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Climate change takes centre stage

Amid the political horse trading at the Doha conference Lord Ashdown argues that politicians ignore climate change at their peril

As Ed Davey arrived yesterday in Qatar’s futuristic conference centre at the UN Climate Change talks, he would have been keenly aware that parts of Britain are still underwater. He would also have been aware that the changing world climate means that events like last week’s UK floods are likely to become ever more frequent and that as they do, that climate change will become ever more politically explosive.

Science and politics do not always make for easy bedfellows. Unlike politics, science does not deal in certainties but instead weighs up evidence and offers probable explanations. Having said this, the scientific evidence for man-made climate change is now virtually beyond dispute. An overwhelming majority of scientists believe that greenhouse gas emissions are heating the earth’s climate resulting in more extreme weather and climate events.

A report published last week found that the polar ice sheets are melting three times faster than they were two decades ago. This study was preceded by two other important reports published ahead of the Doha talks. The first by the United Nations Environment Programme stated that the concentration of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is up about 20 percent since 2000. The second report from World Bank warned in a release that “[t]he world is barrelling down a path to heat up by 4 degrees at the end of the century if the global community fails to act on climate change, triggering a cascade of cataclysmic changes that include extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks and a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people.”

It is estimated that every year for the next decade, 175 million children will be affected by sudden climate related disasters, which will challenge much of the progress made towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Children are therefore bearing the brunt of the impact of climate change, despite being the least responsible for it.

Whilst it is the worlds poor who are feeling the greatest impact of climate change – over 95% of deaths from natural disasters between 1970 and 2008 occurring in developing countries – climate change is no respecter of national borders and ultimately affects us all. A government commissioned study earlier this year found that heavier rainfall will be the major threat to Britain from climate change in the coming decades and could affect five million Britons.

In the UK climate change may currently be a long way down the political agenda but with extreme weather affecting lives with increasing frequency and severity politicians should take heed.

In an ironic twist, climate change – an issue almost entirely absent from the debate during the US Presidential campaign – might just have been the thing that swung the election in Barack Obama’s favour. As Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New York devastating the coastline and dominating the headlines, ordinary Americans were forced to confront what many around the world have long known. Indeed following the storm New York Mayor Bloomberg admitted that Sandy had reshaped his thinking about the presidential campaign and wrote that it “should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

Immediate action requires sufficient funding and at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 the world’s governments committed to provide $100bn a year by 2020 to tackle this crisis. A new Green Climate Fund was set up in order to spend much of this money but to date the Fund has little in its coffers.

Despite being the midst of global recession it is essential that governments in developed nations recognise that tackling climate change is not just a moral responsibility they bare to those in the developing world but an essential part of their national interest. Climate problems faced by some will ultimately affect us all. Lack of action now will only increase the burden we face in the future, a burden that will likely fall on today’s children in the future.

In Doha yesterday, as discussions over climate finance remained tense, the UK showed international leadership by indicating that they will commit climate finance beyond 2012. The UK will be allocating around £1.8 billion aid money to climate finance up to 2015, and Ed Davey reiterated the UK’s support for contributing to the $100 billion a year by 2020 commitment of new and additional funds. This is a most welcome step. Now the UK must show international leadership in galvanizing further action – encouraging others to commit funds beyond 2012, and working with them to collectively mobilise new and additional funds up to 2020 and beyond to be pledged to the Green Climate Fund.

In politics it easy for short term policy to take priority over long term principle. Individual crises can be viewed in isolation rather than linked together, their patterns left unexplored and their causes left untraced.

Politicians might not yet want to talk about climate change but as we saw with the UK floods last week and hurricane Sandy last month, the changing climate will always force the issue.

Lord Paddy Ashdown is President of UNICEF UK.

Filed under: Climate Change

Comments: 10 Comments on Climate change takes centre stage
Posted on: Dec 5 2012

10 Responses to “Climate change takes centre stage”

  1. Ian Ross says:

    I live in South Africa and for the last 20 years have traveled across Southern Africa. Everywhere you go there is someone selling charcoal made in the most crude way. You cannot stop this practice as it is sometimes the only way that the local population can use to earn enough to just eat. The answer is to give them the tools that they can produce a composite wood from waste materials that can be carbonised on site without the huge losses that occur in the way that they produce charcoal (1% loss against 70% loss). This could be done by setting up cooperatives where a village works together and uses soft fast growing trees as the source of their wood and the equipment needed to produce these logs through small extrusion plants. the cost to set them up is relatively small and the product so produces can be sold to first world consumers at realistic prices. This would encourage the African population to plant trees instead of just cutting them down, would supply them with a sustainable income generating an expendable income, assist them to finance their existence through work instead of handouts. This equipment could be bought but paid out of the carbon credits associated to this renewable energy source and benefiting all parties enormously. THe problem is to get the interest from the first world countries to pre finance a small part of their energy requirements by funding the process plants in third world areas where there is an abundance of water, ground and manuel labour

