Climate Change: Who Will Pay the Price?
Published on Friday, December 17, 2004 by Inter Press Service
Climate Change: Who Will Pay the Price?
by Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES -- If the poor, developing countries are not responsible for climate change, then why should they have to pay the price for what the industrialized countries have done?

This was the poignant question put forward on Thursday by Bangladeshi State Minister for the Environment Jafrul Islam Chowdhury, during the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-10), currently underway in Buenos Aires.

Chowdhury's country paid a steep price this year for the consequences of global warming and climate change, as devastating floods caused over 1,000 deaths and enormous material damages and losses.

The Bangladeshi minister was speaking at a high-level panel discussion on the impacts of climate change, adaptation measures and sustainable development.

In accordance with the U.N. climate change convention, mitigation and adaptation are the two main focuses for dealing with global warming: on the one hand, reducing emissions of ”greenhouse gases”, which trap heat in the earth's atmosphere, and on the other hand, helping developing countries to confront the impacts of climate change and lessen the damages.

In the ten years since the convention entered into force, the primary emphasis has been placed on mitigation efforts. One of the main results is the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on the industrialized countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Ratified by 30 industrialized countries, the protocol will enter into force next February.

Nevertheless, the delegates from the developing world came to Buenos Aires determined to make this conference of parties the ”adaptation COP”, as Enele Sopoaga from the Tuvalu delegation stressed at the opening.

Their main goal is to push the industrialized countries to commit resources to help the developing nations deal with the climate change effects already being felt.

Osvaldo Canziani, co-chairman of a working group established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has even suggested that governments begin to work on drafting a protocol that specifically addresses adaptation, since this is the key concern for the developing world.

Roque Pedace of Friends of the Earth International, a federation of environmental organizations from around the world, told IPS that these are ”legitimate demands on the part of the developing countries, because they are the main victims of climate change.”

The industrialized countries must understand that if they continue to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the cost of adaptation will be increasingly higher, he added.

According to statistics from the German-based reinsurance provider Munich Re, cited at the conference by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), natural disasters cost the international insurance industry more than 35 billion dollars in 2004, double the amount paid out in 2003.

UNEP representatives pointed out that if the costs of uninsured damage were added, the total would be roughly 90 billion dollars.

Nevertheless, progress has been slow in securing commitments to reduce the emissions that lead to global warming, and the industrialized nations refuse to recognize the urgency of adaptation measures, something that is reflected by the lack of sufficient contributions to the fund created to this purpose, Pedace said.

The European Union delegation announced in Buenos Aries that it will increase its contribution to adaptation efforts from 100 million to 360 million dollars annually as of 2005. However, many believe that this amount is still insufficient.

Pedace noted that the last flood to hit the eastern Argentine province of Santa Fe caused one billion dollars in damage.

In the meantime, conservative estimates from the World Bank place the losses from the flooding in Bangladesh at 2.2 billion dollars.

The Bangladeshi government had calculated that the total losses in crops, housing and other buildings, highways and bridges represented close to seven billion dollars, but the country received only 237 million dollars in aid from the Asian Development Bank.

”We need more assistance for adaptation,” Chowdhury told the panel. He pointed out that Bangladesh uses natural gas as fuel, and has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in the world, yet it is one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change.

Other speakers at the panel discussion included the representatives of Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific island whose very existence is threatened by the rise in sea level, Hungary, Mexico, Britain, Senegal and Australia, the only industrialized country besides the United States that has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

At a session held the previous day, Dutch State Secretary for the Environment Pieter van Geel noted that his country is also highly vulnerable, since 50 percent of its territory is below sea level, but he admitted that the Netherlands, unlike the developing countries, has the money to confront this vulnerability.

© 2004 IPS-Inter Press Service