by Kennedy Graham
Legislators make laws. But they are also politicians, and politicians can talk – Darwin makes sure about that. That became clear this afternoon, at the Rio+20 World Summit of Legislators.
Saturday afternoon we focused on climate change. The GLOBE secretariat has undertaken a systematic study of national legislation which, just in passing, disproved the contention that NZ is out in front and therefore economically vulnerable.
The chair of the UN Conference, Brazil’s environment minister, Isabella Teixeira, gave a short but spell-binding burst on how not to give up on the UN machinery. ’92 was the arrival, she said. A framework of interlinking multilateral agreements was laid down. The heritage of ’92 needed to be respected. Then it was idealism. Now it’s pragmatism – for the future we want. This was not her first rendition.
But the national presentations by leading MPs from two iconic countries – Bangladesh and Canada – told the true story of where we are, twenty years on. Theirs were more sobering, not to put too fine a point on it.
Bangladesh conveyed one apparently emerging syndrome. Bangladesh appears to have given up on the international community brilliantly cutting global emissions in time. It has moved on, from (failed) mitigation to (determined) adaptation. Acting on the scientific evidence, they are undertaking climate change disaster risk reduction.
The global stats ‘make it frightening’. Without climate change the global population/sustainability equation is daunting. By 2030, we shall need 50% more food, 45% more energy, 30% more water. But climate change is certain. And it is a ‘risk multiplier’.
A risk multiplier is not your friend. It increases the frequency and intensity of ‘natural disasters’, taking out direct casualties. And it takes out natural resource resilience, which weakens your capacity to resist the next bout. The UN Security Council has picked up on this, introducing climate change onto its agenda.
A 1 metre rise in sea-level will submerge 18% of Bangladesh’s land territory. Apart from city states, Bangladesh has the highest population density of all – 1,045 per sq. km. The global average is 45. New Zealand is 15. The loss of land will displace 30 million. Himalayan ice melt will flood in the short-term, take soil in the medium-term, and cause water stress in the long-term.
All this is based on the 2ºC threshold. That will be ‘very, very difficult’. The UN’s IPCC used to deal with the conceptual framework of high impact / low frequency. Recently it adopted a new one: high impact / high frequency.
So Bangladesh’s disaster strategy is no longer about disaster prevention and recovery. It is now about disaster impact reduction. Bangladesh has amended its constitution, to incorporate this new mentality. A Disaster Management Act is in draft, reflecting the new national strategy. Rivers will be dredged, to take the flooding. The removed material will form levees. The banks will be forested. New crops will be developed that are saline-resistant to the encroaching sea.
The Canadian was equally candid. “We shall not make it”, he began, “unless we change direction fast”. And “we shall pay the price”. The IPCC set the 2ºC threshold. The IEA reports that current emission pledges will result in 3 to 5ºC. Business-as-usual will result in 6ºC. What we urgently need is a global carbon price.
Now I am off to the Rio Symphony Orchestra. I have passed on the samba. I need to keep my head clear.