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THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE: CAN SUCCESS BE REALIZED?

October 29, 2012 is certainly a date that will remain etched in the minds of residents of the New York/New Jersey region forever. It was on this day that many lives were changed and families faced the devastating consequences of a “Super storm” they called “Sandy”.

There was no one who escaped the impact of this storm, but there were no residents hit harder than those living along the shoreline. The damage left in its wake is difficult to calculate; however, estimates put the rebuilding efforts in the tens of billions of dollars. There is no doubt the region will recover because of its resiliency, but the emotional scars it has left on those who lost all of their personal memories remain for a lifetime. THE GLOBAL WARMING SCENARIO

Many experts and policymakers alike immediately began to discuss the role climate change may have played in the catastrophic weather event. The naysayers, like those at the Heartland Institute, attempted to squelch any talk of a causal connection between global warming and Hurricane Sandy. However, the predictions from climate scientists as to what could happen to New York City and its outlying areas were extremely accurate. For those to refute the evidence as to what we all experienced is simply the height of arrogance. UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE TAKES AIM AT CLIMATE CHANGE

On Monday, November 26, 2012, over 200 nations met in Doha, Qatar for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP18). This is the 18th session of these annual gatherings that will run in the Qatari capital until December 7. This is the first time the meetings are being held in a Gulf state. The significance of this is that Qatarhas the world’s highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions, yet the decision was made to allow them to host this year’s conference. As a moderate state in the region, analysts who are closely following the event feel Qatar genuinely wants success to be achieved and, furthermore, will give it every chance to do so through cooperation and conciliation.

Last year’s conference held in Durban, South Africa was very productive because it generated the Durban Platform. It brought together the developed (rich nations) and the developing (poor nations) world to agree on a binding agreement on climate change by 2015. However, without U.S. leadership this agreement will ultimately fail. The U.S.is on the record as saying that Chinamust be onboard before they agree to anything. Because of China’s rapid industrialization and significant economic growth, they have become a major carbon emitter.

It is paramount that nations come to the full realization of the ramifications of inaction on climate change, especially those in the developed world like the U.S.as well as the emerging economies of China and India.

One recent U.N. study revealed that global temperatures would rise between 5.4-9 degrees Fahrenheit directly because of fossil fuel emissions. What this portends is more droughts, floods, heat waves and a continued rise in sea levels. The U.N. Conference faces enormous challenges.

SUSCEPTIBILITY TO CLIMATE CHANGE WEIGHS HEAVY ON THE DEVELOPING WORLD

Climate change does not discriminate when it comes to those who are affected by its devastating effects. Unfortunately, people living in the developing world will suffer the disproportionate effects of climate change in the future. 

A report issued last year by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) indicated that children residing in East Asia and the Pacific are most at risk. According to the Climate Vulnerability Monitor, estimates reveal that 99% of all deaths associated with climate change are in the developing world and 80% are children. Small island developing states in the Pacific and countries located in Central and South Asia are extremely vulnerable.

The UNICEF report titled “Children’s Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Disaster Impacts in East Asia and the Pacific” states that those who are hit the hardest are individuals who subsist on less than $2 per day. Moreover, these people make up 60% of the world’s population. One can certainly see from reading this report why the need to act is now!

Helen Clark, the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Administrator, recently gave a lecture at Stanford University titled, “Why Tackling Climate Change Matters for Development”. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2012/11/08/helen-clark-why-tackling-climate-change-matters-for-development-/ Administrator Clark began her lecture by saying, “Climate change threatens to undermine hard won human development and other gains – indeed the impact of severe drought and flooding around the world suggests that it already is.”

UNDP Head Clark went on to say, “Significant finance already exists for climate change adaptation and mitigation…Tackling climate change can help accelerate economic and energy transformations, drive revolutions in technology, and spur the creation of new production models…To tackle climate change, the whole world must develop differently.” The last part of Administrator Clark’s statement reflects one of the significant challenges facing us as a global community “…the whole world must develop differently.” This requires a change in attitude and lifestyle, something that is very difficult to do.

GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY AND THE THREAT CLIMATE CHANGE POSES

The volatile and shifting global weather patterns recently seen correlates to a significant threat to the world’s food security. The changes that occur in rainfall patterns resulting in droughts in some parts of the world to massive flooding in other parts significantly affects the growing seasons for crops. As a result, global food prices skyrocket placing an additional burden on areas of the world that can least sustain the price increases. A burgeoning population requires more food, and reduction in global crop yields adds further stress to an already fragile situation that has resulted in riots and instability in many areas. 

According to Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of the book “Full Planets, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity”, “In this era of tightening world food  supplies, the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold.”

At the U.N. Conference in Doha, the Food and  Agriculture Organization of the United Nations held an event called “Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change: How Can Climate-Smart Approaches Help Build Resilience in Food Security and Agriculture?” The focus of this event centered on promoting ways to develop agriculture in a sustainable manner. The key point was to encourage avenues to prevent natural resource exploitation while simultaneously growing crops in the most efficient and environmentally safe manner as possible. This was a very valuable seminar as it is extremely vital that there are solutions developed that will mitigate the effects of climate change in the most vulnerable areas of the world; finding ways to boost food production while preserving the environment is another essential component of this equation. “IT’S GLOBAL WARMING, STUPID”

The November 5-12, 2012 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek hit the proverbial “nail on the head” when it exclaimed on the cover of its magazine, “It’s Global Warming, STUPID”. This headline states in a very clear and unequivocal manner for those who continually deny that this problem exists. It could not be any more straightforward and honest. One massive storm, the size and scope never witnessed before, nor do any of us ever want to experience it again, brought an entire region to a complete standstill. The U.N. in holding these conferences sheds light on the problem, but unfortunately, it does not garner enough media attention. As a result, the global public shifts its attention elsewhere and the story of global warming falls by the wayside to the detriment of many in the world.