The folly of climate change

Some people still ask how climate change and poverty fit together. The people in Ethiopia could tell you. While Ethiopia’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions may be relatively small, the people of Ethiopia are facing the challenge of having to adapt to the effects of climate change – such as erratic rainfall, increased temperature, and recurring droughts. Last week the first National Climate Change Conference opened in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Marc Wegerif, Oxfam's Economic Justice Campaign Coordinator, was there and he shares his observations of the event:

There were over 400 participants at this landmark National Forum, and one thing all participants agreed on is that climate change is real, is happening now, and is a major driver of poverty. More extreme weather conditions are affecting agriculture, water supply, soil erosion and more. Despite the challenges of responding to climate change in a country that is dealing with widespread poverty there was a positive tone to the conference with many speakers emphasizing the opportunities that exist.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi opened the conference and called upon all national and international organizations to join the National Climate Change Forum that is being established to address the climate change challenges faced by his country. He praised Oxfam's previous efforts to help protect Ethiopia’s intellectual property rights related to coffee.

Tewelde Berhan, General Manager of the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority, described climate change as “the biggest folly in human history.” While outlining the vulnerability of Ethiopia to climate change he also painted a positive picture of a possible future if all adaptation efforts are fully implemented. Janet McKinley, Chair of Oxfam America, shared encouraging quotes from President Barrack Obama who has made clear his commitment to work as an ally with all those committed to clean energy and confronting the challenge of climate change.

Prime Minister Zenawi elaborated on some of the Ethiopian government's plans that amount to what he referred to as a “strategy of an essentially carbon neutral path of development.” This includes work on developing agriculture through the protection and regeneration of the natural resource base, substituting fossil fuel use with bio-fuels [unfortunately!], and increased investment in hydro-power along with harnessing wind and geothermal energy sources.

He was clear in pointing out the injustice of climate change which is that “those who contributed nothing to its genesis will suffer the most from its consequences.” The Prime Minister called for an approach of taking “common, but differentiated responsibility” whereby all work to respond, but those who contributed more to causing the problem, who are also better positioned to assist, will contribute more to the costs of adapting and implementing climate-friendly development paths. Ultimately he said “we will deal with the reality, however unjust that reality might be.”

Ethiopia is becoming a good example of a Least Development Country doing what they can to respond to climate change despite the injustices and limitations of resources. In this crucial year for the negotiation of a new global climate change deal Ethiopia, hopefully along with other African countries, can be a strong example and moral voice for greater global efforts to deal with the “folly” of climate change. Encouraging and strengthening this voice is one of Oxfam’s strategies in demanding greater international action to reduce the impact of climate change on people in poverty.

As Prime Minister Zenawi emphasized, we can “only adapt if we fight poverty.” As Oxfam's Janet McKinley noted, we should never see the situation as one of having to make a choice between development and dealing with climate change. Instead we must see responding to climate change as “an economic development opportunity to lift people out of poverty.” I couldn't agree more.

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