  2. Dear Sir,
    Global cropping pattern will change and will result into fall in agriculture production. Dramatic collapse of Arctic sea ice, in recent years, is the sign of disaster to come much sooner due to Climate Change.
    Recently it was reported by, on April 16, 2012, that sustainable management is not playing a good role in Rainforest areas as it is destroying Primary Rainforest. The portal says, “Old forests are a vital part of the biosphere’s ecological infrastructure – and have a prominent, central role in making the Earth habitable through their cycling of carbon, energy, water, and nutrients. Primary rainforests cannot be logged in an ecologically sustainable manner; once logged – selectively, certified, legally or not – for throw-away consumer crap, their primary nature is destroyed, and ecological composition and dynamics are lost forever” []. So, on the name of Sustainable Management, no-one should be allowed to destroy Ancient forests. Forests & Oceans act as BIGGEST NATURAL SINKS of CO2.

    The 2006 Stern Review concluded that to lessen the impact of Climate Change would cost the world around 1% of GDP per year while no action would cost between 5% and 20% of GDP per year and will adversely affect global economy. Immediate actions are MUST, to be taken. So, world leaders and community must take actions to control and stop Climate Change, because carbon emissions are rising rapidly.

    Recently, Dec. 2012, The European Commission and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) have each announced a €5 million contribution to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help assist 25 developing countries around the world reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Such contributions will be helpful in controlling Climate Change. Thanks to EC & BMU for excellent green job done. Remaining, developed nations & world organizations should also come forward.
    Thanks Sir for this excellent article.
    Prabhat Misra
    [ on behalf of Red Tape Movement ]

  3. Morph says:

    Could I ask why Paddy Ashdown – who is not a minister or employed by the government (but who enjoys taxpayer’s money) and is not qualified on climate in any way – is being given space on a taxpayer funded blog ?

    Oh hang on – UNICEF – But then again I don’t recall voting for them.

    • Cass Martin (Admin) says:

      Thanks for your comment Morph.
      We do make clear in the Blog Ts&Cs that the purpose of the site is to “let those with an interest in energy and climate change issues, share their thoughts, ideas and experiences” and that contributors will come from different roles in the public, private and charitable sectors. Here’s the link for further information –

      • Fully agreed with Admin. Cass Martin. We should regard the person who are doing for the betterment of Nature. Mr. Paddy has written an excellent article. We should discuss on the issues which have been written by the persons who have lead the offices related with the issues. Authors, Scientists, Teachers & Parents should be given proper regard coz they give birth to the future. For knowing the subject specialization is not required.
        Best Wishes
        Prabhat Misra
        [ on behalf of Red Tape Movement ]

  4. Ian.t.Howard says:

    Why the hell you all sit around talking about trees gas and wind.
    We have a coast of thousands of miles and twice each day the tide comes in and glad to say goes out, It would be so easy to generate electricity and other forms of energy from this action. The sea level around our islands rise and fall a few meters each day that is a lot of energy..
    Using a series of fixed concrete tunnels from just off the coast out of sight of everyone, the change in pressure in the tunnels would drive generators for nothing and the upkeep of such tunnels would be minimal..
    A tidal change on average around the coast is 3 meters this is a lot of power. Why don’t we get a grip of this energy instead of wasting windmills that are a dying breed of rubbish, Yours Ian.T Howard

  5. Jigar Patel says:

    Climate change and green house effect can be reversed only when we get real practical solution for clean energy cheaper than coal.
    To get this
    1. We must need to cut initial cost of solar and wind.
    2. We need mechanical system that can take place of internal combustion engine and it should be cheaper than coal.

  6. Keith Lodge says:

    Who is going to hold the UK government Secretary of State to account for neglecting his mandatory duty, under the Climate Change Act 20008, to reduce global warming emissions through the decision to frack for gas and build gas fired power stations,

    This will extend economic dependance on burning fossil fuels and divert investment from ‘zero carbon’ alternatives.of energy conservation and harnessing alternative energy resources

    This is a crime against future generations for which the Secretary of Stae should be held to account ?

  7. G Davies says:

    Irresponsible comments by Mr Ashdown and Mr Davey in relation to so called Climate Change should be read with extreme caution.
    There is NO evidence of any change in Climatic conditions that could affect UK rainfall. The UK Government has just given away almost £2 billions, yes BILLIONS, of our hard earned cash to effectively build useless windfarms in Africa. Are we completely bonkers?
    The fact is the UK are building on flood plains (why?), and the course of rivers and glaciers etc are changing all the time. the US Gulf wll always have hurricanes owing to normal climatic conditions. The DECC should be scrapped, or the CC part of it anyway.

    I cant write much more as i have to get on with my job while you guys are swanning around the world spending more of our hard earned money irresponsibly.

    It has got to stop.

    • Tony Johnstone says:

      Oh Dear – do we still have denialists around.
      “There is no evidence” should not be taken as “it isn’t so” – Scientists like to be sure before they pronounce.
      If anyone thinks it’s not getting wetter they ought to get out more.

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