18 september 2009

Poorest pay highest price for warming

By Wangari Maathai, For The Calgary Herald, September 18, 2009

In my home country of Kenya, a major drought is wreaking havoc on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Crops are shrivelled, cattle are dying--and there is an imminent threat of widespread hunger and starvation.

The situation is desperate and heartbreaking--but unfortunately, not completely surprising.

Decades of environmental mismanagement, coupled with global warming, is making extreme weather like droughts, hurricanes, floods, cyclones and erratic rainfalls a more regular occurrence everywhere. However, scientists say that 'developing countries,' especially those in Africa, whose economies are already precarious and where so many people, especially women, depend directly on the natural world for food, water and fuel, are being hardest hit. Mother Nature is, for much of the world's population, a rapidly diminishing source of human security.

In Darfur, for example, the lack of water is fuelling conflict as different groups fight over access to limited farm and pasture land, and deal with rapid desertification. Last summer, when I visited refugee camps in Eastern Chad, next to door to Darfur, I met an overwhelming number of women who had been raped while gathering firewood. Deforestation obliges women to walk farther and farther from the camps--and thus put themselves at risk of sexual violence.

The effects of climate change on individuals in poor countries--including Sudan, Zambia, Bangladesh and India--are well documented. A recent Oxfam report calculates that 26 million people have already been forced to migrate by climate change and other forms of degradation of the environment. In fact, by the middle of this century, such environmental refugees could number 200 million people.

The tragedy is that those hardest hit are least responsible. Per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world's least developed countries, for example, are almost negligible. Around 100 countries, most of them poor, account for only three per cent of global emissions. Canada is among the high-emitting countries on a per-capita basis, a minority club of major polluters that of course includes its neighbour to the south.

Whenever I come to Canada, people ask what they can do to help. Canada is a land of immigrants, and so many Canadians come from countries that are hardest hit by climate change. Equally important, the Canadians I meet seem anxious about the effects of climate change on themselves and others--and understand that their country bears responsibility for the problem and must help those global warming is hurting most.

My answer to this question is about leadership, because Canada's leadership and position counts in the international arena. Next week, the UN holds its Special Session on Climate Change in New York, and the G-20 nations will meet in Pittsburg. Canada can help turn the world's governments turn a corner in the lead-up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit this December. Canada's leadership should include not only committing to slashing carbon emissions more aggressively, but also supporting significant financing to help developing countries adapt to climate change and utilize new technologies so they, too, can effectively reduce their emissions.

Of course, doing the right thing is not always easy. It is not yet clear, for example, how Canada can effectively fight climate change at home and still allow the tarsands to keep expanding. As an energy producing country, Canada is obviously struggling with some of the issues that are key to solving the global emissions problem. The world is watching closely how Canada manages this challenge. And with a global recession still raging, Canada will not be alone among the G-20 countries in trying to figure out how to find funding on the scale required-- some $150 billion a year.

But failure to make the investment now will come with a much higher price tag--and soon. Global warming and environmental degradation is making the world a far less secure place, not just for the citizens of Darfur, Kenya and Bangladesh-- but also for us all. The struggle for natural resources, and the costly wars that result, inevitably bring problems right to the front door of each Canadian.

A 'green deal' in Copenhagen which includes support for adaptation to climate change so vulnerable communities can stay where they are, access and afford-ability of green technology (particularly for energy) and protection of forests and trees--forest destruction or degradation accounts for up to one-fifth of all global carbon emissions--makes good sense for everyone. It is for this reason that the former prime minister of Canada, Paul Martin, and I accepted an invitation from the British and Norwegian governments to be co-chairs of the Congo Basin Forest Fund.

Climate financing is not charity. It is a strategic investment in tropical forests and natural resources that provide ecosystem services such as wood, clean drinking water and climate regulations and in turn nurture low-carbon economies in regions of the world beset by problems that include extreme poverty and widespread food insecurity. It will also create new jobs in low carbon goods and services, utilizing the sort of technology that Canada is in a good position to share with the rest of the world. Canada can show that it is a world leader by doing the right--and responsible --thing, and thus demonstrating that we are all in this together.

Wangari Maathai, The 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate, Is The Founder Of The Green Belt Move-Ment ( greenbeltmovement.org)And A Co-founder Of The Nobel Women's Initiative (nobel- womensinitiative.org).

>>> Back to list