Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Signing the Paris climate deal

"Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide." - Pope Francis.

Arguably the most relevant meeting of world leaders in recent times is what took place in December 2015. That was the Paris climate conference (COP21). The hype prior to the meeting lived up to the billing as 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. To me, the COP21 in Pariss was the most important and meaningful gathering in recent times.

The Paris agreement set out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. One will say this has taken too long in coming. But it is true that it is better late than never. And getting things done in the global arena is very, and I mean V-E-R-Y, different from how I  run my home. This Paris agreement that is being lauded is due to enter into force in 2020. What will we doing from 2016 - 2020? That is a legitimate question to ask but not so easy to answer, it seems. What I can guess will happen in between getting the agreement and the agreement coming into force may include the following
  1. A meeting
  2. Another meeting
  3. One more meeting
  4. Many more meetings
  5. A final meeting to discuss how to conclude

Whilst these meetings are going on, more Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) will be getting into the atmosphere.

The first meeting
On 22 April 2016, the first meeting was held. It was a really big show for climate change. At least 34 countries representing 49% of greenhouse gas emissions formally joined the agreement, or committed to joining the agreement as early as possible this year that high-profile signing ceremony at the United Nations. Now, the historic Paris agreement has started moving closer to the critical threshold for becoming operational faster than expected. This is good news!

But the Paris agreement will only come into force when countries representing at least 55% of total greenhouse gases and 55% of the world's population join the agreement. When one looks at the countries that produce most of the worlds GHGs, China, USA, Russia, India, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia, Australia and Argentina will come up. So, if these countries that together produce about 60% of the world's GHGs sign the agreement, we will be moving faster. But things do not work so smooth when it comes to climate change committments. China, which accounts for about 20% of global emissions, says it would finalise domestic procedures to join the agreement before the G20 meeting in September. Other industrialised countries offered similar pledges to submit the agreement for approval to parliament. Fasten your seat-belts and keep your fingers crossed.

The talked about picture
A picture of USA Secretary of State John Kerry signing the Paris agreement with his granddaughter in his arms has been the most talked about picture from the grand signing ceremony. That picture really stole the show from Leonardo DiCaprio and all the over 170 world leaders who were at the UN  headquarters to sign the climate change agreement. Mr Kerry's adorable 2-year-old granddaughter Isabel was one of 197 children present at the event to represent the countries that had adopted the agreement.

That picture is just awesome. It brings two things to my mind:
  1. the climate change debate has usually focused on our future and what is a better representation of this by the picture of Mr Kerry holding Isabel whilst signing the agreement!
  2. the climate issues usually get over-simplified as 'we are doing it for our children and grandchildren' and eventually we do not do it. This is simply because in truth we do not really care so much for our children and grandchildren like we do for ourselves.

The challenge which climate change poses is for now. Let's understand it as such. It is affecting us now. What we do now is what we do for ourselves.

The Journey has started
The journey has started well. All hands on deck. Let's do this for ourselves.

"The challenge is to save ourselves, not someone else, but ourselves." - Peter M. Christian, President of Micronesia 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Climate Change and Poverty

"There has never been a more important time to address rural poverty in developing countries. It looks likely that global food security and climate change will be among the key issues of the 21st century. As agricultural producers and custodians of a large share of the world's natural resources, poor rural people have key roles to play, contributing not only to global food security and economic growth, but also to climate change mitigation efforts." – Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development
On November 8 2015, The World Bank has released a new report titled, "Shock Waves - Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty", and indeed it sends 'shock waves'. But can it be said that this is totally new news? NO! The impact of climate change on poverty across the globe is something that is very well documented.

The World Bank report, "Shock Waves - Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty" shows that climate change is an acute threat to poorer people across the world. And of course the usual places get a mention, – Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – the poorest regions of the world. The poorest regions of the world will be hit the hardest. The new report states that climate change has the power to push more than 100 million people back into poverty over the next fifteen years, i.e., by 2030! This is what hits me hard, shakes me badly and indeed send the 'shock waves' through my body.

The world has been fighting with poverty and climate change. It is arguably the two biggest issues confronting the world now. How do we end poverty or reduce it significantly and at also address climate change. These two issues of poverty and climate change cannot be addressed exclusive of each other. Not that climate change is that which will make people poor. No. There has been many poor people and countries even before climate change became a very topical issue engaging the minds of all who care. But climate change has the potential to worsen an already bad situation.

