on 2nd December 2012

Bursting the bubble of climate inaction

A week into the UN talks, Kit Vaughan, Head of Delegation for CARE in Doha says ambition is still lagging far behind what’s needed to tackle climate change.

As ministers arrive in the oil rich state of Qatar for the final week of the UN climate talks, two things are clear. One: action on climate change is needed more urgently than ever. And two: we have no time to lose.

This year has been a year of alarming climate impacts. Just weeks before governments arrived in Doha, Hurricane Sandy caused $100million worth of damage in Haiti, $2bn in Cuba and $63bn of losses in the US. And as we sit in Doha, extreme tornadoes are lashing the Philippines.

The climate science paints an increasingly bleak picture. A new World Bank report released in November outlined a ‘doomsday scenario’ of life in a world that is 4 degrees warmer, while new research by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted that melting permafrost in the arctic could release considerable volumes of methane which have not yet been accounted for in future climate models, spiraling climate change out of control.

Put simply, we are heading beyond just dangerous warming into a world of extreme warming and extreme global climate disruption. But you wouldn’t know it here in the closed bubble of the UNFCCC climate talks with the lack of action and urgency. It’s as if negotiators are on another planet from the rest of our global citizens in a bubble of climate diplomacy.

Rather than seizing the opportunity to act now and avoid the most dangerous climate impacts, or delay and pay more later, the talks continue to move at a snail’s pace. In some cases, they are even going backwards, and fast. You’d never know that we’re now 18 years into the process with little to show for it.

Perversely, it’s the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people who are increasingly bearing the costs of our global inaction to curb emissions and provide resources for adaptation. It is they who are paying the price for governments’ stubborn positions and unwillingness to compromise.

Just take communities supported by CARE in countries like Nepal, Mozambique and Peru. These people, who are already facing the challenges that poverty brings, are now having to bear the added burden of unreliable and extreme rainfall which reduces harvests, or more frequent storms and cyclones which damage property and infrastructure, or changes in weather patterns which cut off water supplies for livestock.

Sometimes, here in the bubble of the Qatar negotiations, these real, voiceless victims of climate change are too easily forgotten. Let’s not forget that they have done the least to cause the problems they are now facing. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the average person emits just 0.3 tonnes of carbon per year. In the US, that figure stands at 25 tonnes per person. The global climate injustice which is currently unfolding couldn’t be clearer.

Tackling climate change requires a global solution to a global problem, but with the impacts being felt at a local level there is also a need for governments to help support poor and vulnerable communities to adapt, where possible. Solutions that help build people’s resilience to major climate impacts, whether storms, floods or changing rainfall patterns, are vital. Where adaptation fails, compensation and rehabilitation will also be increasingly required.

The inward looking COP 18 ‘bubble’ needs bursting. Climate change is here, it is happening now and negotiators and countries that are consistently failing to take action need to wake up. No more weak promises and unfulfilled pledges but substantial new and additional resources for adaptation and investment to support a new, low carbon and resilient green global economy. Critically, we also need to ensure counties have delivered on their historical commitments and sign up to a second phase of the Kyoto protocol with ambitious targets, setting the direction of travel towards urgently reducing green house gas emissions. Finally, we need to see a roadmap for a new global agreement on climate change to be decided by 2015.

Ministers and negotiators must begin to live in the real world. The responsibility for ensuring a radical shift in ambition and action is now in their hands.

New floods in the Sindh province of southern Pakistan hit just one year after the devastating floods of 2010, which affected 20 million people.

Kit Vaughan

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