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Douglas Alexander on Copenhagen – Progress Article

14 December 2009

Article by Douglas Alexander on Copenhagen for Progress.

For the world’s poor an agreement in Copenhagen is not a window of opportunity but a window of necessity

Last weekend tens of thousands of progressives took to the streets in London, Glasgow and Belfast and this weekend the Global Day of Action showed again the strength of public feeling.

Today, I am in Copenhagen to meet with representatives from the developing world and European Development Ministers to give political momentum to the climate change talks. More than 180 countries are represented at the talks and the stakes, especially for the world’s poor, could not be higher.

Global poverty and dangerous climate change are issues of progressive concern that are fundamentally intertwined. Climate change is a defining political test of our era and getting the right global deal on carbon could be more vital to tackling global poverty than even the Gleneagles summit of 2005.

The question is not just ‘deal or no deal?’ – it is what kind of deal we can get. Our aim is a comprehensive and global agreement that is converted quickly to an internationally legally binding treaty. We want an agreement to put the world on a path to no more than two degrees of global warming.

That means at least halving global emissions by 2050 and securing the necessary financing to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries to adapt to those climatic changes that are now inevitable.

Drought in parts of Africa could reduce harvests by 50% by 2020. Glaciers could shrink by up to 60% and the rivers they feed could dry up, affecting the drinking water of around a sixth of the world’s population. Increases in global sea levels could cause severe flooding, with 94 million people across Asia facing the threat of losing their homes.

But climate change is not some future possibility for many of the world’s poorest people, it is a present reality. The Global Humanitarian Forum estimated recently that more than 300 million people are already seriously affected by climate change.

I have seen for myself the impact that climate change is having in the developing world. In Kenya I met a man who told me that the seasons he remembered as a child have gone. He told me that in the summer there is drought and in the winter there are floods. In Bangladesh I met families who have had their homes swept away by the rising waters. In Ethiopia, I met women who had been forced by drought to walk further each day to collect water until they were walking 5 hours simply to drink from a watering hole shared by people and animals alike.

It is a tragic reality that the people who have done least to contribute to climate change – the global poor – are being hardest hit. By 2035, the Himalayan glaciers, which provide water for up to 750 million people across Asia could disappear. By 2050, some 25 million more children may be malnourished. By 2080, an extra 400 million people could be exposed to malaria.

Progressives came together in 2005 to make poverty history but climate change now threatens to make poverty the future. That is why we have not only a self-interest, but also a moral responsibility to the developing world to work for a fair deal.

While the historical responsibilities of the west in relation to climate change are unarguable, it is in the emerging economies that we will see the greatest rise in emissions over the coming decades. So a climate deal must include both developed and developing countries.

Of central importance in getting developing countries to the table will be agreeing a consensus around the financial support that the developed world will provide for poor countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change – and take low-carbon development paths. I believe that we can lead the way here as we did in 2005, ahead of the G8 summit at Gleneagles.

The Tories refuse to match the commitments Labour have made. I believe that it is not only right for developed countries to provide significant finance but it will be essential to securing a deal at Copenhagen. Given that climate change will affect all of us, it is in our own interests to help developing countries ‘leapfrog’ dirty technologies and find a low carbon path to growth.

Climate change is a defining challenge for our generation. It is not a future threat but a current crisis. Taking robust action flows naturally from our core progressive beliefs. It demands a progressive response because it is the world’s poorest people who are least responsible for the problem and it is they who have both been affected first, and will ultimately be affected worst. For many of the poorest people in the world, this final week of negotiations in Copenhagen is not a window of opportunity but a window of necessity.

by Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for International Development

Join the Global Poverty Promise campaign to make 0.7% aid spending UK law.

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