EDITORIAL Climate change: Taking responsibility, aiding the vulnerable

As negotiations continue on worldwide goals and timetables to cut emissions of greenhouse gases, it is increasingly clear that industrially developed countries must take responsibility for the great bulk of the pollution that has caused global warming to date.

Developing countries said as much at last week’s G8 summit, when they called on the industrial powers to accept more stringent interim limits on the way to the agreed-upon 80 percent reduction in emissions by the year 2050.

In an opinion piece published in Accra, Ghana’s Public Agenda, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it plainly: The G8 leaders “have a special obligation to lead, given past commitments, the size of their economies, their disproportionate contributions of greenhouse gas emissions, and their responsibilities as donor countries.”

Ban called on the G8 and other major greenhouse gas emitters to “intensify their work” to reach an agreement at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen next December that will be “fair, scientifically rigorous, and comprehensive.”

Urging the developed countries to “make the first step” by agreeing to the developing countries’ demand to cut emissions by as much as 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, he also urged developing countries to “move substantially beyond business as usual” to cut their emissions. “But,” he added, “they should not have to choose between reducing poverty or reducing emissions. Both are vital.”

Ban emphasized that an effective agreement must include aid for poor developing countries to “help build climate-resilient economies, transfer green technologies and expand access to clean energy.” He also urged the G8 to honor “long-standing but unfilled pledges” to help poor countries achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals for social and economic development, including eradication of hunger.

The urgency of the UN secretary-general’s call was underscored last week by Grenada’s UN ambassador, Dessima Williams, who chairs the Alliance of Small Island States.

“For the smallest and most vulnerable among us, climate change is already here, causing damage,” Williams told the French news agency AFP. “It is a cruel irony that without adequate global commitments, the countries contributing least to global warming will be the ones most affected by its consequences.”