Typhoon Ruby has put in sharp focus the seemingly endless efforts to stem global warming. Climate experts are meeting in Lima, Peru, this week to hammer out the framework of an agreement for a substantial cut in greenhouse gas emissions. The accord will be presented to a climate change summit in Paris a year from now.
Among the observers at the Lima conference is Voltaire Alferez, who represents Aksyon Klima, a Philippine-based NGO. “As we speak, people are paying for our leaders’ lethargy with their lives and livelihoods,” Mr. Alferez eloquently declared, referring to the destruction Ruby is inflicting as it cuts across the Philippines.
He is not alone in pressing for more decisive action against climate change. There seems to be a consensus among climate scientists and activists that the talks were moving too slow, that the participants were not on the same page when it comes to the crucial issues.
“Unfortunately, the negotiators (in Lima) . . . seem to have forgotten that they are here to solve a planetary emergency,” remarked the representative of the environment advocate WWF.
The conference is being guided by the United Nations’ target to bring down the average global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. An agreement validating that target is to be signed at the Paris summit.
Meeting the target will have a high price tag. It requires a massive shift from cheap and abundant fossil fuels to cleaner but more expensive energy sources. The main sticking point here is: Who is going to foot the bill?
Rich nations hedge on the issue of shouldering the cost of the shift. Poor countries, who face the biggest risk from rising seas, desertification and more violent weather disturbances because of warming, say they cannot make the shift without substantial support from the economic giants.
The standoff is not surprising. Environmental crusaders have long harangued the United States and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, into changing their ways, but so far they have not made any dramatic response.
The problem looms bigger in the light of a report released by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a British think-tank, ahead of the Lima meeting.
According to the ODI, half of the nearly $8 billion in climate finance given to the developing world since 2003 went to just 19 countries. The rest of the fund was shared by nations that were most at risk.
“Mexico and Brazil are among the top 10 emitters of greenhouse gases, and with Morocco, all have huge renewable energy potential,” the ODI said in a statement. Yet, “conflict-affected and fragile states such as Ivory Coast and South Sudan, where it is generally difficult to spend finance, received less than $350,000 and $700,000 respectively.”
The 10 most vulnerable nations, including Somalia, the Solomon Islands, Burundi, Niger and Eritrea, received a paltry seven percent of adaptation support, the ODI said.
There must be a sense of desperation in seeing to it that the two degrees Celsius target is achieved. And that desperation must be conveyed to the participants of the Lima conference.
Let us ponder on the statement of Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. The countries “that are emitting the most have the greatest responsibility in terms of the totality,” Ms. Bishop said. “If they continue to emit at the same rate, the major emitters will dwarf action taken by other countries.”