“We need to have more such research that takes climate change away from the discussion on drowning polar bears and talks about how it is going to impact us right here, right now”
In the second part of this four-part series, Baird’s CMC consultant Aditya Bahadur discusses the hope on the horizon for tackling climate change issues. Bahadur, who is also currently completing his PhD on climate change and policy processes at the Institute of Development Studies, spoke previously about his thoughts on the role climate change played in this year’s American presidential elections as well as the discrepancy between the industrialised versus the poorer countries in how they are engaging with climate change.
Where does the climate change landscape stand now?
AB: Basically the world is divided (of course this is a simplistic statement), but it is divided largely between the rich countries that pollute and the poor countries that suffer the impact of climate change. There has been an impasse between the stances on the emission of greenhouse gases between these two warring camps. The poorer countries that are facing the impact are saying: ‘We should not be asked to limit our own industrial production and lower the limit of greenhouse gases because we’re just starting to industrialise and we haven’t really contributed to this problem in the first place.’ And the rich countries say: ‘Yes, fine, we’ve polluted the world and caused climate change but you have to be a part of the solution if we are to move forward.’ Despite the numerous conventions, meetings and accords, there hasn’t been any crack in this major political impasse. That’s the climate change landscape as it stands now.
That said, there are some interesting things that are happening. For instance, I see a lot more hope for climate change adaptation than I do for climate change mitigation. Just to tell you the difference between the two, climate change mitigation are techniques that prevent the emission of greenhouse gases thereby preventing the cause of climate change. Climate change adaptation, on the other hand, are interventions that help poor or vulnerable people deal with the impacts of climate change, for example, shifting to the use of seeds that require less water in agricultural regions that may be experiencing climate change induced water scarcity.
What are some of these ‘adaptations’ or interventions that stand out to you?
AB: I can give you an example of a policy initiative, which is the National Adaptation Programmes of Action which are funded through the UNFCCC, so that’s an example of a policy that’s coming down with funding attached to it—of course, there are factors in how it’s implemented but at least it’s a move in the right direction. (Learn more about adaptation and the related concept ‘resilience’ in Bahadur’s paper: The Resilience Renaissance).
But at some point you can only adapt so much; at some point you have to prevent these problems from happening in the first place by mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Would you agree with that?
AB: Absolutely, I completely agree with that, but my stance has always been that in light of this political impasse, action on adaptation should not suffer. So while people may not agree on how to limit greenhouse gases, there’s really no reason to not help poor and vulnerable communities deal with the impacts of climate change.
However, unfortunately, I don’t think as much action and attention is being paid to adaptation approaches as needs to be, and I think it’s a missed opportunity because it’s a relatively safe area where we can make a tangible difference.
So what do you think is the way forward?
AB: People need to take analyses such as the Stern Review more seriously, and similar analyses need to be done again and again. Basically, the Stern Review is a landmark event in understanding climate change because it quantified economically the harmful impacts of climate change on economic growth. Around the time it came out ten years ago it was hugely popular. So we need to have more such research that takes climate change away from the discussion on drowning polar bears and talks about how it is going to impact us right here, right now. The other thing is that the rich countries have to take on the burden of responsibility to a certain extent; they have to acknowledge the fact that it’s their industrialization that has caused the climate to change and the burden of responsibility lies on their shoulders. So even though in the long run emission reduction should be the large goal, in the interim they can do a lot of things. They can provide developing countries with technology to develop in a more green way as opposed to pollution as the route to growth—so technology transfer for green development is one thing the rich countries can certainly do.
I also don’t think developing countries are blameless in this whole debate. On the one hand, no one can deny that their stance about not limiting greenhouse gases is not justified because of the historical injustice of how climate change has been caused, but they also have to realise that this stance is not helping anyone. The sea level is rising and people living on the coast will perish—so there’s no expediency in adopting this kind of a hard stance. They need to make some concession and also to agree to some rigorous voluntary and externally monitored reduction of emissions.
I also think developing countries have to take a much clearer approach towards firstly understanding what adaptation is and secondly positing it as one of their big demands from first world nations, multilateral and bilateral organisations in international negotiations.
Aditya Bahadur, a consultant at Baird’s CMC, is currently writing his PhD thesis titled “The Policy Climate for Climate Policy” at the Institute of Development Studie, University of Sussex. Stay tuned to ShopTalk for the third part of this four-part series. Bahadur explores gender and climate change amongst other thought-provoking issues.