against poverty.

Science suggests that global warming is caused by human activities, particularly the industrialization of the world’s richest countries. Major impacts are being observed and felt over the past years, and it is the poor countries that suffer most from these impacts, aggravating their precarious situations.

“The people that are most responsible for carbon emissions, those in developed and wealthiest countries are not the ones paying for the most brutal price. The people of Mindanao, the people of Africa, the people of Latin America, who are least responsible for carbon emissions are paying for the price of climate change,” said Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International Executive Director, during the launch of the photo exhibit entitled Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions in Southeast Asia, last Monday in Manila.

According to the United Nations, it is a global justice concern that those who suffer most from climate change have done the least to cause it.

Given that the historical responsibility for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions lies with the developed nations like the United States and the European countries, they are compelled to take action and to do so more quickly to mitigate their large contribution to the problem of climate change and to move toward a low carbon economy.

The Kyoto Protocol has already set binding obligations on industrialized countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, however, many remain fearful that whatever international agreement is reached between governments will not suffice to ease the “unjust burden on the poor and the vulnerable.”

A rapidly growing number of social movements and non-profit groups globally, including Greenpeace, are working towards this climate justice agenda.

“Right now, the challenge for Greenpeace and other environmental organizations is how we actually accelerate an energy revolution when it’s clear that the science is telling us that the burning of oil, coal and gas is in fact driving climate pollution and taking us closer and closer to the edge of climate destruction,” Mr. Naidoo told EcoSeed.

The vulnerable and poor

He argued that regions, particularly Southeast Asia, are among the most vulnerable in the world to climate impacts.

“We’ve already seen extreme weather events that are climate-induced from Philippines to China,” noted Mr. Naidoo. “In China, climate-induced events are evident in several provinces in Southwest China. In the Philippines, we have increase in the intensity of typhoons and cyclones and also the frequency has increased as a result of climate change.”

A number of factors have made Southeast Asia one of the areas that are highly susceptible to climate-induced events said the Asian Development Bank. For one, most of the people in Southeast Asia are concentrated along coastlines, leaving it exposed to rising sea levels.

Similarly, the region’s heavy dependence on agriculture for livelihoods makes it vulnerable to droughts, floods, and tropical cyclones. The agriculture sector accounts for 43 percent of total employment in 2004 and contributed about 11 percent of gross domestic product in 2006. An increase in extreme weather conditions and forest fires as a result of climate change jeopardizes key export industries.

While rapid economic growth and structural transformation across Southeast Asia have helped alleviate extreme poverty in recent decades, the region remains below the $1.25-a-day poverty line.

“We really need to accelerate our move to clean energy and we think that if we do it in a smart way, it’s not only good for the climate, it can also be good for job creation and poverty reduction because there is significant job creation potential in investing seriously in clean energy system for the future,” said Mr. Naidoo.

“If we look at the Philippines, [it] could actually be one of the leaders in renewable energy not just in Southeast Asia but in the world. Our calculations tell us that the amount of renewable energy potential in the Philippines is at least five times more than the energy needs of the country now and in the future (see related story),” he noted.

In addition, Mr. Naidoo believes that a shift to clean energy pathway would also help vulnerable countries, or even rich countries, take advantage of economic benefits.

China, for instance, is a perfect example. Last year in Europe, Mr. Naidoo noted that 90 percent of solar panels that they installed came from China.

“China has actually turned renewable energy into not simply a way to address climate change but they’ve turned it to an economic strength,” he said adding that countries that will start investing now in clean energy will not only be responsible countries in terms of climate change but they will be the countries that will benefit economically in the future.

While developing countries such as in Southeast Asia are indeed exposed to climate change impacts, Mr. Naidoo pointed out that these countries has immense potential to turn its vulnerability into an opportunity. He urged them to invest seriously in alternative sources of energy, such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass, not just for adaptation measures but also for economic growth purposes.

However, given their fiscal condition, support from international organizations and developed countries are crucial, in addition to their emissions reduction efforts, to move toward this direction.

The U.S.’ key role

Apart from the support, Mr. Naidoo stressed developed nations particularly the U.S. carry the biggest historical responsibility to mitigate its large contribution of carbon in the atmosphere.

However, he expressed his discontent with the actions taken by the Obama admistration in the fight against climate change.

“Sadly, the U.S. government has been deeply disappointing in the positions that it has taken in negotiations. It has held back climate negotiation, [and] there has been no difference or very minimal difference between the Bush era and the Obama era in terms of the U.S. government’s performance in climate talks,” said Mr. Naidoo.

“Obama gets it but he gets it logically and conceptually but some of the decisions that he’s been making is problematic. The fact that he’s allowing arctic oil exploration is madness. The fact that he is considering to run this pipeline of the dirtiest source of oil in Canada and Alberta is deeply concerning,” he pointed out.

Nevertheless, he is urging President Obama to lead the way the world’s decarbonisation given it is well-positioned to create “green” movement globally.

“And when we ask to be the U.S. to a leader in this, we do not simply ask them for charity, we ask them to watch their own emissions because ultimately yes the U.S. may not be as vulnerable to increasing number of typhoons like in the Philippines but ultimately the U.S. and every developed country is also going to be affected,” stressed Mr. Naidoo.

Bottom line

Speaking of climate justice, it is clear that the richest countries are the culprit in today’s pressing problem of global warming while poor nations are the victims, unjustly suffering from its impacts.

However, Mr. Naidoo highlighted that blaming game would not make the situation any better and that every country across the world must do its share to address climate change, not tomorrow, but today.

“It’s true that poor countries carry the least responsible for carbon emissions while they are most vulnerable to climate impacts, but ultimately all countries will be affected,” he said.

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