The view from Washington
So here I am in Washington (the other one) in a homey B&B just eight blocks from the White House. I came here for a number of reasons, not the least of which is attending a conference called Climate Change and International Development (which was, by the way, recorded, and it is said that videos will be available here.) It was pretty good, and the less-public strategy meeting that followed it today (at the Friends of the Earth offices) was even better. Strategically, very little could be more important than the development folks joining the climate battle. Especially if they do something new.
There’s a lot to say here, and I’ll not say much of it. I’m hardly an impartial observer and it would get too messy. But I do want to make a couple of bottom line points.
First, Washington is a strange place. The people around here are not like you and me. They fall easily into a techno-legislative mindset in which even compelling moral appeals are judged more for their potential instrumental impact than their intrinsic moral value. So if I was to say, for example, that “climate change will be a humanitarian disaster” and that “we have to find a way forward that takes proper account of our (America’s) responsibility for this disaster,” a well-socialized WDC type might reply that, “Yeah, but can we leave that responsibility stuff out until after we’ve lined up 60 votes in the Senate?”
Second, we should be big enough to face this ugly truth — it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.
Third, climate change is going to be a humanitarian disaster. In fact, even if we were to pull off a true crash program — one that, say, had global emissions peak in 2010 and then decline by 5 percent a year (and such a program is, of course, “unrealistic”) — there would still be vast amounts of suffering.
The IPCC discusses this in its recent Working Group II report, by the way. One of the most sticking examples:
In some [African] countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent by 2020.
That’s 50 percent, by 2020. In other words, a humanitarian disaster. In thirteen years.
Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that not one of the enviro groups present at the strategy meeting (and, admittedly, they weren’t all invited) thought that this point should be soft-pedaled. Instead, the development groups that are (finally) developingclimate campaigns (Christian Aid, Oxfam, Practical Action, ActionAid, Tearfund, Care, and lots of others) are being encouraged to make the humanitarian disaster point. Turns out they have more moral authority on this point than the WDC environmental community …
The interesting bit is that some of the newcomers want to go a bit further. They want to talk not only about the coming disaster, but also about the fact that the rich world has the vast bulk of the responsibility for the disaster. And they want to invoke the polluter pays principle to argue that this responsibility should be translated into dollars. Payable to the poor and the vulnerable. And redeemable in terms of financial assistance for not just efficiency technology and renewables, but also sanitation and health infrastructure, support in meeting the Millennium Development Goals and other kinds of “human development.”
In other words, the adaptation debate is about to blow. The IPCC has primed it, and our friends in the development community are poking at it. It’s just a matter of time.