DESA News Vol. 11, No. 9 September 2007


Time for action on climate change Time for action on climate change

A global strategy for the future involves more resilience, new technologies, mitigation efforts and a strong financial response

The warming of our planet is real. Arctic ice is melting, coral reefs are dying, and sea levels and extreme weather events are rising. Yet climate change is not only an environmental issue. It has a clear economic and social impact, and some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, who have contributed least to climate change, will be hit hardest and soonest. Increasing droughts, floods and heat waves are already leading to declines in crop productivity and food security, as well as rising poverty and conflict. To respond to the climate challenge, world leaders gathering for the 62nd session of the General Assembly this month will lay out paths to move the world towards negotiations on a new international agreement this December in Bali.

Quick and concerted action is urgent to confront the climate challenge, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has taken the lead by convening a special event on climate change on 24 September in New York to consider “The future in our hands: Addressing the leadership challenge of climate change.” By organizing the event, Mr. Ban hopes to convince Heads of State and Ministers to send a strong political signal to signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that the Kyoto Protocol in no longer enough, and that a new approach is needed. Climate change is an economic problem calling for an economic response, possibly embodied in a new multilateral convention.

Adopted in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the Convention has near universal support, and remains the central reference point in global climate change policy. The Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention and Kyoto Protocol will be meeting in Bali in December.

A new climate change agreement should succeed the Kyoto Protocol. This treaty broke new ground in 1997 becoming the first legally binding agreement under the UNFCCC that set emission reduction targets for developed countries. It entered into force in 2005, and comes up for review in 2012. Because of that deadline, “All countries must do what they can to reach agreement by 2009, and to have it in force by the expiry of the current Kyoto Protocol commitment period in 2012,” stressed the Secretary-General on 31 July in his address to an earlier General Assembly thematic debate on the issue. If Member States decide to pursue negotiations, an agreed text would be at least two years away. Only if formal discussions start this year could a treaty could be concluded in time.

Gearing up for the climate challenge

The future global strategy will need to tackle the problem on all fronts, according to the Secretary-General, with an emphasis on adaptation, mitigation, clean technologies, deforestation and resource mobilization. To this end, the high-level meeting during the General Assembly will seek the views of world leaders on adapting to the impact of climate change and building resilience, using technology and innovation, financing the response, and stabilizing the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world faces an average temperature rise of around 3 degree Celsius this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current rate, effectively doubling the pre-industrial level by 2100. Countries can curb harmful emissions and mitigate impacts in the long-term, says Friedrich Soltau, Sustainable Development Officer in DESA. But “the greenhouse gases we are pumping to the air now will affect us for two more centuries, so a global strategy for adaptation is therefore essential.”

Adaptation is pivotal in the regions such as the Arctic that will see the highest levels of warming, and whose natural systems are the most fragile. Sub-Saharan Africa is at risk due to desertification and low adaptive capacity of the economy. Small island States are vulnerable because of the exposure of populations and infrastructure to sea-level rise and storm surges. Large population groups living in major Asian river deltas, such as the Ganges-Brahmaputra and the Zhujiang, may also be inundated by higher seas, storm surges and river flooding.

The poorest of the poor bear the brunt

Vulnerability arises not only because of geography. Like the sinking of the Titanic, “It is the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit and vulnerable,” noted IPCC Chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, in April. Even in industrialized countries, the impacts of extreme weather events are evident. Between a half and two thirds of deaths that occurred during the summer 2003 heat wave in Paris, the IPCC estimated, were due to climate change.

Climate change represents, first and foremost, a threat for the fragile economic and social gains of the least developed countries and small islands developing States to the point where prospects for achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, are being compromised. “They are the ones with the most to lose from climate change and the least capacity to adapt to its effects,” the Secretary-General reminds us in his background note for the high-level event, “despite having contributed the least to causing the problem in the first place.”

Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, produces less than four percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. Yet droughts and flooding will jeopardize rain-fed irrigation, and further reduce the productivity of crops that draw nourishment from marginal soils. By 2020, the IPCC predicts, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa will be exposed to an increase of water stress due to climate change. On small islands, deterioration of coastal conditions, through beach erosion and coral bleaching, could wreck havoc on local resources such as fisheries and tourism, often the main sources of income for littoral communities.

A sustainable development response

To reduce the chance of disaster, resistance to the future effects of climate change is needed. “A key issue is how to make systems resilient, capable of responding to sudden changes, adapt and recover from the impact,” Mr. Soltau points out. A first step to that end is preparing for more extreme weather conditions through disaster risk reduction programmes, for example, to bolster public risk awareness, early warning systems and disaster preparedness. Disaster risk reduction, the Secretary-General has underscored, should furthermore be reflected in national development plans, as called for in the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015. This global strategy to reduce disaster risks sets out an agreed plan for reducing vulnerability to severe weather and for adapting to future threats.

