Climate change : the socio-political challenge of the century

The policymakers of this world are negotiating a climate agreement for the citizens of planet earth. What does that mean? Committees of science and policy experts (from public and private services) are meeting in little working groups (climate and environment, climate and forests, climate and so on ... ) and in November 2010 policymakers will meet in Cancun to define the two axes of this agreement: the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the mobilisation of funds to help developing countries with climate change adaptation. They are going to decide on policy commitments that will affect industry, transport, agriculture and energy which are all building blocks of an economy.  They will also identify the funding and transfer arrangements, but only if they feel under pressure.


This is because the western development model, also used by other countries, is based on economic growth being linked to the consumption of natural resources and energy, mainly carbon (oil, coal and natural gas).  In fact, the only way to reduce the environmental damage caused by climate change is to reduce its cause. i.e. to reduce GHG emissions. In reality, individual and collective consumption of resources and energy relates directly to lifestyle.  That is the crux of the problem.  Everyone agrees we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions but few are prepared to lower their standard of living or, in the case of others, forego their right to “development”!


25% of GHG emissions are attributable to production of energy and 20% to deforestation. The proportion of emissions attributable to food production has gone up from 17% to 32% in the last two decades.  This is a real challenge for our European trade and agricultural policies. Industrial countries these days emit five times as much GHG and consume six times as much energy (in oil equivalent) as developing countries. (Source: IEA, 2005).  Africa is responsible for 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions while its population accounts for 14% of world population (NU, 2007). The EU (27 countries) contributes to produce 14,2 % of global GHG emissions while its population accounts for 11,3% of world population[1].

The climate crisis

is the symptom of a profound social and environmental crisis that has reached its limits. [2] 


Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and the Environment in New-Delhi states that we have no choice but to act and to share the planet’s resources. “Equity is a prerequisite for an effective climate agreement.” she says.  It has to be said that the North is very reticent and good at creating tools that deliver maximum benefit for minimum effort.


Two false solutions : Biofuels and Carbon capture and storage

The biofuels we have spoken in other articles are a false solution because they support consumption in the transport sector and thereby an economic system that does not take into account its environmental and social impact.  It is a development model where trade dominates and where there is a production system in which the processing stages are divided up and distributed throughout the world and controlled by monopolies.  It is a system where market (exchange) value prevails over usefulness.


The industrial countries promote the Carbon capture and storage. This is not a valuable solution. Fighting climate change requests a real reduction of GHG emissions, by consequently a deep change of lifestyle. Additionally, the methods involve some risks.


Some weighted tools : funds for aid and technologies for adaptation

Industrial countries talk about aid for adaptation in terms of finance and transfer of technology rather than of actual reduction of GHG emissions.


Aid is certainly welcome since the cost of adaptation for Africa is estimated at being between 5 and 10 % of the continent’s GDP, in other words well beyond their means.  Moreover the food security of a good number of Africans is already threatened by climate change.  So what aid should be put in place?  And will it mask the genuine solutions?


On the one hand, the rich countries control these funds by establishing payment mechanisms and, on the other hand, they promote technologies that they ‘possess’ through Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).


The IPR relating to technologies are a real obstacle for developing countries because of the costs they generate – to say nothing of the moral debate behind this practice.  However, the lack of infrastructure in Africa could become an advantage as it will allow the ‘technological boom’ to develop energy sources, means of transport and industrial infrastructure that are low in energy consumption and non-polluting.


At Copenhagen, the EU announced that it was going to provide 7.6 billion dollars of short-term funding for the first year, but it does not yet know if this is new, additional funding or to be taken from funding already committed to developing countries!


Most of the projects financed by the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) have not yet produced an actual reduction in GHG, nor have they made a positive contribution to development.  Perversely, the effect of these CDMs has been to discourage governments of the South from investing in worthwhile projects that are not financially supported by a CDM.


Carbon trading certificates (RTRS for soya and REDD for forests) mask the real problems and in numerous cases are manipulated at the expense of the local populations at risk, or even the declared objectives. It has to be said, however, they did open the debate; the Forest Stewardship Council has encouraged businesses to take into account working conditions and the management of conflicts over the use of land and resources.


To cap it all, we have the invention of emission quotas to reduce the cost of reducing GHG emissions for industries that were already in place.  They participate in a market where they can trade in ‘rights to pollute’.


Some real solutions : Reduce GHG emissions, Relocate production and Adopt sustainable agricultural practices

Among satisfying solutions, priorities are:

  1. Reduce GHG emissions in sustainable and effective ways
  2. Relocate production processes to reduce the production-consumption chains
  3. Adopt agricultural practices that are favourable to the water cycle, to soil regeneration, to the absorption of CO2, the lessening of N2O (caused by nitrogen-based fertilisers and intensive rearing of ruminants) and to the well-being of humans. Agro-ecology[3]is up to date once more!

This brings us back to reconsidering our lifestyles, our values and our priorities and to recognising above all that the resources of water,[4]land, air, flora and fauna are a common good.  The sooner these priorities are accepted, the greater our chance of avoiding climatic, environmental and human catastrophes.

[1] Statistics of French ministry for ecology, energy, sustainable development and sea 

[2]  “A ‘just’ climate agreement: the framework for an effective global deal”, Sunita Narain, ch.9 in ‘Nobel Cause’

[3] Agro-ecology uses the relationships between plants and animals to increase yield and to reduce multiplication and invasion of diseases in place of trying to eradicate these.

[4] Joe Hennan, spokesman for the EC told EUobserver in April 2010 that "water is a commodity like anything else".