Caroline Boin and Alec van Gelder
International climate talks in Bonn last weekend were trying to salvage December’s failed Copenhagen summit.
But some rich countries are imposing their own carbon limits anyway, and threatening to curb imports from poor countries that are not. We believe this will cripple the rich economies and harm the poor countries without doing much about emissions.
“It requires a major leap of imagination to believe that free condoms will cool down the climate,” said Caroline Boin, a policy analyst at International Policy Network, a London-based think tank.
She also questioned earlier efforts by the agency to control the world’s population.
Blame famine on trade restrictions – not on climate change or lack of foreign aid, says Julian Morris in an opinion article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal Europe.
This year, the UN’s “World Food Day” focuses on the pressing need for the world to adapt to climate change. But even before “climate change” became a political concern, the poor have been unable to deal with “climate” such as drought, storms and flooding – as a result of counterproductive government policies.
Governments around the world are the main barrier to plentiful food and effective adaptation to the climate. Government programmes in the name of climate change have already had terrible results – more than US$ 11 billion worth of subsidies were used to turn food crops into biofuels last year. This contributed substantially to the rise in food prices that helped push 75 million more people below the hunger threshold.
While there may be a case for government to provide flood defences and other collective goods, most adaptation will occur at a much more local scale and as such is best left to individuals.
In a recent report, World-renowned agricultural economists Professors Douglas Southgate and Brent Songhen point out that farmers will likely adapt to global warming by switching crops, and adopting new technologies and farming methods – just as they have done for centuries.*
With regard to the relationship between agriculture and climate change, the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change (with 49 member organisations in 37 countries) makes the following recommendations:
- Eliminate subsidies to agricultural production; such subsidies lead to overuse of inputs and increase the cost of future output by depleting soils.
- Remove subsidies to water use (where water is owned by government entities, this would entail transferring ownership to private parties); currently such subsidies lead to overuse of both water and land.
Remove barriers to trade in agricultural inputs (such as fertilizer) and outputs (such as crops); such barriers raise the cost of food and prevent farmers from using the most cost effective technologies.
*”Weathering Global Warming in Agriculture and Forestry: It can be done with free markets” By Douglas Southgate and Brent Sohngen in the Civil Society Report on Climate Change, http://www.csccc.info/reports/report_24.pdf
World Food Day will be celebrated on October 16, 2008. The theme of this year’s WFD is “World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy.” See http://www.fao.org/getinvolved/worldfoodday/en/.
The World Health Organisation claims that climate change is responsible for all manner of health threats – from malaria to storms– and is calling for global caps on emissions. But experts contradict these claims:
- The geographical incidence of malaria has very little to do with climate, and is more related to economic, ecological and political factors. Malaria existed in Siberia as recently as the late 19th century and was present throughout Europe for most of history. Economic development and changing land use led to its eradication from the continent.[i]
- Deaths from climate related natural disasters have fallen dramatically since the 1920s, as a result of economic growth and technological development. With continued economic growth, the death rate is likely to continue to fall regardless of climate change.[ii]
- Overall human mortality from heatwaves caused by global warming is not likely to increase. In fact, cold weather causes far more deaths than hot weather. The effects of warmer temperatures are generally beneficial in the medium term and for most of the world[iii]
Global emissions caps would harm the poor by retarding economic growth and technological development. As the majority of the disease burden in developing countries is caused by poverty – particularly by the effects of poor sanitation and indoor air pollution – the WHO is undermining the very process that will make the biggest improvement to global health.
Neither is giving aid in return for emissions caps the solution. Studies show that aid-financed public health spending is particularly ineffectual – it is estimated that the average child death could be averted for as little as $10, but the average amount spent to achieve this in the health systems of developing countries is $50,000 to $100,000.
Philip Stevens, director of the Campaign for Fighting Diseases said:
‘If the WHO is serious about improving the health of the poor, it should stop trying to push emissions caps and focus on the real barriers to good health, such as taxes on medicines. For example, the Indonesian government increases the manufacturer’s price of certain drugs by ten times. Why does the WHO not advocate against these taxes on the sick, instead of promoting global poverty via carbon caps?’
“Could global warming bring mosquito-borne disease to Europe?” Prof Paul Reiter in Environment & Health
[ii] “Death and death rates due to extreme weather events,” Dr Indur Goklany in the Civil Society Report on Climate Change (2007)
[iii] “Illness and mortality from heat and cold: will global warming matter?” Prof William Keatinge in Environment & Health (2004)