Dangers of current disaster and climate change policies
IPN Opinion article
China Post (Taiwan)
The idea that the world will be increasingly assaulted by ever-deadlier cyclones, hurricanes and floods as global warming gathers pace is now firmly lodged in the public imagination, aided by apocalyptic movies such as Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and scare stories from green groups. But a century's worth of data on deaths and damage from extreme weather and climate events contradict these claims. What's worse, the ideas for reducing global warming are the real recipe for disaster.
The possibility of a climate treaty negotiated in Copenhagen later this year holds the promise that today's wealthy countries will transfer substantial portions of their emission reduction obligations to developing countries. Developing countries are, however, holding out for a multi-million dollar adaptation fund to be filled by the developed countries. The argument, supported by many guilt-laden inhabitants of the rich countries, is that developing countries are owed the money because developed countries are responsible for most of the present-day greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The prospect of capturing a share of these extraordinarily large sums has emboldened opportunistic and cynical U.N. agencies to jump on the climate change bandwagon. But in doing this, they devalue their own missions: they subordinate them to climate change even though their own missions, if fulfilled, would alleviate real global problems whereas reducing climate change would limit a hypothetical problem. In effect, they are trading a real bird in the hand for one in the bush Ã³ one that may not even be there.
Take the U.N. Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, meeting in Geneva last week. In opening, Sir John Holmes, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Chair of the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), claimed that 'we know that climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of weather and climate hazards.' But if climate change has really increased the frequency and intensity of weather and climate hazards, it is not evident in long term data on deaths from such disasters. Global average annual mortality from such events has, in fact, declined by 95 percent since the 1920s despite a tripling of the global population. Deaths from droughts, which were responsible for 59 percent of the death toll from extreme weather and climate events from 1900-2006, dropped by 99.9 percent since the 1920s. Flood deaths, which accounted for another 35 percent of the 1900-2006 figures, declined by 99 percent.
However, Sir John was correct when he informed the meeting that: 'disasters lead to poverty, and poverty leads to worse disasters.'
Unfortunately, the focus on reducing climate change, cheered on by the U.N. organizations, will be exceedingly expensive to developing countries even if, unlike developed countries, they are exempted from cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
This is because in today's globalized world, developing countries derive a large part of their incomes from trade, tourism, remittances and direct investment from developed countries. Thus any economic pinch to the latter will be felt by the former.
So impoverishing the wealthy countries will also impoverish the poorer ones, who can least afford such an outcome. To repeat Holmes's statement, 'poverty leads to worse disasters.'
<i>Indur Goklany is the author of Death and Death Rates Due to Extreme Weather Events: Global and U.S. Trends, 1900-2006, in the international Civil Society Report on Climate Change (2007) and of the book The Improving State of the World (Cato, 2007)</i>