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17 September 2008 - Walter Fust, CEO

Transforming our Response to Climate Change

Walter Fust
(Richard Kalvar)
GENEVA, 17 September 2008 - Global Humanitarian Forum CEO Walter Fust issued ten key considerations relating to the human dimensions and impact of climate change.

Climate change has a human face.
Climate change imposes new humanitarian challenges.

Climate change has long been understood as an environmental or ecological concern, or a problem for the distant future. But climate change is having a real and devastating impact on people today. The world’s poorest – those who are least responsible for climate change – are suffering the brunt of the consequences. The effects of ever-worse storms, drought, floods and other climate-related impacts are putting unbearable stress on communities with already limited basic resources, institutions, services and infrastructure. The growing intensity of climate change is set to create one of the most significant humanitarian challenges of our time. To deal with such an immense challenge, some key considerations must be taken into account: 
  1. Climate justice must be at the top of the political agenda for climate change. Since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report was adopted in November 2007 there is finally unequivocal scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change and its impacts on human beings and their communities. We now have full knowledge of the direct link between greenhouse gas emissions and widespread and sustained harm to human life and livelihood. Furthermore, some 80% of the world’s population live in developing countries and contribute, on a per capita basis, significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than advanced economies. Polluters, and above all advanced economies, must therefore substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and recognize and fulfil their obligations to compensate and protect the poor and most vulnerable from all climate impacts they cause. They also have an obligation to enable developing countries to pursue sustainable economic growth. Climate justice should be the basis of the international community’s response to climate change and of any future global climate agreement.
  2. We need a new global solidarity to meet the challenges imposed by climate change. There exist only limited opportunities for individuals to directly contribute towards poverty reduction and development. With respect to climate change, however, it is every individual that is ultimately responsible for regulating their own emissions output. Each individual has an emissions quota beyond which they make a per capita contribution towards dangerous climate change. However, by responsibly managing or offsetting their emission profiles, individuals can directly contribute towards solving the climate problem. Furthermore, the human face of climate change is global. While its adverse effects are most acute for the poor and vulnerable, in certain cases developed nations are also severely affected by climate change and have already been adapting to its many impacts for a number of years. United against a common threat, tackling all aspects of climate change has greater benefits when carried out in worldwide cooperation and partnership.
  3. Governments have a responsibility to protect their people, including from climate impacts. In view of climate impacts, governments are obliged to take adequate preventative measures, and provide for the necessary disaster preparedness and emergency response. To ensure the safety of all populations at risk, every capability in this respect should be mobilized, including also the military.
  4. Climate change demands a redefinition of development. Today, development must not only be sustainable but also climate-proofed. When the Millennium Development Goals were agreed upon in 2000 climate change was not taken into account. Now it is a serious threat to almost the entire spectrum of development targets, including progress made so far. In addition, adaptation is more efficient when implemented in combination with development strategies. At the same time, development itself can be the most effective form of adaptation for most vulnerable communities – but it must be environment and climate conscious.
  5. Governments are urged to involve and empower their citizens to adapt to climate change at national, regional and local levels. Adaptation must be addressed at all levels of the political establishment in order to be effectively implemented. That said, much of adaptation physically takes place at the local level and must be appropriate to the immense diversity of social, environmental and economic settings. For this it is imperative that citizens affected by climate change are actively involved in defining evolving adaptation strategies and empowered and informed so as to implement them.
  6. No development without adaptation. No adaptation without development. No development without energy: we have to energize the MDGs. Development is put at risk by climate change, but can be safeguarded by adaptation. At the same time, it is exactly the underlying vulnerabilities of developing country populations that leave them most at risk to climate-related impacts. But the lack of any modern forms of energy for some 1.6 billion people is a major impediment to development progress aimed at reducing those underlying vulnerabilities. It also impedes attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). So there is an urgent need to energize development and the MDGs by providing access to modern energy services for the poor. Where this energy is also environmentally friendly there will be an additional positive contribution towards resolving the climate problem.
  7. Climate change is a threat to humankind, but we can turn the risks into opportunities. Much of the US$ 40-80 billion figures cited as constituting the annual costs of adapting to climate change in developing countries will represent revenue for the business community. Governments and international institutions should encourage investment in climate-protective, sustainable business in order to accelerate private-sector driven adaptation, particularly in least developed economies.
  8. Adaptation to climate change is an investment in human security and conflict prevention. Adaptation reduces risks for those exposed to climate change, improving the safety of vulnerable populations. At the same time, climate change itself is leading to diminished basic resources, such as water, food staples and arable land, in a number of zones. The heightened competition this causes is leading to instability and violence in a number of worst affected zones. Empowering worst affected and most vulnerable populations to adapt to climate changes includes improving the ability of communities to deal with resource stress which can prevent escalation towards, and fuelling of, violent conflict.
  9. Mitigation should pay for adaptation. But adaptation cannot wait. Adaptation needs quick additional finance. Those responsible for excess greenhouse gas emissions also have responsibility to pay for adaptation to the consequences of that pollution. Financing for adaptation must not be taken from ongoing efforts at poverty reduction and development. There should be no zero sum game in development and adaptation financing. The mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by polluters should be the principle vehicle for financing adaptation, since it provides a direct and measured link to polluters and emissions-tied funds. But adaptation is an urgent need and current global climate agreements and emission regulating mechanisms provide nowhere near adequate financing for adaptation. Therefore, there is also an urgent need to mobilize financing that is additional to available funds. Innovative and creative approaches will be needed to meet this immediate shortfall.
  10. We request access for developing countries to latest, green technologies. Those who pollute in excess have an obligation to make latest green technologies available to developing countries where these can have a positive impact on adaptation efforts and sustainable development. Governments should also take the lead in fostering a spirit of entrepreneurship to accelerate the spread of such technologies.



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