The Importance of Climate Change Considerations in Development Issues

I have been fairly surprised by the reaction of fellow development students when I mention my interest in climate change. The underlying feeling might be well characterised by something Anthony Costello, head of the Centre for International Health and Development at University College London, said recently (May 14, 2009): “[Climate change is] not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation”. But as his unit’s report on global health identifies climate change as the biggest threat to world health today, and other international commissions* similarly emphasise the centrality of the climate change issues in 21st century development, the view of climate change as a ‘green’ environmental cause separate and secondary to ‘red’ development is still prevalent, at least in my academic circles.

I like polar bears, and I love a nice walk in the woods, but my interest in climate change has little to do with ‘hippy’ environmentality. Rather, I realise that my, and thousands of others’, ‘red’ commitment to improving livelihoods and empowerment of the poor and marginalized around the world is at risk of being in vain if the changing environment is not taken into account.

There are three conceptually distinct climate change policy agendas. Mitigation policy concerns itself with reduction of the future extent of climate change, and in particular greenhouse gas reduction schemes. Closely related is the question of future energy sustainability. Thirdly, in view that the effect of past greenhouse gas emissions are already being felt today and effects of present emissions will be felt into the future, climate change adaptation is of fundamental importance. The interaction of all three of these arenas with development goals needs to be addressed by all in the development industry.

Of particular interest to me, and to the work of UYDO and micro-level projects in general, is the need to consider climate change coping and adaptive capacity within one’s conception of livelihoods. For example, the medium to long term criteria of success of microcredit for income generating purposes must consider to what extent fledgling businesses can cope and adapt to climate shocks. With this consideration in mind maybe hardy goats are a better farming investment than chickens (which are more weather affected), or buying salinity-resistant seeds is worth it despite extra costs (where sea level rises cause increasing salinity of nearby soils).

Furthermore where NGOs are already on the ground providing business and other technical advice, education on the local threats of climate change should be included in the ‘curriculum’. Where understanding about the potential effects of climate change is slight, simply explaining that a ‘bad year’ may not be an exception any longer can be the most powerful capacity enhancing mechanism. Information is key to good business decisions.
Links

* Commission on Climate change and Development presents its final report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Statement to the 17th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development

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