Nepali Times
Climate change bailout

Maurice Strong 'BEIJING - A recent study by the Global Humanitarian Forum, headed by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, postulates that the economic and human costs of climate change could now amount to some 125 billion dollars per year and the loss of 300,000 lives. Many more are being increasingly affected, mainly the poor.

The financial measures that must be devoted to the successful achievement of climate security go beyond anything yet being seriously considered by the more developed governments and demanded by China and developing countries. This will not simply be one lump sum, but a package of firm commitments over time initially adding up to an order of magnitude of at least US 1 trillion dollars.

If the figure of trillion dollars and beyond seems unrealistic under today's conditions, we must be reminded that it is only a portion of what the United States alone has spent in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in current attempts to bailout its major financial institutions and revive its flagging economy. The climate change crisis is in even greater need of a bailout than the economic and financial crisis, though both are inextricably related.

We are the wealthiest civilization ever. Can we really accept that we can not afford to save ourselves and future generations?

Fortunately, the problem is more tractable now that we can manage our civilization more effectively with our increasingly sophisticated information technology. Resource-poor Japan and Korea, for example, have built their success on the development of advanced technologies and high rates of investment in educational and research capacities. China too is fast becoming a knowledge and technology based economy.

But there is still work to do. First of all we need a new economic paradigm which integrates the disciplines of traditional economics with the new insights of ecological economics.This 'new economics' must provide the theoretical underpinnings for a system that incorporates into economic pricing and national accounts the real values of the environment and services which nature provides. It must include fiscal and regulatory regimes with positive incentives for the achievement of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

In a market economy which drives the processes of globalization, the market provides the signals that motivate sustainable development. This means shifting taxes to products and practices which are environmentally and socially harmful from those which are least harmful. In effect, getting the prices right. No nation can do this alone without disadvantaging its own economy; it can only be effectively done within an internationally agreed framework.

The forthcoming meeting of the parties to the Climate Change Convention in Copenhagen (December 7-18) will be one of the most important and one of the most difficult international agreements ever attempted. It is an ominous paradox that as our future depends on unprecedented levels of cooperation we are experiencing growing competition and division, motivated both by self-interest and differing values.

At the same time, there's little evidence that governments are prepared to undertake the kind of commitments that will lead us to this new era. The countries, the organisations and the people participating in this dialogue will clearly have a critically important, indeed I would say decisive, role to play in Copenhagen.

Let us all give this the highest priority in our own lives that we expect from governments.


Maurice Strong was the Secretary General of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, first Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Secretary General of the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)