Saturday, September 16, 2006

Book Review: Just One Planet--Poverty, Justice and Climate Change

For those of us working on climate change, it is often apparent that a surreal disconnect exists between our perceptions of the risks we face and the actions of those in wider society.

How often have you walked out of a conference—where the deadly effects of climate change have been eloquently outlined—and looked around in amazement at the ungrounded masses? Planes fly off to the USA for weekend breaks, 4x4's drive by on the two mile school run, people appear oblivious to the impending climate crisis. In reality this disconnect is untenable because climate change won't only affect environmentalists, we have Just One Planet and we all have to do our part to avoid destroying it.

Marks book 'Just One World—Poverty, Justice and Climate Change' covers basic climate science, adaptation strategies and policy frameworks for dealing with problem in a just manner. Whilst the introduction to climate science is reasonable it isn't anything new for people with a interest in climate change. The real strengths of the book are in it's examination of vulnerabilities, its explanation of adaptation strategies (particularly how these can be synergistic with development), and it's look at international climate policy.

The danger represented by climate change varies depending on location, the key factors being the physical impacts of climate change and the ability of the local populous to adapt. The worst impacts of climate change will be felt in sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of Asia. It therefore looks likely that in many cases the physical impacts will be heaped on the most vulnerable.

Vulnerability of a society is not simply dependant on its degree of wealth but also on how its industries will be impacted. In developing countries such as Tanzania, Bangladesh the primary industries are agriculture, forestry and fishing, constituting 44% and 23% of revenues respectively. In the developed world, even where agricultural activity is significant its input in terms of GDP is not, in the USA and the UK levels are 1.5 and 1% respectively. This disproportionate vulnerability is a key problem for climate negotiations , particularly when paired with the fact that the wealthiest 20% of the world are responsible for 63% of historic emissions and the lowest 20% just 3%.

Mark goes on to explain that not only is adaptation later likely to be hugely more expensive than mitigation now but that there is a real injustice in how many developed countries are approaching this question. Looking at what the most economical course of action is not only disregards the inherent value in our planets biological heritage but also skews analysis overwhelmingly towards considering the developed economies. Where are the needs of the poor considered in an economic analysis?

But far from being simply a record of climate injustice and its institutionalisation Just One Planet goes on to elaborate on how mitigation, adaptation and development can all be effectively integrated in the developing world. With a focus primarily on the LDCs and with significant reference to the work of Practical Action (ITDG), Just One Planet makes some genuinely important remarks on the real threat to humanity that climate change presents us with.

We can't fail in our fight against climate change as to do so would be to abandon billions to the long term poverty, the mellenium development goals are nothing but pipe dreams if we don't take rapid mitigation and adaptation seriously. Currently the adaptation funds have been pledged less than half a billion dollars, considering that for example protecting the coast of Tanzania will cost 15 billion, these pledges are utterly disproportionate with the severity of the situation.

For anyone with an interest in climate policy, development work or campaigning I can thoroughly recommend this book. From a personal perspective I found the chapter on international policy offered the greatest selection of ideas that where new to me, particularly the malfunctioning of the CDM, the arbitrary basis for the three adaptation funds and the barriers that prevent proper integration of adaptation and development.

D Mark Smith, October 2006 ISBN 1-85339-643-5; £14.95, $21.95, €28.95
Published By ITDG (Practical Action) more Info on Development Books
Available in the USA through Stylus Publishing

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