There is no doubt that climate change is one of the major international challenges of our times. But while the phenomenon affects us all, it does not affect us equally, nor do we possess the same capacity to respond to these challenges. This June, the Rio+20 conference drew attention once again to the glaring reality that those least responsible for climate change are in fact those most affected by its adverse consequences. What we need now is a higher level of global understanding, and quicker and more comprehensive action on the ground.
In the 48 least developed countries (LDCs), 31 landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and 52 small island developing states (SIDS) – all of which continue to battle myriad challenges related to poverty and under- development – climate change has already made a visible dent in economic growth, social indicators, water availability, food production and fragile ecosystems. Above all, it has become a livelihood issue.
Research has shown that the negative effects of altered weather patterns on crop production are especially pronounced in LDCs, where the agricultural sector accounts for a large share of GDP, export earnings and employment. The majority of the poor resides in rural areas; they depend on agriculture and other natural resources for their livelihoods. Similarly, desertification, coastal erosion, submersion of land due to the sea level rise, ocean acidification and melting of glaciers are going to accelerate the scale and intensity of disasters.
From an economic development perspective, it is clear that adaptation is vital if these countries are to maintain the pace of progress achieved over the past decade. The reality, however, is that for all of the LDCs, and small islands in particular, their current low adaptive capacity makes them extremely vulnerable to the deleterious impact of climate change. Fundamental constraints limit their choice of options and their scope of implementation: inadequate data or information and technical capacity for timely and effective adaptation planning, weak institutional capacity, access to technology and its adaptation, and limited financial resources.
It is also important to highlight that these countries are already initiating various programmes with the support of United Nations bodies, development partners and mechanisms arising from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Agriculture, forestry, coastal management, renewable energy, policy and institutional reforms and human resources management – these are some of the key areas where substantial efforts are being made. But there remains a big gap between the requirements and the expected scope of activities.
A major stumbling block for these vulnerable countries is, of course, access to finance and technology. We need to strengthen access to, and the management of, climate funds in order to meet their adaptation and mitigation costs. These funds represent an alternative source of finance that can shield their development efforts from the recurring impact of disasters without further denting scarce national budgets or the dwindling levels of aid as a result of the international financial crisis.
Climate funds set up through the UNFCCC mechanisms – such as Global Environment Facility, the Adaptation Fund and LDC Fund – need to be enhanced substantially, disbursed quickly and made equitably accessible. They should also be able to catalyse access to alternative sources of financing and be effectively managed to deliver their intended impacts.
We also need to inject more urgency and coherency into international climate negotiations. A new global deal, to be finalised by 2015 and in force by 2020, will require all nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emission and strengthen adaptation. All should make efforts to ensure an effective and ambitious agreement based on the fundamental principles of justice and equity.
It is equally important that landlocked developing countries are not left behind. Concerns over land degradation, desertification, deforestation, and destruction of transport infrastructure have been magnified as a result of climate change. These challenges come on top of others – from commodity price volatility to rising food and energy prices – that are preventing these states from achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Finally, we must pursue a global ‘green economy’ – a core theme at the Rio+20 conference. This will entail moving away from the prevailing ecologically destabilising patterns of development to modes of development based on poverty alleviation and environmental protection. These two pillars need to reinforce each other. For these vulnerable countries, many of which have not experienced carbon intensive and heavy industrialisation, consumption and production, the notion of a ‘green economy’ offers and opens up many prospects. In this regard, two major achievements at Rio+20 offer hope: the concept of ‘GDP plus’, so-called ‘green accounting’ which looks at environmental assets and costs, and agreement on developing a set of sustainable development goals. Both herald better prospects for the future.
In my view, a transition to a ‘green economy’ will require certain adjustments, as well as a mix of policies and measures tailored to the needs and preferences of LDCs, LLDCs and SIDs. We should, however, recognise that these countries are among the poorest and that they are already facing severe structural challenges as they attempt to arrest deepening poverty. The vulnerability of these countries is multi-layered and multifaceted and while climate change is indeed a major concern, they remain equally vulnerable to a variety of external shocks, such as spikes in oil and food prices. Therefore, we look for an enhanced and strengthened global partnership based on equity but also on solidarity and a common humanity with those who are least capable.
There is no doubt that the national leadership in these countries and the right policy instruments are critical to achieving these objectives. But given the meagre resources for their own domestic development, I encourage development partners to step up to the plate and provide adequate financial, technical and technological resources to vulnerable countries in order to enable them to leapfrog into green, environmentally sustainable development paths. This would enable some of the world’s poorest people to benefit from the ‘green industrialisation’, ‘green technology’ and ‘green jobs’ dividends that we all aspire to achieve.
Ambassador Gyan Chandra Acharya is UN Under-Secretary- General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States