Is Global Poverty More Pressing Than Climate Change?

24 October 2006 09:30 - 11:30 GMT+00
Public event
Simon Trace, Chief Executive, Practical Action
Gregory Barker MP, Conservative Shadow Environment Minister and Member of Parliament for Bexhill and Battle
Ashok Sinha, Director, Stop Climate Chaos Coalition
Susan Kramer MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow International Development Secretary and Member of Parliament for Richmond Park
Sarah Mukherjee, Environment Correspondent, BBC

Colin Challen MP, Chair, APPCCG and Member of Parliament for Morley and Rothwell

This was the first public event to be co-hosted by APGOOD and APPCCG on global poverty and climate change. It aimed to explore the intricate relationships between what have been described as the two most pressing issues of our generation.

Leading experts from both fields presented their impressions of the effects of climate change on development; their opinions on the importance of tackling poverty in this context; and the possibilities for the mitigation of, and adaptation to, the effects of climate change in developing countries.

It also examined the issue of where additional funding might come from to reinforce the infrastructure of developing countries, given the higher incidence of naturally-occurring disasters which are also absorbing an increasing proportion of aid and development funding

Simon Trace - Chief Executive, Practical Action

Simon Trace began by describing the impacts that climate change is already having in rural and urban areas of the developing world. He referred to case studies in Bangladesh, Kenya and Peru where Practical Action is working with people affected by flooding, drought and extreme temperature variations resulting from climate change. He contrasted these existing impacts with a tendency in the UK to talk about how climate change might have an impact.

He argued three main points on the relationship between poverty and climate change:

1. Climate change is a case of extreme injustice on the part of the industrialized world. It has generated more than 80% of emissions to date and poor people have had to accept the consequences of this. It is therefore the moral responsibility of the industrialized world to take the lead in tackling the issue. He emphasized the importance of the Contraction and Convergence model of equal global per capita emissions quotas as the most viable way of addressing the huge inequities raised by climate change.

2. Climate proofing development is crucial for making progress. Practical Action is involved in climate proofing through practical initiatives, such as building on raised ground in Bangladesh.

3. The industrialized world has to find ways to reduce its emissions and ways of helping the developing world to "leapfrog" the fossil fuel based development path that the industrialized world has taken.

But, he argued, part of getting out of poverty involves climbing the energy ladder. For some this route might be through renewables but for others it will be through technologies that reduce emissions but do not eliminate them completely. For this reason he concluded that poverty is more important than climate change. He emphasized that this does not mean the issue can be ignored. The industrialized world has a responsibility to assist the poor in climbing out of poverty whilst addressing its own emissions and assisting with adaptation.

Gregory Barker MP - Shadow Environment Minister

Greg Barker opened with an explanation of the Conservative Party belief that treats climate change and poverty as two parts of the same problem. They are the most complex issues the world faces and are intrinsically interlinked.

To illustrate this point he cited two examples:

1. how the loss of ice in the Himalayas could lead to massive water stress for millions of people in surrounding countries; and

2. the acute vulnerability of Africa due to the continent's dependence on agriculture.

On the second point he highlighted the inequity evident in climate change. People in Africa contribute the least to global greenhouse gas emissions but suffer the worst consequences of them.

He focused on a case study in Mozambique as an example of a solution to both climate change and poverty. The project, run by Envirotrade, makes payments to communities for re-forestation in a degraded area. The trees are used to replace fossil fuels and charcoal, and can be sold for timber. Such approaches can help to tackle climate change, prevent deforestation and reduce poverty. He argued that these innovative solutions for tackling climate change could also offer opportunities for new forms of aid in developing countries. They are self-supporting and profit-making, which gives them long-term sustainability - a feature which is lacking in many traditional aid programmes.

He concluded that sustainable forestry can help in addressing climate change, but that it does not avoid the need for the industrialized world to mitigate emissions.

Ashok Sinha - Director, Stop Climate Chaos Coalition

Ashok Sinha began by describing the Stop Climate Chaos movement - a united movement of over 40 environment and development NGOs brought together to tackle climate change. It was formed with the aim of reaching the largest possible audience in order to raise awareness about the problem of climate change and thereby apply the maximum amount of political pressure on governments to act.

He argued that the only slight difference between climate change and poverty is the timeframe. There is only a short window of opportunity - about 10 years - for tackling climate change before the climate becomes even more unpredictable. Therefore there is a need for urgent and effective action within parliamentary lifetimes.

He described the three policy objectives of Stop Climate Chaos:

1. Politicians need to understand what global threshold in temperature increase is acceptable before changes in climate become extreme and unpredictable. They then have to understand that keeping below this threshold is the ultimate policy objective.

2. The UK needs to get its own house in order by setting a policy objective of reducing its emissions by 3% each year. This must apply to every sector, including transport.

3. The developed world need to take the lead in dealing with the injustice which is resulting from climate change. Dealing with climate change means looking after the world's poorest first. This will involve assisting the poor in pursuing development in a clean way and adapting to climate change impacts.

