UN environment chief sounds dire warning

April 22nd, 2008 - 2:10 pm ICT by admin  

By Joydeep Gupta
Singapore, April 22 (IANS) The global community runs the risk of the greatest policy failure in the history of mankind if negotiations on how to tackle climate change stay bogged down as they are, UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner warned Tuesday. Speaking at the inaugural session of the B4E (Business for the Environment) summit, Steiner expressed distress that at a recent meeting on climate change negotiations in Bangkok, “countries were rearticulating that others had to move first”.

He called it a “warning sign” after the “tenuous agreement” reached at the December 2007 Bali summit to finalise a new multilateral agreement by December 2009 that would tackle climate change.

Climate change due to warming of the atmosphere from excessive emissions of greenhouse gases, largely carbon dioxide, is already affecting farm output, causing more frequent and more damaging droughts, floods and storms, and drowning coastal communities as the sea level rises, mainly in the tropics and sub-tropics.

Steiner said the developments at the Bangkok conference - the first big meeting of countries after the Bali summit - were “at best disconcerting and at worst a sign that we’re heading for trouble”.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of global warming, led by the benchmark fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year, “the reality is that we’re still deeply divided in our responses”, Steiner rued.

“The climate debate has become a series of disconnected discussions. It’s odd how intelligent people can continue to argue like this in the face of such stark evidence. The IPCC report has already been overtaken by the latest data.

“We run the risk of the greatest policy failure in the history of mankind.”

But Steiner said such a failure was “not a given” and called upon over 500 business leaders from more than 30 countries gathered for the two-day B4E summit to “generate confidence and political will” so that governments would move.

“We keep hearing people won’t buy these (clean technologies), they’re too expensive. But the last few years have again shown people are not stupid, they will do whatever they can” to tackle climate change, he said.

“Entrepreneurs and public policy makers have to work together” and accelerate the “transition to green economy that has already begun”.

Georg Kell, executive director of the UN Global Compact, called upon businesses to “move from avoiding costs” in pollution control to “adding value” in green technologies and then use their “early mover advantage”.

Kell felt “voluntary initiatives alone cannot bring the deep changes necessary” to tackle climate change and countries would have to commit to something more in a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement that would become effective after 2012.

Speaking at the inauguration, Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said his government had started to move people out of the islands vulnerable to the rising sea and to resettle them in ten “safe islands”, a process that would be completed by 2010.

Gayoom said: “The international community must be more willing to listen to voices of its smallest and most vulnerable members. A two-degree Celsius rise in temperature may seem good enough at the global level but would spell disaster for us.”

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