ERIN AGNEW, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS DIRECTOR
On September 23rd, a United Nations Climate Summit in New York City began a series of talks leading up to the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP), a facet of the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Earlier in the week, over 300,000 demonstrators in New York City Alone took to the streets as a part of the People’s Climate March. Among those marching were George Washington University Students who boarded buses carrying over 200 students from DC Universities. Filling in the area between the Youth and Labor contingents of the March, they represented the University as well as Fossil Free GW, the Roosevelt Institute, the Progressive Student Union, and the Food Justice Alliance, among other Progressive Coalition Organizations at GW. With a massive showing in New York, and over 160 marches staged internationally on the same day, the People’s Climate March was an effective show of public support for decisive action on climate change and frustration at previous action plans’ impotence.
For climate justice activists and world leaders alike, a lot rests on the productivity of the next year of climate talks. The UN will continue this round of climate talks in Lima, Peru this December, and it aims to sign a new climate accord at the a final meeting in Paris at the end of 2015. The most decisive action on climate change to come from a recent Conference of the Parties was the Copenhagen Accord of 2009, following COP 15. UN leaders agreed to limit further global warming to 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit). This mandated that developed countries reduce emissions between 25% and 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2020, but left allowances for developing nations to continue or increase carbon emissions. The intent was to allow coal and oil use to increase infrastructural development and to fit with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s characterization of climate change reduction as a “common, but differentiated responsibility.” As the UN approaches COP 20, developed nations would have to reduce emission 70% to keep to the same goal, while letting undeveloped nations industrialize unchecked.
Though the responsibility is shared, the effects of climate change are hardly felt equally. The overlap in developing nations and those disproportionately impacted by climate change is striking. Lohachara Island, part of the Sundarban Indian National Park, has been permanently flooded by rising sea-levels, leaving 10,000 individuals homeless and categorized internationally as refugees. In the Sundarban Park area alone, 7,500 acres of land, 70,000 people, and 400 endangered tigers are threatened by rapidly rising waters. In 2008, the World Bank issued a report of the 12 nations most threatened by climate change. Unsurprisingly, four of the world’s poorest nations - Malawi, Eritrea, Mozambique and Bangladesh - topped the list. Malawi, Sudan, and South Sudan stand to see increased food deficits, as agriculture becomes increasingly difficult on land affected by frequent, intense, and prolonged droughts. Bangladesh already experiences 70% of its area being flooded each year by glacial melt from the Himalayas and overflow from the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers. Vietnam is projected to see 35% of its Gross Domestic Product diminished if the sea level rises just five meters. The Philippines and the Maldives are both susceptible to not only rising sea levels, but also frequent intense storms like Typhoon Haiyan, which alone displaced over 3 million people.
As part of the Copenhagen Accord, the world’s wealthiest nations – including the United States, Germany, Britain, and Japan – promised $30 billion to developing nations as “fast start” climate financing, to be used for rebuilding following natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, and to invest in sustainable infrastructure. This pledge has recently been increased to $100 billion, which sounds admirable and effective, until it is compared to the $60 billion pledged to New Orleans, a single city which has still not fully recovered, to rebuild post-Hurricane Katrina. The number seems even less promising when its source and structure are explored.
Oxfam International asks more of UN leaders, pointing out two disturbing facets of their funding pledges. First, only 43% of the Fast Start funding was grants; the rest was issued as loans with varying interest rates. Of those grants, only 21% has been earmarked to address the needs of communities already impacted by climate change related disasters or built resilient infrastructure for those likely to be impacted. The uncontrolled interest rates and lack of support with funding is much of the concern of global protests of International Monetary Fund and World Bank loan systems. Second, only 33% of Fast Start funding is new; the majority was pledged in aid to these nations well before the Copenhagen Conference. Old allocations were essentially repackaged as Fast Start funding.
Programs like Low-Carbon Development Strategies, the Critical Mass Initiative, and the African Clean Air Corridor are good steps in ensuring sustainable development. But their rhetoric becomes problematic when it suggests that the nations most harmfully impacted by climate change are also highly culpable for its global effect. And money pledged toward sustainable development should not come at the expense of aid to address hunger, health, education inequity, and similar issues that become no less pressing because of the effects of climate change. As the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change moves towards its final COP 20 summit in 2015, it must focus on productive guidance for sustainable development. But most importantly, it must take an unprecedented step in not only holding powerful nations to the promises made in the new accord while including those nations most immediately impacted by climate change as stakeholders in the deliberation process.
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