UN Climate Delegates Failing Everyone, Developed and Developing Alike

The proper response should have been easy for representatives of developed nations. They should have again highlighted the IPCC’s SREX conclusions, and explained that in their September 2013 assessment report the IPCC had only “low confidence” that damaging increases will occur in tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) due to global warming. Developed country representatives should have also cited the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report, also released in September, which asserted:

In no case has a convincing relationship been established between warming over the past 100 years and increases in any of these extreme events.

They could have then helped educate conference delegates by explaining that the number of tropical cyclones making landfall in the Philippines has not changed in over a century. Globally, we are near a 30-year low in worldwide Accumulated Cyclone Energy, a measure of total cyclone activity.

Instead, our representatives let us down again. They resorted to the feeble argument that loss and damage should be part of adaptation to climate change, already enshrined in the FCCC process, and that no new mechanism is needed.

After signing the FCCC, President Bush told a press conference:

I think the third world and others are entitled to know that the commitments made are going to be commitments kept.

He was right. It’s time to stop playing games with the poor of the developing world, admitting to guilt for natural events we do not cause and making ridiculous promises we have no intention of keeping.

Our representatives must start telling the truth about climate change and extreme weather, namely that tropical cyclones and other extreme weather events will continue to happen no matter what we do. Instead of wasting money trying to stop them or blaming human activity as their cause, we need to help people prepare for them.

A tropical cyclone of about the same intensity as Haiyan struck the east coast of India near the state of Orissa about six weeks ago. Only a couple of dozen people died because the Government of India was properly prepared. India learned their lesson from the tragic deaths of over 5,000 pilgrims when heavy rains and landslides struck the country in June. The Indian Met office had warned the state government to postpone the pilgrims’ march, but officials ignored the warning and catastrophe ensued. So this time, when the tropical cyclone was seen approaching India, both the state and federal governments evacuated about 100,000 people, resulting in relatively few casualties.

If the Philippines government had done the same, and had their storm shelters been properly constructed, the death toll from Haiyan would have been much lower. A similar typhoon struck Australia in 2011, a country which does have proper storm shelters, and there were no fatalities.

At UN climate conferences, adaptation and preparation for climate change takes a distant second place to attempts to stop what might happen decades from now. This backwards approach is happening all over the world. According to an October 2013 report from the Climate Policy Initiative, of the approximately $1 billion per day spent globally on climate finance, only 6% of it goes to adaptation. This represents the assignment of more value to the lives of people yet to be born than to the lives of those suffering today.