Small Islands, Big Ideas: Climate Change and Environmental Responsiblity

From November 11th to 22nd, the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took place in Warsaw. Over a period of 10 days, 195 nation states participated in the discussion of our next steps in the face of climate change.  The next session is to be held in Paris in 2015.

2013 has seen a variety of extreme weather events that  has affected every continent, and left millions devastated. This year’s UNFCCC began just as the world’s latest natural disaster, typhoon Haiyan, classified as a ‘super typhoon’, and perhaps the strongest typhoon ever recorded, finally dissipated (Strzempko, 2013). With estimated Haiyan damages of up to $14.5 billion  for the Philippines to clean up, the international community is reminded once more that those who are most vulnerable to climate change, are often those least able handle the economic burden that comes with it (Air Worldwide, 2013). Furthermore, in many cases these countries, which have less developed economies, are suffering an environmental onslaught, caused primarily by the impacts of past actions and decisions of ‘developed’ economies, which they are simply not able to afford.Left, 2012. Right, 2013

The question that is raised, is one of economic and environmental responsibility; if such countries cannot front the financial load – who can? And, more importantly, who should?

In the previous convention in Doha, the need to “establish an institutional arrangement…to address loss and damage in countries particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change” was recognised. Regrettably, up to now we have had a history of inaction on environmental issues, even when urgency is universally accepted on an international level (IISD Reporting Services, 2013).

This year in Warsaw, the Alliance for Small Island States (AOSIS) raised this issue again, calling for a Multi-Window Mechanism to Address Loss and Damage from Climate Change Impacts, which includes a “compensatory component”, bringing to the foreground the notion of environmental accountability. The proposal requests support, by the way of finance, technology and capacity building, from ‘developed’ countries. The funds are to be accumulated, taking into consideration each countries responsibility (GHG emissions) as well as capacity (GDP). Through this proposal, AOSIS has brought placed an emphasis on the global nature of environmental responsibility, and effects, and demands that this be recognised through economic means, namely through their Multi-Window Mechanism.

While the environment can be considered innately global in nature, as a race, we have striven towards the globalisation of our economic system, thus deepening these global connections. The current financial crisis, which has reverberated across the globe, demonstrates that we have succeeded, and now more than ever the actions of one, affect all, regardless of economic or political power relations. However, our interconnectedness is also one of our greatest strengths. The ability to share information and technology, as well as organise rapid mobilisation in times of disaster are part and parcel with our increasingly globalised world.

The message of AOSIS is clear: “We didn’t make this mess, and we cannot clean it up alone”. With these tools at our disposal, how will we respond?





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