Climate and people first

Feature story - April 1, 2009
We've got a message for the leaders of the richest nations in the world who are gathering in London for the G20 meeting to discuss the global economic crisis.Fifteen activists unfurled a 164' x 98' banner from the bridge at the Guanabara bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the message: Climate and people first!

Greenpeace action in Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

We decided to send this message from the birthplace of two of the most important UN Conventions of modern times, addressing climate change and biodiversity.

The huge wave of hope created by the World Summit ECO-92 (better known as the Earth Summit) in Rio - that all countries would work together to save life on Earth - has vanished. After 17 years without serious action by the world's leaders to change the pattern of carbon-based development, the planet is close to reaching the point where runaway climate change cannot be averted unless we act now.

Wasted opportunity

But will the G20 tackle the economic and climate crises at the same time by greening their economies? Unlikely.

Wealthy G20 nations need to commit at least 1 percent of their GDP to green measures, and the remaining countries should do all they can to leapfrog dirty carbon-based development and shift to a renewable energy future.

The G20 leaders represent three-quarters of global GDP, three-quarters of energy consumption, and three-quarters of carbon emissions. So far, they appear not to have grasped that their continuing prosperity is not in conflict with preserving the environment, but dependant upon it.

Crisis? You call THIS a crisis?

In the long term, we don't face a choice of green jobs or dirty jobs, but green jobs or ecological and social collapse. Until climate change is at the top of the G20 communiqué and at the center of their thinking, they aren't just scientifically illiterate, but economically illiterate.

Science shows climate change is accelerating. A full-blown climate crisis raises the prospect of mass migration, mass starvation, and mass extinctions. It will make poverty permanent in the developing world and strangle growth in developed countries.

The decisions the G20 leaders make will affect the 172 countries not represented at this meeting, many of which are both the poorest and most vulnerable to the economic crisis and climate change.

The likely cost of climate change impacts is up to 20 percent of global output - more than the Great Depression and both World Wars combined - in addition to the human deaths and species extinctions, according to former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern

Save forests to help stop climate change

Developing countries must also take responsibility to fight global warming,  in particular those that host tropical rainforests. Brazil and Indonesia are the world's fourth and third largest greenhouse gas emitters due to forest destruction in their countries.  

According to the Brazilian Institute of Space Research, which monitors deforestation, close to 29 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest have been destroyed since the creation of the UN Climate convention in Rio 92. This has added some 8 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Ending Amazon deforestation is the major contribution Brazil can make to help the world tackle climate change. Still, Brazil must lead by supporting the establishment of a funding mechanism to stop forest clearance and associated emissions, acknowledging the value of the standing forests.

In Bonn, Germany, 129 countries representatives are meeting to initiate a series of negotiations culminating with the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December, where a global deal to save the climate must be reached.