World entering a 'third era' in efforts to deal with climate change - expert

Samuel Nota

As efforts to combat rising emissions fail, the focus is shifting to preparing for inevitable change, in rich countries as well as poor.

After 20 years dominated by inaction on climate change, the world is entering a “third era” when the impacts of climate change are unavoidable, says a London climate expert.

Even if countries instantly reduced carbon emissions to zero, the impacts of emissions already in the atmosphere are “inevitable and unavoidable for the next 20 or so years,” said Saleemul Huq, a climate expert at the London-based International Institute of Environment and Development and former executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies.

Speaking at a recent program on climate change in South Asia, Huq, whose work focuses mainly on Least Developed Countries (LDCs), said climate change will have “disproportionate impact” on poorer and less developed countries and called for large industrialized countries to begin taking the problem more seriously.

However, the new “third era” of climate change  - the period beyond early awareness of the problem and initial efforts to solve it, such as the Kyoto Protocol – is different from earlier periods in that “today even rich, industrialized nations are affected,” Huq said, and now “adaptation is central not only to poor countries, but these rich ones as well.“

Huq said his native Bangladesh, a low-lying, heavily populated country expected to be one of the most seriously at risk from climate change, has shown leadership in creating a national action plan focused on adaptation, and putting $100 million a year of its own funds into adaptation efforts.

One of the most serious problems facing South Asia is the expected long-term impacts on agriculture of climate change, particularly as Himalayan glaciers melt and affect water availability.

“Not only is climate change a problem with mountains, but with food security as the basin at the foot of the Himalayas is the most heavily irrigated area in the world,” said Andreas Schild, the outgoing director-general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, and one of the speakers at the program.

A haze of black carbon emitted by industries in China and blowing across the region already has reduced agricultural production by 5 percent to 10 percent in the Himalayan basin, he said.

Drops in water availability and agricultural production as the “third era” progresses will hit women in South Asia particularly hard, predicted Natalie Bennett, a journalist and politician who leads the UK Green Party women’s group.

“Women will be the ones bearing the brunt of climate change…They must adapt,” Bennett said, noting that 60 percent of the world’s chronically hungry already are women.

She predicted women may take a stronger role in bringing change as the “third era” continues.

Today “more prominent women are involved in government delegations,” she said. “Perhaps we are in the picking-up-the-pieces stage (of climate change). The traditional women’s role is to pick up the pieces of decisions made by some very prominent men.”

 Andrew Simms, a research fellow at the New Economics Foundation, stressed how this “third era” will see a huge boost in the effort required to try to hold world temperatures increases to 2 degrees Celsius or less, the level considered relatively safe by many scientists.

 “Had we stabilized and begun to reduce global gas emissions as short a time ago as 2007, the annual target for year-on-year reductions (in emissions) would have been 3 percent,” he said. (If) we wait until next year that figure rises to 6 percent. Leave it until 2020 (and) that figure rises to 15 percent,” he said.

Such emissions cuts are highly unlikely, though, he said, as “it has only been in times of extreme economic breakdown that we’ve done better than 1 or 2 percent.”

Jean Lambert, a London-based Green Party member of the European Parliament, warned that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable will be “the first victims of climate change.”

“From South Asia to London, we all have a responsibility to take action, which will prevent global warming and protect communities. Time is slipping away - now must be the time for action,” she said.

Samuel Nota is an AlertNet Climate intern.