Economic Committee Holds Dialogue with Senior Officials from United Nations Regional Commissions on ‘Economic Impacts of Climate Change’

27 October 2009

Economic Committee Holds Dialogue with Senior Officials from United Nations Regional Commissions on ‘Economic Impacts of Climate Change’

27 October 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Second Committee

Interactive Dialogue (AM)

Economic Committee Holds Dialogue with Senior Officials from United Nations

Regional Commissions on ‘Economic Impacts of Climate Change’

Panellists Share Perspectives on Region-Specific Initiatives to Tackle

Environmental Degradation, Utilize Renewable Energy, Reduce Carbon Footprints

With the well-being of the world’s natural resources and physical environment hanging in the balance, senior officials from the five United Nations Regional Commissions shed light on their respective efforts to protect the populations and economies they served during an interactive dialogue with the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) this afternoon on “regional perspectives on the economic impacts of climate change.”

Abdoulie Janneh, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said the continent contributed less than 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions but it would be the hardest hit by climate change.  Agriculture, its main economic growth engine -- responsible for 30 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) -- would be devastated.  Africa would likely experience temperature increases, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and more climate vulnerability due to its proximity to the Equator.

Continuing, he said that as droughts and floods became more severe and frequent, agricultural, livestock and fishery productivity would drop and water-related diseases would increase, exacerbating food insecurity and water scarcity, and thwarting efforts to achieve the millennium targets.

The fourth assessment report of the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) painted a bleak picture for Africa’s future if something was not done to stave off the worst impacts of global warming and other weather anomalies.  He said that by 2020, between 75 million and 200 million people would be exposed to increased water stress and yields from rain-fed agriculture would drop by up to 50 per cent.  By the end of the century, sea-level rise would affect low-lying coastal areas, and by 2080, arid and semi-arid land would increase by 5 per cent to 8 per cent, speeding up the continent’s already fast rate of desertification.

A temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius would mean a 7 per cent loss of gross domestic product (GDP) in Africa, while a 2.5 per cent to 5 per cent rise would mean another 128 million people would go hungry and 108 million would be affected by floods, he said.  Massive migrations resulting from climate change could spark violent conflict as people fought for control over and access to land.

For Africa, adaptation to climate change was crucial, although it would not be cheap.  The IPCC estimated adaptation measures would absorb 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the continent’s GDP.  But the gain made could be eroded if climate change continued.

African Environment Ministers were partnering to present a common position and single voice to meet those challenges and ensure their concerns were addressed in the upcoming negotiations on climate change in Copenhagen, Mr. Janneh said. Furthermore, they were collaborating with the African Development Bank and were setting up an African Climate Policy Centre to guide Climate for Development in Africa, or “Climdev Africa,” a programme to improve climate-related data, and shape policy responses and action under the post-2012 regime.

Anhar Hegazi, Director of the Sustainable Development and Productivity Division of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), said ESCWA was grappling with a 2.3 per cent population growth - almost twice the global average -- as well as political instability, acute water scarcity and unsustainable production and consumption patterns.  The ESCWA region only contributed 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change could undermine national and regional development, with poor and marginalized communities hardest hit.

Global temperature rise would cause less precipitation and increased drought, resulting in an estimated 50 per cent reduction in freshwater in Syria and a 15 per cent reduction in Lebanon, she said.  Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq would lose an estimated 12 per cent to 15 per cent of their fertile Delta lands due to sea-level rise, while floods and hurricanes would hit the region with greater intensity and frequency.  Agricultural productivity would shrink and desertification and land degradation would spread.

Furthermore, climate change would exacerbate fighting over land and water resources in a region already plagued by political conflict, she said.  Floods and droughts in Egypt, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iraq would cause massive immigration and population displacement, and increased unemployment, poverty and health problems.  Tourism, a mainstay in northern Egypt and parts of the Mediterranean, and industrial and power systems would suffer economic losses. Urban development would slow due to reduce productivity, water and food prices would rise, and market chains would be cut, adding to the region’s financial woes.

