Saturday, June 29, 2013

Every nation must shift to sustainable growth - debate

By Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The pressing need to limit damage from climate change means that all countries must start running their economies in a way that shares the world's resources more fairly, experts told an online debate hosted by Thomson Reuters Foundation and CARE International on Thursday June 27, 2013.

"Addressing climate change requires addressing the unsustainable consumption and production patterns of rich countries," wrote Amina Mohammed, special advisor to the U.N. Secretary-General on post-2015 development planning. For example, while energy is wasted in many places, there are 1.3 billion people without access to electricity, she noted. Food waste is another huge problem, panelists said.

The discussion asked whether a new global development framework - being crafted to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015 - can drive action to tackle climate change.

The recent report from the High Level Panel (HLP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, led by the presidents of Liberia and Indonesia and the British prime minister, also identified "an urgent need for developed countries to re-imagine their growth models".

"They must lead the world towards solutions to climate change by creating and adopting low-carbon and other sustainable development technologies and passing them on to others. Otherwise, further strains on food, water and energy supplies and increases in global carbon emissions will be inevitable," it said.

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and head of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, told Thursday's debate that the new development goals must be "universal", applying to all nations. "No country has reached true sustainable development, so every country has to adopt new approaches for a post-2015 world," she wrote.

Ruth Fuller, co-chair of the Beyond 2015 group for NGOs and international development policy adviser at WWF, argued that the HLP report does not go far enough. "The welcome messages on sustainable consumption and production are at odds with the prominence placed on growth as the solution to poverty, and the report fails to address high-impact, high-consumption lifestyles and the issue of redistribution of wealth and resources," she said.

Fuller proposed targets for consumption and production that are relevant to richer countries - including on efficiency, waste, low-carbon energy and corporate reporting.


There was general agreement among debate participants that bringing about seismic shifts in the global political economy would be no easy task.

"Tackling the fossil fuel industry means tackling a huge international consortia with huge resources and power," noted contributor Aedín McLoughlin.

Robinson replied that "powerful forces have been tackled before - in fighting apartheid, fighting slavery and targeting the tobacco industry". "This is the most critical battle of all, and therefore we need a broad constituency to ensure we succeed," she added.

Efforts are being made - including by Robinson's foundation - to bring the voices of those worst affected by climate change, including smallholder farmers and children, into decision-making circles.

"We need to engage young people, women, indigenous communities, the private sector, academia, trade unions, everyone!" Robinson emphasised. "We need climate action to catch fire. We need it to be a genuine movement."

To make this happen, many debate participants highlighted the need for more education on climate change issues - in schools, universities and beyond.

"It is important to ensure that we educate people at the country level and bring the urgency of the crisis to their attention," said Mohammed. "Without empowering communities with the requisite knowledge, it will be difficult to create that popular demand for action."


Weak understanding of how extreme weather and other climate stresses worsen poverty is revealed by the MY World survey, in which more than 640,000 people from 194 countries, to date, have chosen the most important of 16 priorities for a better world. Of these, action on climate change is languishing in last place.

Robinson said people often don't separate out the causes of their hardships. "To those who live on the front line of poverty, climate change and development are the same issues," she said. "To respond to their needs, the international processes have to be more coherent and respond to the interconnected nature of the issues that make people poor and vulnerable."

Mohammed agreed decisions on climate change "must be in the interest of the most vulnerable". "As we design the future of development, low-carbon and climate-resilient solutions need to be centre-stage," she said.

She proposed building stronger alliances that will scale up climate finance, create jobs and deliver sustainable energy systems on a massive scale. "It is time to accelerate progress and create on-the-ground impact," she added.

2015 is a crunch year for those working on climate and development, because it is also the deadline for a new global deal to tackle climate change (although this won't take effect until 2020) and the next international plan to boost disaster risk reduction.

"By the end of 2015 we need a robust, fair climate agreement to keep us below 2 degrees (of temperature rise) above pre-industrial standards, and we need a post-2015 development agenda with Sustainable Development Goals that work fairly for all countries, within that 2 degrees limit," Robinson said.

Kit Vaughan, director of CARE International's Poverty, Environment and Climate Change Network, called for a much stronger focus on making sure that governments and others actually meet the promises they make.