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January 30, 2014
Climate Change Takes the Stage at Davos
    by Robert Kropp

A high-profile panel convenes at the annual World Economic Forum meeting to discuss the negotiation of an international climate change treaty and how to end extreme poverty.

The World Economic Forum recently completed its 44th annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. For the ninth time, the meeting was preceded by the publication of the organization's Global Risks report, which “maps 31 global risks according to level of concern, likelihood and impact and interconnections among them.”

“Since 2006, the Global Risks report has been calling attention to global risks that can be systemic in nature, causing breakdowns of entire systems and not only their component parts,” this latest iteration states.

It comes as little surprise that issues related to climate change figure prominently among the most critical risks facing humanity. Of the ten global risks deemed by survey respondents to be of highest concern, three related directly to the environment: water crises, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and greater incidence of extreme weather events. Additionally, food crises, another of the most frequently cited issues of greatest concern, can be exacerbated by the effects of climate change.

“The year 2014 is likely to be crucial for addressing climate risks,” the Global Agenda Council on Climate Change states in the report. “Greater progress is urgently needed to create incentives and mechanisms to finance action against climate change while efforts are made to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.”

Furthermore, “Even as governments and corporations are called upon to speed up greenhouse gas reduction, it is clear that the race is on not only to mitigate climate change but also to adapt,” the report states. “Failure to adapt has the biggest effect on the most vulnerable, especially those in least developed countries.”

A panel discussion held during the Davos meetings underscored the interconnectedness of extreme poverty and the threat of worsening climate change effects. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “These two issues are mutually reinforcing and mutually supporting,” and announced that a summit will be held at the UN in September.

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, added, “We will not reach the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) if we have large climate catastrophes in the years to come. We have to decouple economic growth from the emissions of greenhouse gases.”

“If we do not get a grip on solutions to climate change now, and start greening everything we do, this will be a problem,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Finance Minister of Nigeria, said. “In Africa, we're not waiting,” she added, referring to an initiative named Africa Risk Capacity (ARC).

“Agricultural production in many parts of Africa is affected by natural climate variability and is likely to be significantly compromised by climate change,” ARC states. The initiative proposes that World Food Program (WFP) funds be distributed across African countries through a risk pool “by enabling countries to approach the international markets as a group rather than as individuals.”

“We haven't come to agreement on how these initiatives will be financed,” Okonjo-Iweala said at the panel discussion.

According to a draft version of a new UN report, national governments persist in subsidizing the fossil fuel industry at rates far higher than subsidies for renewable energy. Yet as Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, observed during the panel discussion, “We can make financial support for renewable energy now.” He proposed that fossil fuel subsidies be phased out and support for the world's poorest be increased.

“We need to break the paradigm that we cannot alleviate poverty and solve climate change,” Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said. “These issues are integrally linked. The costs of not doing an investment in climate change outweighs the cost of investing. Businesses are more concerned than some of the political environment.”

“Even with business leadership we will need governmental actions,” Al Gore said. “We need to put a price on carbon. We need to put a price on denial in politics.”

“We continue to put 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every day, as if it's an open sewer,” he added.

Following the meetings in Davos, John Fullerton of the Capital Institute wrote an interesting blog piece on overcoming the tension between addressing inequality and climate change.

“The inequality dimension is a tapestry of social ills ranging from unjust exclusion from a secure life with dignity, to physical and mental health crises and education opportunity deficiencies that have the affect of reinforcing growing inequality, to the destruction of true democracy as the rich and powerful use their position in part to further their interests,” Fullerton wrote. “And the climate change dimension is but one of numerous ecosystem crises that include fresh water, desertification, deforestation, chemical toxins, and dead zones at the mouth of all major river systems, all with consequences we barely understand.”

“We will fail, as we are doing today, to reign in greenhouse gas emissions in time if we cannot transform this tension into a catalyst for system transformation,” he continued. “Ecologically sustainable is objectively definable – living within planetary boundaries.”

'Most of us will agree that inequality must have bounds” as well, he wrote. And he quoted from a letter to Davos attendees written by Pope Francis: “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.”


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