Acclimatising to change

The world at last seems to be waking up to climate change. But are government initiatives being driven by an awareness of environmental priorities or by other means? Phil Moore reports

The United States is in a unique position to address climate change, but the continued fudging over the Kyoto protocol and the US administration’s reluctance to engage with the issue suggest the nature of climate change itself is not a top priority.

Yet the issue seems to have found itself onto the White House agenda by other means. A National Intelligence Assessment statement (the NIC is a centre of strategic thinking within the US government which analyses foreign policy issues) in June considered the ‘implications of global climate change for US national security interests by 2030’.

Prompted by the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) Fourth Assessment - alongside US based climate research – the NIC concluded: ‘…that the most significant impact for the United States will be indirect and result from climate-driven effects on many other countries and their potential to seriously affect US national security interests.’

It appears that global warming, in itself, is not enough to shake the West Wing. Presented as a problem of national security however, action looks more likely.

Meanwhile in the UK our renewable energy policy seems to have drawn strength from a similar source. A £60 billion renewable energy programme recently outlined by Brown aims to source 15 % of energy use from renewables by 2020 compared with today’s 1.5%. In detailing how the creation of jobs will benefit the country Brown’s insistence on economy and growth nicely fits in with addressing the causes of climate change.

On his first speech about climate change as Prime Minister, Brown said: “Building our own low carbon economy offers us the chance to create thousands of new British businesses, hundreds of thousands of new British jobs and a vast new export market in which Britain can be a world leader.”

Under the patronage of business Brown’s vision of a ‘fourth technological revolution’ also looks toward the climate change challenge.

And it’s not just the world’s economic leaders who have decided to confront climate change from motives other than environmental concerns. The Maldives government has tabled a resolution calling for a study to explore the relationship between climate change and human rights.

The Maldives is under serious threat from climate change with rising sea levels resulting in 80% of its 1,200 islands being no more than one metre above sea level. For the people who live on those islands, climate change is a real and present issue.

In a press conference on the initiative the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Shahid, said that climate change is a life or death issue. The implication: climate change could be seen as a violation of Maldivians’ right to life. By highlighting this connection with a UN study the hope is to create awareness of the human rights implications of climate change.

So finally we may see concerted global action on climate change. But whether the responses are driven by a concern for the environment or rather more domestic anxieties remains to be seen.

This article first appeared in the Ecologist July 2008

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