Development also plays a major role in reducing adverse impacts. “Economic growth is critical to reducing vulnerability,” said Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang to the General Assembly on a thematic debate on climate change on 1 August. At the end of the day, “More resources means greater access to cleaner technology, and improved capabilities for addressing adaptation and protection from extreme weather events.”

“Take the case of the Netherlands and Bangladesh,” proposes Mr. Soltau, while both countries are vulnerable to floods, the Netherlands is expected to be equipped to face the impact of such eventualities while Bangladesh is not. “A very poor country lacking funds to develop the adequate infrastructure and adapt to the impact of climate change such as Bangladesh might well end up flooded. Adaptation therefore should be hand-in-hand with sustainable development,” stresses Mr. Soltau.

Financing today, investing in tomorrow

Similarly, external financial assistance will be key to assisting developing countries as they struggle to adapt, says the Secretary-General in his note. In particular, assistance should be targeted to sectors and countries which are already highly dependant on external support, such as agriculture and health in the least developed countries, coastal infrastructure needs in small island states, and desertification, drought and food insecurity in Africa, bearing in mind that some countries may be concerned that traditional official development assistance could be diverted to financing for climate change adaptation when additional resources are called for.

While the Framework Convention and the Kyoto Protocol foresee financial assistance, the funds that are currently available to deal with the effects of climate change are small compared to the magnitude of adaptation needs, explains Mr. Soltau. The parties to the Framework Convention assigned operation of a financial mechanism to the Global Environment Facility, a funding agency established in 1991 to assist developing countries finance environmental protection projects. In addition, three special funds have been established for this purpose, namely the Special Climate Change Fund, and Least Developed Countries Fund, under the Convention, and the Adaptation Fund under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Special Climate Change Fund supports adaptation, energy management, technology transfer and climate-related economic diversification projects in all developing countries. For its part, the Least Developed Countries Fund is intended to help those countries classified as least developed to prepare and implement national adaptation programmes. Since its launch in 2001, less than half of the $120 million pledged to the Least Developed Countries fund has been received. The status of the Special Climate Change fund is about the same. Of a total $60 million pledged, about $34 million was available in 2006.

Increasing available funding is crucial, especially since adaptation to climate change will cost several tens of billions of dollars per year in 2030, according to a report just released by the UNFCCC secretariat.

Technology for a climate-friendly world

Adapting to the impact of climate change and combating its causes require transfer of technological knowledge. Most of the technologies needed to confront the problem are already available: more energy efficiency, renewable energy, water-saving technologies, anti-drought seeds and land restoration. Yet low-carbon alternatives are still, in most cases, expensive than conventional technology based on fossil fuels, says Mr. Soltau. Pulling new technologies into the market – by setting energy-efficiency standards for appliances, or introducing tax credits for solar energy, for example – could foster commercialization by expanding take-up and cutting prices. In this connection, private investment in environmentally sound technology should be at the heart of any market strategy.

According to the Secretary-General, research and development through subsidies and other support packages can make a big difference in both the mitigation and adaptation realms. Governments should encourage research and development in new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and fuel cells, biofuels, clean energy technology, early warning systems and biotechnology, among others. Similarly, technology transfer from North to South and via South-South cooperation will be needed on an unprecedented scale. “But to achieve transfer of technology on the scale needed”, says the Secretary-General, “a powerful global incentive framework will be indispensable.”

Offsetting emissions via the carbon market

Strong incentives to curb greenhouse gases emissions have been around since the entry into force of Kyoto in 2005. The Protocol requires industrialized nation signatories, up to 35 countries to cut greenhouse gases emissions five percent below 1990 levels. The Protocol broke new ground by putting in place three innovative market mechanisms to lower the costs of meeting those targets: the clean development mechanism, joint implementation and emissions trading.

These mechanisms enable countries to take advantage of cost-effective opportunities to reduce emissions, or to remove carbon from the atmosphere, in other countries. The clean development mechanism, for example, allows developed nations to meet emissions reduction targets by funding green projects in developing countries. The idea is to award such projects “carbon credits” that can be traded on international carbon markets. Carbon markets have grown rapidly since 1997. In the first nine months of 2006 alone, according to UN and World Bank figures, up to $22 billion of carbon emission rights exchanged hands.

