Deep injustice at the heart of climate change

Media Releases, Opinion article written on the 23 Jun 2009

The world is getting close to the time when a global deal to secure a stable climate for future generations has to be struck, writes Oxfam Australia’s James Ensor.
The UN climate talks in Bonn, due to wind up tomorrow after an exhausting two weeks, are one important milestone along the way to this deal, which will only be achieved if world leaders are prepared to acknowledge the real inconvenient truth – the deep injustice at the heart of climate change.
Poor people in developing countries who are least responsible for climate change are already bearing the brunt of the consequences of more than a century of rampant carbon emissions, largely from the industrialised world. They include Pacific Islanders losing their homes to rising sea levels, the poor of Bangladesh coping with more frequent floods and rural African communities dealing with devastating drought.
Climate change offers humanity no second chances. The fairness of the agreement struck in Copenhagen in just six months time will depend first and foremost on the extent to which it is able to minimise the catastrophic impacts that climate change is otherwise set to have on the world’s poorest people.
The denial of this inconvenient truth will be a deal-breaker for developing countries, and derail any chances of securing a global deal at Copenhagen.
Economic projections consistently show that investing dollars now in helping developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change will reap rewards later, for all of us.
The Federal Government’s Treasury modelling demonstrates that early global action is less expensive than later action, economic growth can still occur even as emissions fall, and Australia’s industries will maintain or improve their competitiveness under an international agreement to combat climate change.
Countries that defer action face higher long-term costs, as global investment is redirected to early movers. This should be seen as a real opportunity for Australian business to play a central role in tackling climate change, through technological innovation.
Whilst it’s true that emissions do need to decrease throughout the world, including in the major industrialising countries like China, it is unfair to expect countries that are trying to bring much of their populations out of poverty to shoulder all the cost.
Developing countries can’t afford to deal with climate change on their own. And as developed countries are responsible for three-quarters of the emissions released into the atmosphere, they have a responsibility to help.
A new Oxfam report, launched today in Bonn, outlines a fair way to deliver the global emissions cuts which the science indicates are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change, while proposing a new way to finance emissions cuts in developing countries.
It suggests money from the sale of carbon permits (currently freely allocated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) could be used to help poor countries finance the necessary emissions reductions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
The world’s poorest countries, such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Nigeria, would receive 100 per cent of the funding they need to shift to a low carbon development path. However, more advanced developing economies such as Brazil and China would be expected to fund a proportion of the costs, depending on their economic capabilities.
Based on our national income and the reality that we are a high per capita emitter which has grown wealthy from burning fossil fuels, Australia would need to contribute $4.3 billion annually in order to cover its fair share of the $187 billion needed globally to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. This is around the same amount as the value of free permits to be given to big polluters under Australia’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2013, which is the year a new global climate deal would come into effect.
Australia also needs to reduce our own emissions substantially – we need to increase our 2020 emissions reduction target from the current maximum target of 25, to 40 per cent.
People in poor countries are already adapting to their changing climate, in whatever way they can. In Bangladesh, people are raising the ground and their homes above flood level to protect them, and planting grasses and trees around their raised houses to prevent erosion. They are growing fruit and vegetables on their roofs so they can still eat during and after flooding.
In some low-lying Pacific nations, families are growing food in metal buckets to avoid salt water inundation.
So far, developed countries have only committed $1.2 billion to help developing countries adapt to climate change. Compare this to the trillions spent bailing out financial services.
Many developing countries have come forward with strong proposals. China is making strides in improving energy efficiency. It is the second largest investor (in absolute terms) in renewable energy, behind Germany. Every two hours, China installs a wind turbine. By 2012, it plans to be the world leader in wind energy.
The financial crisis is no excuse for inaction. The massive sums spent on bailing out banks shows that finding money when it’s needed is not the problem – finding the political will to do so is the obstacle.
James Ensor is a director of policy at Oxfam Australia.

This opinion editorial was first published in ABC Online on 11 June 2009.