Friday, December 10, 2010

Green Development vs. Social Development?

Ban-Ki Moon has made climate change and the UNFCCC negotiations one of his highest priorities since taking office as Secretary General of the United Nations. For him, "the reason is simple, climate change affects everything the United Nations does: poverty, peace and security, and human rights. We cannot sustain gains in Millennium Development Goals or preserve ecosystems that sustain us. We cannot ensure safety and stability for the poor and vulnerable without progress in climate change."

The Millennium Development Goals that he refers to are part of a project spearheaded by the United Nations with a number of laudable goals anyone can agree with: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger throughout the world, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and ensuring environmental sustainability. While world leaders signed on to this agreement in 2000 to my knowledge, it has never been fully funded.

On Monday, UN Environment Programme reported that malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that 40 years ago afflicted only a handful of countries in the Caribbean and Latin America can now be found in most countries regionally. We should also remember that at one time, malaria was one of the most deadly diseases in the U.S.

There are likely many reasons why malaria is making a resurgence in these countries. Part of it may be that 40 years ago DDT was one of the most widely used insecticides to reduce mosquito populations worldwide. Despite its ban here in the U.S. it is still widely used throughout Africa and is still endorsed by the World Health Organization.

Broadly speaking, whatever happens in these negotiations will impact the UN's ability to successfully eradicate poverty or meet any of the other MDG's outlined in 2000. These negotiations are as tied to poverty as they are to economic growth. While the MDG's aim to improve marginal conditions many people live under in the poorest nations, that target is moving as the background environment continues to shift. Climate change is likely to highlight new areas of vulnerability that once were not there and cause regression in situations that had been improved by MDG's up until now. For example, just because an area is safe from malaria does not mean that it will remain free of malaria.

Poverty and social stability also motivate the economic goals of the rapidly developing economies of China and India. These two countries are critical to the success of any global reduction in greenhouse gases but they are in a very different situation from the U.S., Europe or the rest of the developing world. Parts of China and India are very wealthy and similar in many ways to parts of the West. Shanghai is an amazing city where you could find any luxury offered in New York City. However, leave the cities and you will find that the countryside contains an incredible number of rural poor.

One of the ministers from India yesterday pointed out the sobering fact that India alone has more people living in poverty than all of sub-Saharan Africa. Transitioning to a green, low-carbon economy is a doubly difficult task when the government is also trying to lift tens of millions of people out of extreme poverty.

While talks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions cannot get any easier by complicating negotiations with questions of existing poverty, at some point the twin conversations of climate change and the Millennium Development Goals have to converge. Otherwise we risk pitting green development against social development. BlogBooster-The most productive way for mobile blogging. BlogBooster is a multi-service blog editor for iPhone, Android, WebOs and your desktop

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