Getting serious about climate change

Kennedy Abwao

Consensus has crystallised around an urgent need to create a world environment organisation (WEO) to lead the global fight against climate change, a key step towards a more sustainable development pathway for planet Earth. 

Environment ministers agreed in Nairobi in February to push for the upgrade of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “There is broad agreement that UNEP should be a fully fledged UN agency,” said Janez Potocnik, EU commissioner for environment. “We are ready to discuss the issues and the changes that are needed.” 

The African Union is strongly in favour of a reinforced UNEP, seeing it as a potential force to unlock the funds to fight climate change through green economy initiatives. A more powerful WEO could spearhead global partnerships to tackle access to water, renewable energy and water efficiency, and halt the degradation of land and the ecosystem. 

“We are talking about the future growth limits due to the environment. It would be important when we talk of green growth. It is a necessity to the growth of the future,” Potocnik said. “We need capable institutions to deal with the challenges… We will listen to others on the best process.” 

Amid warnings that threats to food insecurity are rising as a result of climate change, and with competition from biofuels putting 861 million people in 77 countries at the risk of food insecurity, tackling sustainable development remains critical to the current debate. The UNEP is warning that Africa’s farm yields could drop by half by 2020 due to the failure to adapt to climate change, and that between 2 and 5 million hectares of land are currently being lost to degradation. 

During the Global Environment Ministers Forum/UNEP Governing Council on 20-22 February, delegates tussled over the move towards green energy initiatives. “We have [an] over-reliance on the supply of fossil fuels. Renewable energy can change the way our rural areas are integrated into the national economy,” said Adnan Amin, director general of the UN’s International Renewable Energy Agency. 

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, agrees that there is a need to move on from the exploitation of outdated sources of energy. “We are living in a different period of time where there is inequitable energy distribution,” he said. “A shift in thinking should be at the heart of energy.” But there is a suspicion that limiting the extraction of fossil fuels could be used in the near future as a trade barrier or protectionist measure to discriminate against the world’s poorest countries with no funds to invest in cleaner sources of energy. 

The green plan implies a shift from an estimated $400-600 billion worth of subsidies for oil and other fossil fuels a year to ease carbon emissions. A UNEP expert said $100 billion agreed upon to mitigate the effects of climate change could easily be gained from the fuel subsidies. “Let us get policies right,” said Erik Solheim, Norwegian environment minister. “We should avoid subsidies for fossil fuels. Nigeria has tried to move away from the fuel subsidies.” 

“It is very important at a time when global populations are getting impatient that Rio+20 should not be a talking shop,” said Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate change. “The governments must be committed on substance.” 

About the author:

Kennedy Abwao is the Addis Ababa Bureau Chief of Pan-African News Agency (PANAPRESS)


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