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Grassroots pressure needed to beat climate change and poverty - experts

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 12 September 2014 16:15 GMT

Environmental activists protest during the 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) in Warsaw, Nov. 21, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

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New development goals won't deliver without political will to implement them - and that's up to us

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – New global development goals now under negotiation will not help combat climate change and poverty without the political will to implement them – and creating that requires pressure from the grassroots, experts said this week.

Kenya, for instance, has made impressive progress toward adopting renewable energy. At the same time, polls show more than three quarters of Kenyans are concerned or very concerned about changes in weather patterns driven by climate change, said Carl Wesselink, Africa director for the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

Those survey numbers suggest climate change is “a potential political issue” for African leaders, and in Kenya “people are clear they hold government responsible for addressing (the problem),” Wesselink told an event in London looking at developing country perspectives on climate change and the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which are due to kick in from 2016.

In Colombia, action on climate change has surged up the political agenda after disastrous floods in 2010 and 2011, said Pippa Heylings, CDKN’s Latin America chief. In his re-election bid, President Juan Manuel Santos called dealing with climate change key to the sustainability of the country’s development and its peace process with FARC guerillas, she added.

An international “working group” in New York charged with creating the new SDGs to follow on from the expiring Millennium Development Goals seems to grasp that climate change will play a crucial role in whether other goals – from ending poverty and hunger to achieving gender equity – are met, said Melinda Bohannon, who leads policy on the SDGs for Britain’s Department for International Development.

When Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, challenged working group members “to point to one SDG not fundamentally impacted by climate change”, it was “hard to point at any delegate who disagreed”, Bohannon said. “No one thought climate change didn’t matter to poverty eradication, health and education everything we’re trying to achieve.”


Still “it is not a done deal we will end up with a goal on climate change,” she warned, though other potential goals - on areas like reducing ocean acidification and improving energy efficiency - are clearly linked to cuts in climate-changing emissions.

Additional goals call for climate-related changes such as greener cities, sustainable consumption and production patterns, and resilient infrastructure.

One problem with the preliminary list of 17 goals from the group is that they say little about how national goals and targets will relate to the global ones, said Andrew Scott, a research fellow at the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

“One of the clear messages from the developing world perspective is that all this talk in New York has to relate to people on the ground, in the countries, if anything is really going to change,” he said.

More political will to act on climate change and make the new goals work is also going to be necessary, both in rich and poor nations, said Kit Vaughan, who directs poverty, environment and climate change issues for aid group CARE International.

To get that, he urged use of the term “climate disruption” instead of “climate change”, as “change is incremental and implies you can deal with it”. Pointing out that climate change is an economic, political and development issue – not just an environmental one – is important too, he said.

Getting real change will come down to “citizen action”, he said. The alternative is bleak.

“You don’t do development in a world that’s 4 to 6 degrees hotter,” he said. “You do war and pestilence.”

(Editing by Megan Rowling:

Interested in climate change and development? Join experts in our online debate on Monday, Sep. 15 at 1500 London time/1000 New York time: Can the Ban Ki-moon summit help build a global movement for climate action?

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