“Are countries aware of what is going on?  Are they taking precautions?” she asked.  “The answer is yes, at different levels.”  ESCWA members had expressed their political will and commitment to sustainable development through several initiatives like 2003 Abu Dhabi Declaration on the Environment and Energy, a call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bolster reliable and affordable energy through a mix of traditional and renewable energy resources, and create a regional electric grid and gas pipeline.  The 2007 Arab Declaration on Climate Change expressed Arab nations’ commitment to integrate national and regional sustainable development strategies, and the draft Arab Framework Action Plan on Climate Change comprised a series of mitigation and adaptation programmes.

K.V. Ramani, Senior Adviser of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), spotlighted the economic impact of climate change in that region, and laid out the causes of energy insecurity.  The Asia-Pacific region was particularly vulnerable as fossil fuels comprised 91 per cent of primary energy production and new renewable energy technologies less than 2 per cent, except in China and India.

Two scenarios presented themselves vis-à-vis the global economic crisis:  a protracted recession that would erode the gains made in terms of renewable energy and energy efficiency and, alternatively, an economic recovery, which would allow deeper policy commitment to sustainable energy options, he said.  Dependence on declining fossil fuel reserves was unsustainable in the longer term and, consequently, countries should transition more quickly to sustainable types of energy.  Furthermore, available fossil fuels should be shared more equitably to avoid any extreme fall out from competition.  However, energy security was a natural area of regional cooperation.

The goal of the Asia-Pacific energy security cooperation framework was to help accelerate the transition to a low carbon development pattern at the least economic and human cost, he said, and laid out the challenges, as well as the response strategies with regard to the transition to renewable energy.  Among the measures was the promotion of an interconnected trans-Asian infrastructure for energy resources and technology trade and investment as well as the creation of regional reserves and stockpiles.

Jan Kubis, the Executive Secretary for the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), who also moderated the panel, outlined the main climate change effects in Europe, Central Asia and North America in general.  In Europe specifically, there was a risk of inland flash floods, coastal flooding and increased erosion, which would impact water resources, food and security, ecosystems, human health and settlements.  Water would be more available in higher latitude regions while in other areas water would become scarcer.  In Southern Europe, for example, summer water availability could drop by almost a third.

Concerning food and security, he said higher attitude areas such as Canada, Russia and Northern Europe might initially experience an increase in crop yields, but, he said, those were expected to be short-lived.  Meanwhile, lower altitude regions, such as the Western United States and Southern Europe, would experience great declines in crop yields.  The ECE region was only moderately affected compared to other regions.

Furthermore, he said there was a large potential for a reduction in greenhouse gases through energy efficiency, low-carbon energy supply as well as technological and behavioural change.  Estimates of the cost of emission reduction showed the highest potential in the building sector, the transport sector and in waste recycling.

He drew up a picture of initiatives in the region, saying that Europe had led the global effort to control greenhouse gas emissions and that 30 of the 31 countries committed to the reductions contained Kyoto Protocol were ECE economies.  Additionally, the region had various programmes, conventions and partnerships that promoted energy efficiency, supported design and implementation of adaptation strategies and strengthened regional environmental governance.

Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), discussed climate change in that region in the wake of the financial crisis.  The economic downturn had severely impacted global trade but that a subdued recovery was projected to take place next year.  In the post-crisis world, she argued that growth and trade would plateau at lower levels; that growth in international trade will be more lacklustre and that competition for markets will be more ferocious.  Against that backdrop, climate change would demand the adoption of new, low-carbon production and trade patterns that would require substantial investment.

If the world continued with business as usual, the world would be in “serious trouble” by the next century, she said, laying out several different scenarios of the future, based on scientific evidence.  In her region, studies had been done on the accumulated cost of doing nothing versus doing something with regard to climate change, and the study showed a wide difference between the countries.  Another study had been done on the impact of climate change across sectors of the economy, which showed that, every decade, the cost of natural disasters increase and eventually become exponential for all sectors.

With regard to the model for the future, she said that carbon footprint would be a key to a country’s competitiveness and that adaptation and mitigation policies required long-term planning in infrastructure, transport, land use, trade and investments as well as energy production.  She also warned that if no meaningful multilateral agreement was reached, the world would see increased protectionists measures.  Economic growth with less pollution was still possible. Compared to other regions, Latin America and the Caribbean could improve energy efficiency and diversify energy sources at a relatively low cost.  That would enable the region to cash in on additional international financial and technological flows and further its own development priorities.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.