“Offsetting” is a precisely a fundamental principle of the Kyoto Protocol, and the high-level event on 24 September will be used to set a modest example for others to follow. As was the case during the three-day informal thematic debate between 31 July and 2 August, the General Assembly meeting will be “carbon neutral”. The entire carbon dioxide emissions of the UN Headquarters and the emissions from air travel to bring world leaders to the event will be offset. This will be achieved by investing in renewable energy projects in developing countries.

Common but differentiated responsibilities

Forests can also play a key role in mitigating climate change. According to FAO, the world’s forest and forest soils store more than 1.2 trillion tons of carbon, twice the amount found in the atmosphere and just over half the total in all terrestrial vegetation and soils. However, every year 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are lost due to deforestation, an activity that accounts for up to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions (35 percent in developing countries and 65 percent in the least developed countries) that contribute to global warming.

Curbing emissions, including those due to deforestation, remain a long-term solution to combating global warming. While emphasis on adaptation is vital for the near-term, the IPCC working group report on mitigation released earlier this year made it clear that unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt. The secretariat of the UNFCCC released a report last month in which it was revealed that an investment of more than $200 billion will be necessary in 2030 to return greenhouses emissions to current levels.

The cost of inaction is clearly more than the cost of action, and greater international cooperation, as called for by the Secretary-General, is needed. But the means to push ahead a post-Kyoto mitigation strategy “must be equitable if global consensus is to be reached,” Mr. Ban has cautioned. This means adhering to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” by which developed countries take the lead in combating climate change, which is enshrined in the existing convention. The European Union has set the goal of reducing greenhouse gases by twenty percent by 2020 and by another ten percent if other nations join in. But a “one-size-fits-all” strategy of setting reduction targets for all countries could constrain growth of developing nations, many advocate. A solution would be to give more incentives for developing countries combined with more ambitious emission reduction targets for industrialized nations.

DESA is the secretariat for a number of intergovernmental processes which deal with climate change and development, such as the Commission on Sustainable Development and the Economic and Social Council. Its Under-Secretary General, Sha Zukang, advises the Secretary-General on climate change matters directly and on behalf of the UNFCCC Secretariat. DESA also provides advice to Member States, at their request and in accordance with national development priorities, on capacity-building in the areas of climate change, and energy efficiency and development.

Information on the UN climate change agenda and the role of the Commission on Sustainable Development can be found at

Documentation on the up upcoming high-level event is online at .


The inclusive society The inclusive society

Participation is an essential ingredient of social integration

Some groups are systematically locked out of the benefits of development. They cannot escape from poverty as they are deprived of opportunities that are available to others, and have difficulty asserting their rights because of race, cast, disability, social status or other social identity. Creating an inclusive society means building communities based on social justice, and participation by all at all stages of decision-making. With this idea in mind, the DESA Division for Social Policy and Development is convening an expert group meeting in Paris between 10 and 13 September, in collaboration with UNESCO and UN-Habitat, intended to map out practical strategies to promote social integration through participation and inclusion.

The World Summit for Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995 introduced the notion of social integration to the intergovernmental discourse and national policy-making. The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, a key outcome of the Summit, pledged to make social integration, along with poverty eradication and the promotion of full employment, an overriding goal of development. The Summit viewed social integration processes as crucial to achieving “a society for all” in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play.

Building on the Copenhagen Declaration, experts meeting in Paris will explore pivotal elements for creating an inclusive society, clarify the methodology of analysis of social inclusion, and shed light on possible approaches to measure the inclusiveness of societies. This will be done through examination of case studies, and existing methodologies and indicators to assess the impact of initiatives to promote social inclusion at the local and community level.

All actors on board

Inclusive societies are promoted by social policies seeking to reduce inequality and create tolerant societies that embrace all people. The recently released DESA publication entitled “Participatory Dialogue: Towards a Stable, Safe and Just Society for All” explores dialogue as an important policy participation tool that can offer practical means to promote social integration. According to the report, three ingredients – inclusion, participation, and justice – are essential for constructing socially integrated societies. Inclusion refers to policies and institutional arrangements designed to include people in civic, social, economic and political activities, and it is an action taken by policy-makers, while participation refers to the active engagement of people, and is an action taken by citizens.

The meeting in Paris will deal with participation, and its connection with inclusion and justice. Inclusive societies, says the report, benefiting from citizen engagement, are “more resilient to social tensions and disintegration, and possess the capacities to manage conflicts non-violently through a culture of dialogue that is indicative of a healthy democratic system.” Socially integrated societies, in addition, build the stability necessary for productive economies and sustained economic growth. By contrast, a lack of investment in social integration implies risks in terms of political stability and security.

