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Barb wire separates the outside world from government negotiators at the Johannesburg Earth Summit.

Governments

There is a fundamental irony and injustice at the heart of the climate change problem. Today's growing body of evidence indicates very clearly that the first and worst impacts of climate change are felt by the poor in the developing world. The responsibility for the problem, however, lies primarily with the rich industrialised nations, and increasingly the rapidly industrialising nations.

Since all countries are potentially affected by and contribute toclimate change, they should all be involved in the solution. Countieswithout a mature and entrenched energy structure stand to gain by"leapfrogging" to modern energy sources like solar and wind. However,for both practical and moral reasons, it is the industrialised worldthat must take the initiative:

  • Industrialised nations are responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions - both today and historically. In the past, economic progress was linked directly to carbon dioxide emissions (via the burning of oil, coal and gas to generate energy). Renewable energy sources change this, but only a small number of nations have begun to implement them in earnest.
  • Two billion people - one third of the world's population - have no access to electricity for basic needs such as lighting or cooking. Getting people the clean and reliable energy necessary for essential needs such as clean water, health care facilities, heating and lighting is one of the most pressing problems facing humanity today.
  • Industrialised nations have the capital, resources and expertise to jump-start their renewable energy industries. Obviously, countries with advanced space programs, established higher educational systems and abundant cash for investment are better positioned to implement these new energy technologies then countries still struggling with basic energy needs.

Perhaps part of the problem, though, isthat industrialised nations are also better positioned to adapt toclimate change. Their populations can migrate more easily, newconstruction (of sea walls, etc.) is more feasible and their financialstructures are more stable (including availability of insurance). Oneneeds only think about the different level of response to a naturaldisaster, such as a hurricane, in a rich industrialised nation comparedto a less wealthy developing one to realise how climate change willlikely impact people around the world disproportionately.

However,the industrialised nations must also realize that there will be a point(perhaps already reached) beyond which adaptation alone is no longerthe cost effective choice, and beyond that a point where simplyadapting to climate change is no longer possible.

Fundamentally, we have one Earth, and only one global climate.

More information:

Climate Analysis Indicators Tool by World Resources Institute

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