The detrimental effect of climate change continues to make its mark. More than ever, populations around the world, particularly those from developing countries, suffer the consequences of global warming, paying for actions and choices of the polluters. Mary Robinson, President of the NGO Realizing Rights and moderator of the panel, addressed the crucial notion of climate justice and equity, the importance of which, she commented, "needs to be urgently recognized both within political debate and social based movements."
Is the right to secure our environment a basic human right? Yes, it is, at least for Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, President of the Maldives. Who -- as recalled by Ms. Robinson -- recently tabled a draft resolution following the Human Right Council, calling for a new universal right to a safe and sustainable environment. During the debate, President Gayoom drew attention to the particular vulnerability of small island states like the Maldives, where two-thirds of the land has eroded due to sea level rise. "This is a catastrophe of unimaginable proportion," he stated, noting that countries like the Maldives make a tiny contribution to global warming yet stand to suffer the most from its consequences. President Gaymoom suggested that a rights-based approach to climate change may offer one avenue of reaching an equitable and fair global settlement to the problem. "We want our land back. I have been trying to alert the UN General Assembly about the effects of climate changes during the past twenty years. Why has the world not taken action to rectify this situation?"
The key failure of climate change diplomacy, argued the President, has been its almost monopolistic focus on scientific cause and effect. "Climate change has been too often perceived as a scientific projection. The international community has largely failed to translate the important and hard-won scientific consensus on climate change into an equally compelling vision of how the consequences of global warming are being felt by people and communities around the world." In other words, the world has failed to humanise climate change.
The poorest are the first to suffer the consequences of the global environmental degradation. According to Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Himalayan glaciers are melting rapidly and soon the populations living in this region will not have safe water to drink. Moreover, by 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to an increase of water shortages due to climate change. A global agreement is urgently required. "Climate change is an environmental problem looking for an economic solution," stated Mr. Boer. Heads of State must be held accountable for the outcome of climate change, and a global engagement to limit green gas emissions is required, together with a strong action in adaptation.
Asked in turn to address the issue of climate justice, Ricardo Lagos, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change and former President of Chile, stated that "even if there is a major responsible party, we must all be held accountable and make some effort". He emphasized the need for collaboration between developing and developed countries. Even if the distinction between these two groups and their responsibility is unquestionable, a global approach is essential in order to prevent the damages caused by global warming. "Developing and new emerging countries must not repeat the same errors made by developed nations", Mr. Lagos urged. He also recommended to increase investment in the development of new technologies, highlighted the need for a multi-factorial response and strongly advocated for a new paradigm of a "just and sustainable development".
Technology continues to play a significant role in global development. But is it sufficient to outdo the effects of climate change? Sir Robert Branson, Chairman of Virgin Group, argued that scientists and engineers must work together in order to find solutions, such as a way to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the meantime, speaking as owner of an airline, Mr. Branson added that industries in general must pay for the pollution they produce and should be taxed. On this note Mr. de Boer commented that "taxation is only a part of the solution", and that trading schemes and regulations should be taken into account too.
The issue of massive lack of political will and leadership arose many times during the debate that followed the panel presentations. "Who in the world is in charge?" was the question posed by the assembly. "Nobody", was Mr. Lagos' answer. "Do not look for the address of people in charge. We are all in charge". Besides, the global responsibility perfectly corresponds to the global issue of climate change, as pointed out by Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Columbia University Earth Institute. "The heating issue is global, and does not only affect the poor. It's important not to take the view that is only about the poor people, because it's about the entire world", he concluded.