Flooding in the Philippines highlights urgency of climate leadership
The worst flooding the Philippines has seen in decades highlights the urgent need for US leadership to push UN climate change negotiations in Bangkok forward to help ensure the best chance of securing a global climate treaty in Copenhagen.
In the Philippines, with many dead and 330,000 displaced by flooding in Manila, climate-related factors are blamed for an increased burden on the health budget, which is struggling to keep up with increased cases of nutritional deficiencies and diseases such as dengue, malaria and cholera.
Oxfam research shows that the number of people affected by climate crises is projected to rise by 54 per cent to 375 million over the next six years, threatening the world’s ability to respond.
Oxfam International Senior Climate Policy Adviser Antonio Hill said the content of the new US Climate Change and Energy Bill due to be introduced in the Senate this week, and moves from US officials in Bangkok from today, would provide a stronger picture of whether the US was willing to step up and provide the momentum desperately needed in the negotiations.
Mr Hill said recent announcements by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the EU on climate financing, and Japan and China’s stronger language last week on emissions reductions and finance, would put extra pressure on the US to step up and signal its intentions on its role in a global deal.
“Despite good intentions and warm words over the past six months, the US didn’t deliver real leadership last week at the UN Climate Summit and G20. Either the US lifts its game, or the next two weeks in Bangkok could go down as just a holding pattern before a fatal nosedive in Copenhagen,” he said.
He said while many key countries, including China, India, Japan, the African Union, the Least Developed Countries and the Alliance of Small Island States, had shown they were ready to enter the final, more detailed phase of negotiations, intransigence on the part of rich countries like the US, Canada and Australia was proving an obstacle to progress.
Key sticking points remain the emissions reductions developed countries are willing to deliver – current commitments are around 15 per cent instead of the science-based 40 per cent reductions on 1990 levels by 2020 - and the amount of financing they will put on the table for developing countries to both adapt to the impacts of climate change and develop on a low carbon pathway.
The two-week negotiations, held in South-East Asia, one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change, is the penultimate negotiation session before Copenhagen in December, when a fair and safe global climate change treaty must be secured.
Mr Hill said that whilst last week’s summits in the US were forums for world leaders to signal their intentions, the UN negotiating process continuing in Bangkok was the only place where countries could forge an agreement to avoid catastrophic climate change.
“It’s crunch time,” Mr Hill said. “What is needed for a breakthrough is a clear commitment from developed countries – responsible for three-quarters of the carbon in the atmosphere - to commit to substantial finance, additional to existing aid levels, to developing countries.”
Climate change is already affecting South-East Asia: extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones have increased in frequency and intensity in recent decades, exacerbating water shortages, hampering agricultural production and threatening food security, causing forest fires and coastal degradation, and increasing health risks.
Mr Hill said a study in Thailand found that aquaculture farmers in Bang Khu Thian were spending an average of US$3,130 per household every year to protect their farms from coastal erosion and flooding between 1993 and 2007 – a fourth of annual household income.
“Once developing countries have confidence about the scale of resources rich countries are prepared to negotiate, then they can turn their attention to how they might achieve emissions reductions in their own countries, and work can begin on how a global climate fund could operate. These detailed negotiations must not be left till the eleventh hour in Copenhagen,” he said.
Mr Hill said it was crucial that this finance be over and above existing aid commitments otherwise decades of development gains would be reversed and millions more people would be plunged deeper into poverty.
He said the Copenhagen framework also needed to help enable smallholder farmers make agriculture resilient to climate impacts and achieve emissions reductions from the sector.
Oxfam calculates that at least US $150 billion is needed to help people in developing countries adapt to the escalating impacts of climate change and reduce their emissions, and proposes a fair and transparent global fund operated through the UN system.
The Asian Development Bank estimates that for Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam as a whole, the cost of adaptation for the agriculture and coastal zones (mainly for the construction of sea walls and development of drought and heat-resistant crops) will be about US $5 billion per year by 2020 on average.
Investment in adaptation will pay off, with the annual benefit in terms of avoided damage from climate change likely to exceed the annual cost after 2050.
For the next two weeks, Oxfam will have policy experts and spokespeople in Bangkok from countries including Indonesia, Bangladesh, Germany, Spain, the US, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Malawi, Australia and New Zealand. We can arrange interviews in a range of languages.
Events throughout the two weeks organised by civil society groups including Oxfam include:
Thursday 1 October:
Women’s Rally, Bangkok, 11am – 1pm (Rachadamnoen Road and around the UNESCAP building)
Celebrities including Miriam Quiambao (Philippines) and Oppie Andaresta (Indonesia) will join with hundreds of women from across the region to raise awareness of the disproportionate impact climate change has on women;
Tuesday 6 October:
Asian People’s Climate Court, Bangkok, 9am – 11am
People from countries including Thailand, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia and Nepal will tell their personal stories of how climate change is affecting them now, in front of a judge and panel of experts.
Interviews are available.