The costs of social exclusion

The causal relationship between social exclusion and conflict is apparent in the case of Sierra Leone and its prolonged civil war. According to DESA’s publication on participatory dialogue, social exclusion is now understood to have played a greater role than the diamond trade or political instability in prolonging the conflict in this African country. Eight years of fighting helped provoke a revolt among youth, who turned to guerrilla insurgency in response to their political, economic and social exclusion by powerful urban elites, rural chiefs and elders. Subsequently, bilateral donors supported youth inclusion in government and civil society projects to empower young people.

Similarly, in Nepal social exclusion has led to an unequal distribution of power, with exclusionary policies leading to the formation of institutions that further reinforce differences in status and wealth. Dalits and Janajatis, who constitute almost fifty percent of the total population in the country, have been kept out of mainstream development. Economic growth remains at less than three percent a year underscoring a warning in the DESA 2005 Report on the World Social Situation that the impact of growth on poverty reduction is greater when initial income inequality is lower.

Nepal is an example of how social exclusion creates various forms of conflict and ultimately affects stability and prosperity. In Nepal, failure to address the issues of exclusion in a timely manner – exclusion on the basis of caste, ethnicity, gender and geography – is one of the causes of the armed conflict. As a result, more than 14,000 people have lost their lives and the livelihoods of many people have been threatened.

Raising the voices of the excluded

Participation in decision-making can, in contrast, bring about positive change at the local and national levels. “Engaging with excluded people and empowering them to take an active role in decisions that affect their lives helps bring long-term benefits,” says Makiko Tagashira, Social Affairs Officer in the Division for Social Policy and Development in DESA and focal point of the meeting. She cites the example of Manshiet Nasser, a shanty town perched on sandstone cliffs in the desert outskirts of Cairo, where engineers and planners have begun work with local people to address basic needs. Residents urgently require more water, along with sewage treatment and refuse facilities. The innovation is that local people have been involved in drawing up a master-plan. No one knows better than they about the need to improve basic services, in an area of frequent sewage flooding and of eye and respiratory ailments that result from high levels of environmental pollution.

In other corners of the world, explains Ms. Tagashira, marginalized groups have also been empowered to run community schools or to change the language in which children are taught. Yet while programmes and budgets targetting excluded people are important to build capacity, she adds, they should be coupled with more mainstream action. The essence of a mainstreaming approach is to review whether the existing policies are inclusive and whether they incorporate people’s needs and concerns in all stages of decision-making, including planning, design and implementation.

For example, participatory budgeting was launched in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil by engaging local neighbourhood associations, NGOs and labour unions in city budgeting. The new local administration elected in Porto Alegre in 1989 decided to break the tradition of elaborating municipal budgets behind closed doors, by consulting citizens on how to spend scarce municipal resources. The experience of Porto Alegre highlights the major role local governments can play in promoting political, social and economic inclusion and participation.

These public consultations led to spectacular local development. From 1989 to 1996, households with access to water rose from eighty percent to ninety-eight percent; households with sewerage system soared from forty-six percent to eighty-five percent; school enrolments doubled and local tax collection increased fifty percent, reflecting people’s satisfaction with public services.

The number of participants – initially estimated at 1,500 – swelled. Over 45,000 residents now take part in the annual budget process. In Porto Alegre, one hundred percent of the budget is regarded as participatory, and other towns in Brazil have begun to follow Porto Algre’s lead. According to the DESA publication on participatory dialogue, the secret of Brazilian success is a real and sustained commitment by city management to transparency and new ways of interacting, along with continuous education of citizens who are being asked to take part. C├ęzar Busatto, Secretary of Political Coordination and Local Governance of Porto Alegre, will be present at the expert group meeting to discuss the challenges of ensuring participation in local design and implementation.

Measuring social integration

Social integration is a dynamic and complex concept that is hard to pin down, but a number of instruments and indicators for the measurement of social integration are emerging. In order to measure progress made in implementing the Copenhagen Programme of Action, Ms. Tagashira stresses, it appears useful to develop some specific indicators or a composite index to deepen our knowledge on social integration, as well as to measure progress in this field. Experts at the meeting – among them practitioners in local governments and private companies, academia and officials from the UN system – will review such methods. The question of how to make such an index methodologically valid and truly representative remains, though, as does the need to get beyond indicators that are overly context-specific. “Any indicator,” Ms. Tagashira reflects, “should be developed through people’s participation” in accordance with the Copenhagen message of a society for all.

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Mr. Yvo de Boer

The Kyoto Protocol is not enough

On 1 August, Mr. Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, briefed the press on the need for a new global strategy on climate change in the context of development. The UNFCCC Secretariat reports to the Secretary-General through the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Webcast: (38 minutes)
Audio summary: (5 minute)