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November 16, 2006    

 








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INSIGHTS: Global Warming an All-Encompassing Threat 

{Editor's Note: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan steps down at the end of the
year after two terms in office. In a major address to high-level officials
from around the world at the UN Climate Change Conference in Nairobi today,
Annan warned that global warming could imperil global security.} 

By Kofi Annan 

NAIROBI, Kenya, November 15, 2006 (ENS) - I thank the government and people
of Kenya for hosting this international conference. You have warmly welcomed
thousands of people into your midst, and created excellent conditions for
the crucially important work on our agenda. Thank you for yet another strong
show of support for the United Nations. 

All of us in this hall are devoted to the betterment of the human condition.
All of us want to see a day when everyone, not just a fortunate few, can
live in dignity and look to the future with hope. All of us want to create a
world of harmony among human beings, and between them and the natural
environment on which life depends. 

That vision, which has always faced long odds, is now being placed in deeper
jeopardy by climate change. Even the gains registered in recent years risk
being undone. 

Climate change is not just an environmental issue, as too many people still
believe. It is an all-encompassing threat. 


AnnanSecretary-General Kofi Annan addresses the opening of the high-level
portion of the UN Climate Change Conference today. (Photo courtesy Earth
Negotiations Bulletin, ENB <http://www.iisd.ca> ) 


It is a threat to health, since a warmer world is one in which infectious
diseases such as malaria and yellow fever will spread further and faster. 

It could imperil the world's food supply, as rising temperatures and
prolonged drought render fertile areas unfit for grazing or crops. 

It could endanger the very ground on which nearly half the world's
population live - coastal cities such as Lagos or Cape Town, which face
inundation from sea levels rising as a result of melting icecaps and
glaciers. 

All this and more lies ahead. Billion-dollar weather-related calamities. The
destruction of vital ecosystems such as forests and coral reefs. Water
supplies disappearing or tainted by saltwater intrusion. 

Climate change is also a threat to peace and security. Changing patterns of
rainfall, for example, can heighten competition for resources, setting in
motion potentially destabilizing tensions and migrations, especially in
fragile States or volatile regions. There is evidence that some of this is
already occurring; more could well be in the offing. 

This is not science fiction. These are plausible scenarios, based on clear
and rigorous scientific modelling. A few diehard sceptics continue to deny
global warming is taking place and try to sow doubt. They should be seen for
what they are: out of step, out of arguments and out of time. 

In fact, the scientific consensus is becoming not only more complete, but
also more alarming. Many scientists long known for their caution are now
saying that global warming trends are perilously close to a point of no
return. 


AnnanUN Secretary-General Kofi Annan takes questions from the media in
Nairobi today. (Photo courtesy ENB) 


A similar shift may also be taking place among economists. Earlier this
month, a study by the former chief economist of the World Bank, Sir Nicholas
Stern of the United Kingdom, called climate change "the greatest and
widest-ranging market failure ever seen." He warned that climate change
could shrink the global economy by 20 percent, and cause economic and social
disruption on a par with the two World Wars and the Great Depression. 

The good news is that there is much we can do in response. We have started
using fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently. Renewable energy is
increasingly available at competitive prices. With more research and
development - current levels are woefully, dangerously low - we could be
much farther along. 

Spurred by the Kyoto Protocol, international carbon finance flows to
developing countries could reach $100 billion per year. Markets for
low-carbon energy products are expected to grow dramatically. 

But we need more "green" approaches to meet surging energy demand. And we
need to put the right incentives in place to complement the constraint-based
efforts that have prevailed to date. 

The climate challenge offers real opportunities to advance development and
place our societies on a more sustainable path. Low emissions need not mean
low growth, or stifling a country's development aspirations. 

So let there be no more denial. Let no one say we cannot afford to act. It
is increasingly clear that it will cost far less to cut emissions now than
to deal with the consequences later. 

And let there be no more talk of waiting until we know more. We know already
that an economy based on high emissions is an uncontrolled experiment on the
global climate. 

But even as we seek to cut emissions, we must at the same time do far more
to adapt to global warming and its effects. The impact of climate change
will fall disproportionately on the world's poorest countries, many of them
here in Africa. Poor people already live on the front lines of pollution,
disaster and the degradation of resources and land. Their livelihoods and
sustenance depend directly on agriculture, forestry and fisheries. 

Think, for example, of the women and girls forced to forage for fuel and
water in the absence of basic energy services. Or of the innumerable African
communities that have suffered climate-related disasters in recent years.
The floods of Mozambique, the droughts in the Sahel and here in Kenya, are
fresh in our memories. For them, adaptation is a matter of sheer survival.
We must make it a higher priority to integrate the risks posed by climate
change into strategies and programs aimed at achieving the Millennium
Development Goals. 

The message is clear. Global climate change must take its place alongside
those threats - conflict, poverty, the proliferation of deadly weapons -
that have traditionally monopolized first-order political attention. And the
United Nations offers the tools the world needs to respond. 

Regional and national initiatives have their value. But the UN Framework
Convention is the forum in which a truly global response is being
formulated. 

The Kyoto Protocol is now fully operational, and its Clean Development
Mechanism has become a multibillion-dollar source of funding for sustainable
development. 

This mechanism is an outstanding example of a UN-led partnership linking
government action to the private sector in the developing world. 


AnnanUN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (Photo courtesy UN) 


I am pleased to announce that six UN agencies have launched, at this
conference, the "Nairobi Framework," a plan to support developing countries,
especially in Africa, to participate in the Clean Development Mechanism. I
encourage donor countries to help make these efforts a success. 

I am also pleased to note that today, UNDP and UNEP are embarking on an
initiative to help developing countries, again including in Africa, to
factor climate change into national development plans - so-called "climate
proofing" in areas such as infrastructure. 

UN agencies will continue to bring their expertise to bear. But the primary
responsibility for action rests with individual atates - and for now, that
means those that have been largely responsible for the accumulation of
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They must do much more to bring their
emissions down. 

While the Kyoto Protocol is a crucial step forward, that step is far too
small. And as we consider how to go further still, there remains a
frightening lack of leadership. 

In developing countries, meanwhile, emissions cannot continue to grow
uncontrolled. Many of them have taken impressive action on climate change.
Rapidly growing economies, like China, have been increasingly successful in
decoupling economic growth from energy use, thereby reducing the emission
intensities of their economies. But more needs to be done. 

Business, too, can do its part. Changes in corporate behavior, and in the
way private investment is directed, will prove at least as significant in
winning the climate battle as direct government action. 

And individuals too have roles to play. A single energy-efficient light bulb
placed in a kitchen socket may not seem like much; but multiplied by
millions, the savings are impressive. 

Voting power could be similarly compelling, if people were to make action on
climate change more of an election issue than it is today and individuals,
through their purchasing choices, can put pressure on corporations to go
green. 

There is still time for all our societies to change course. Instead of being
economically defensive, let us start being more politically courageous. 

The Nairobi Conference must send a clear, credible signal that the world's
political leaders take climate change seriously. 

The question is not whether climate change is happening or not, but whether,
in the face of this emergency, we ourselves can change fast enough. 

{Kofi Annan of Ghana is the seventh secretary-general of the United Nations.
The first secretary-general to be elected from the ranks of United Nations
staff, he began his first term on January 1, 1997. The General Assembly
appointed him by acclamation to a second term of office, beginning on
January 1, 2002 and ending on December 31, 2006.}