Sinha concluded by emphasizing the importance of action in addition to policy making. The issue needs to be popularized through engagement with the public which highlights the solutions, not just the problems.

Susan Kramer MP - Liberal Democrat Shadow International Development Secretary

Susan Kramer MP focused on the problems of existing development models and the need for new and practical solutions to lift people out of poverty and tackle climate change simultaneously.

She argued that huge improvements have been made in poverty reduction but inequalities are getting worse. Climate change is adding to this problem. She posed the question of how this situation should be tackled in the context of climate change. The existing model of development is resource intensive and dependent on a low-cost base. It is underlain by a belief that we can pursue this model and, given time, somehow come out the other side with the climate unscathed.

But climate change means that there is not enough time. We are reaching a tipping point. Consumption of oil is increasing in the developed world; China is the second largest consumer and its consumption is growing rapidly; in India growth is projected to increase by 4.9%. At the same time, the developing world is already paying the price for climate change. She emphasized the relationship with natural disasters such as flooding, and human crises such as the conflict in Darfur where water stress is one of the major causal factors.

She argued that there is an "inconvenient truth" that we don't have many solutions in terms of policy or strategy. The ultimate hypocrisy is to try to place an equal burden on the developing world as the developed.

The Liberal Democrats are proposing realistic solutions that are not just ideas. These include:

1. Green taxes, which place a cost on greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Developing per capita emissions allowances into a workable mechanism which will help to address the inequity of climate change.

Ms Kramer concluded that we need to start putting the burden of bringing about change on the developed world, both in terms of leadership and financial resources.

Sarah Mukherjee - Environment Correspondent, BBC

Sarah Mukherjee covered two related themes:

1. The issue of how to communicate climate change; and

2. The related role of collective action between environment and development organizations in tackling the issue.

On the first point, she argued that in terms of communication, development issues are much more straightforward because of their human interest. Climate change is more intangible and therefore harder to communicate. It is difficult to translate into meaningful statistics and scientists are reluctant to give up on evidence.

On the second point, she questioned whether environment and development organizations are making the most of their linkages. Referring to the Foot and Mouth crisis in the UK in 2001 she argued that the reality and scale of the crisis made different groups realize that only collective action could make a difference. For climate change, as evidence begins to accumulate from those on the ground, collective action is beginning to occur, but the communication of this to the public is still poor.

She concluded by raising the question of how environment and development organizations should convey to the public that they are working together and that the two issues are inextricably linked.

She identified four areas that need to be addressed:

1. Climate change is a very subtle argument to convey. Currently, communication with the public on this issue is not good enough and the environmental community is failing, in particular, to communicate with the working class.

2. Ambassadors are not engaged. Popular figures, such as Bob Geldof, who have a large public following, are not taking the issue, or its linkages with global poverty, seriously enough.

3. We need a more direct approach that more clearly and explicitly links climate change and development.

4. We need to address structural issues, including bureaucracy, which are stalling the process.


The following points were raised in the discussion:

- The ethical dilemma raised by flying: Trace argued that there is a need to see a reduction in tourism-based travel and to cost flights realistically. Barker argued that flying is not unethical - it is a small but growing part of the problem but painting a very negativepicture will cause the public to lose interest in climate change. Sinha agreed and added that the public need to be told about and encouraged to use alternatives to flying. Kramer highlighted the importance of tourism for many developing countries and indicated the need to focus on domestic actions that would help to reduce the frequency of short-haul flights within the UK and to the continent, e.g. high speed rail links, taxes and personal carbon allowances. Mukherjee pointed out that the aviation problem is great for the press because it is so intractable and it puts politicians on the spot.

- Food imports and climate change: Mukharjee highlighted that regional food sourcing is increasing and should be encouraged. Kramer argued that many developing countries rely on the international trade in food and it is crucial that we give them the opportunity to sell. Trace argued that we need to address food miles in the UK first.

- Climate change adaptation strategies: Trace responded that most adaptation actions required do not differ much from past actions; climate change is just increasing their cost - an issue which needs to be dealt with.

- The need for an all-party consensus on climate change: Barker described Conservative Party efforts to reach a consensus and argued that consensus means agreed targets, but there is scope for debate about how to reach them. Colin Challen MP, in the chair, raised the question of whether a consensus is desirable in a democracy, and the need for a structure to accommodate different approaches to the issue. Sinha developed this point, arguing that a political consensus is only a good thing if the three key targets in his presentation are satisfied. Kramer argued that a political consensus would only be useful if actual policy emerges.

- Climate change, poverty and biodiversity: Kramer and Mukherjee both agreed that the problem with biodiversity is that nobody understands what it means - a different term is needed.

Collin Challen MP (in the chair) then asked the audience to sum up.

Points included:

- Models of development: The developed world needs to formulate new models of development for the developing world, work out what these might look like, and how to put them into practice.

- Flying and tourism: The panellists' acknowledgement of the importance of tourism to developing countries was appreciated, but it was important to bear in mind that there is no general consensus on this.