So how will climate change affect poverty reduction? Let's consider two critical ones. The world bank study points out that:
  • Without action, climate change would likely spark higher agricultural prices and could threaten food security in poorer regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Take most of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, almost all have their economies heavily dependent on agriculture. So when the impacts of climate change tend to be negative on agriculture, it means bad news for source of income, food security, nutrition, jobs, livelihoods and foreign exchange. "Shock Waves - Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty" estimate that by 2030, crop yield losses could mean that food prices would be 12% higher on average in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is not something to fold the arms and watch. Take any typical poor household in Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, they may already be spending more than half of their income on food, not to think about education, clothing, healthcare, transportation, rent, utilities, etc. Such families are already at their breaking point and cannot afford to pay more for food. So, it is easy to understand that if nothing is done, most of Sub-Saharan Africa is staring malnutrition in the face. Malnutrition is coming to us and although we refuse to welcome him, he will come nonetheless, unless serious action is taken. 
  • Climate change also will magnify many threats to health, as poor people are more susceptible to climate-related diseases such as malaria and diarrhea. At the global level, warming of 2-3°C could increase the number of people at risk for malaria by up to 5%, or more than 150 million more people affected. Diarrhea would be more prevalent, and increased water scarcity would have an effect on water quality and hygiene. This is not good news at all. The result would be an estimated 48,000 additional deaths among children under the age of 15 resulting from diarrheal illness by 2030. Juxtapose this on a health system that is already on its knees in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. this is not good news.
The new report points out a very important fact, "poverty reduction is not a one-way street. Many people exit or fall back into poverty each year ." So, the work is not a simple one. It is not one that starts today and ends tomorrow, just like that. It is not a linear equation but a very complicated multi-lateral equation that demands more minds and great effort. The world needs to proceed with high urgency. The poorer a people are, the lower their adaptive capacity and the more vulnerable they are to the negative effects of climate change. And the impacts of climate change are expected to increase, judging from the trajectory the world is moving in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

As the world meets in Paris this December 2015, I sincerely hope and pray that a good deal will come out of the meeting. COP 21 should be a turning point. As the world transitions from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), may Paris bring the world something sustainable.

Less argument in Paris.

“Men argue. Nature acts.” ― Voltaire

Friday, November 6, 2015

Watching the USA on Climate Change

“This is not some distant problem of the future. This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now. Whether it means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires — all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak.” — U.S. President Barack Obama, interview with Al Roker, May 6, 2014

The United States of America (USA) plays and will continue to play a major role in the world as far as I can see. Not that I can really see very far, but I can smell very far. My sense of smell seem sharper than my sight. So I tend to 'see' more with my nose. And as far as my big nose can see, USA will play a major role in the world's affairs for such a long time.

Which issue concerns the everyone in the world more than the issues of climate change? Climate Change demands the attention and active involvement of all who genuinely believe they are big boys/girls in the house. They should stand and be counted. As the eldest child in a family where both Mum and Dad have passed on, I know and appreciate what it means to rise to the occasion; to stand and be counted. I acknowledge my position that destiny has bestowed on me. I accept the responsibility on me and live up to it. This is what I am watching the USA and hoping to see. Let USA stand well on climate issues.

In calling the big boys when it comes to emission of greenhouse gases, one cannot skip USA. If any meaningful agreement on reducing emission levels can be reached at Paris, the role of USA is extremely important. President Barack Obama, speaking at the League of Conservation Voters Capital Dinner, June 25, 2014, said: “Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants. There are no federal limits to the amount those plants can pump into the air. None. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, and sulfur, and arsenic in our air and water, but power plants can dump as much carbon pollution into our atmosphere as they want. It’s not smart, it’s not right, it’s not safe, and I determined it needs to stop.” — U.S. President Barack Obama, League of Conservation Voters Capital Dinner, June 25, 2014.

There has been good development in recent years on talks on emission reduction in which USA has been a major player. USA has tried to bring other big emitters into discussions. Now is the time for Mr Obama to rally his country to pull the world along a path for a positive action. Mr Obama, I know you know. I know you know it is possible to get seemingly impossible things done. You said this, Mr President: “Part of what’s unique about climate change, though, is the nature of some of the opposition to action.  It’s pretty rare that you’ll encounter somebody who says the problem you’re trying to solve simply doesn’t exist.  When President Kennedy set us on a course for the moon, there were a number of people who made a serious case that it wouldn’t be worth it; it was going to be too expensive, it was going to be too hard, it would take too long.  But nobody ignored the science.  I don’t remember anybody saying that the moon wasn’t there or that it was made of cheese.” — U.S. President Barack Obama, UC Irvine Commencement Address, June 14, 2014

It is sad to note that Mr Obama’s flagship climate policy, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, went down to defeat in 2009 as a result of Congressional opposition. That was in 2009 and a lot of water has passed under the Bridge; not Jose's Stamford Bridge. Mr Obama is coming to the end of his term and as some people claim he has been on legacy hunting, I urge him to hunt for a climate change legacy that the whole world will remember him for.

The US congress must support Mr Obama to rally the nation together and lead the world in reaching a good deal in Paris. This, my respected congressmen, you owe to yourself, your children and your children;s children. Please, this should not be about, Democrats and Republicans thinking of how to block that and delay this because it is coming from here and not there. Live above this. This is a matter of the world and the respect for USA must be put to good use.

I call on AMERICA.

“When Americans are called on to innovate, that’s what we do — whether it’s making more fuel-efficient cars or more fuel-efficient appliances, or making sure that we are putting in place the kinds of equipment that prevents harm to the ozone layer and eliminates acid rain.  At every one of these steps, there have been folks who have said it can’t be done.  There have been naysayers who said this is going to destroy jobs and destroy industry. And it doesn’t happen because once we have a clear target to meet, we typically meet it. And we find the best ways to do it.” — U.S. President Barack Obama, conference call with public health groups, June 2, 2014