Many of us experienced an ‚extreme weather‘-year, no matter where on the planet we live. In Vietnam, it has been dry and hot for most of the time, all of us wondering ‘when will the rain eventually come?’. Droughts and heat have caused severe damage to crops in many places. In Switzerland, winemakers were confronted with the fact that harvests were one month early but only half in volume compared to ‘normal’ years. The financial loss won’t be covered by anyone and in spite of prayers and positive support for climate change action by Pope Francis farmers are alone when it comes to adapting to ever changing production conditions. Climate change is a serious business for those who are dealing with it for survival purposes, be it farmers, coastal communities, indigenous peoples or other vulnerable groups.
Meanwhile and far from suffering what the most vulnerable among us are confronted with, PMs and other country officials headed to Paris to once again talk about climate. It’s not the first time they are meeting to talk climate, as those among us who follow climate politics know. If you wonder what these meetings are all about, then you might click here to listen or read Reuters’ news, who gives a nice overview of what country heads had to say during the opening speech in Paris. ‘A lot of hot air’ as Bruce Wallace correctly says, but then again: could we expect anything else? For decades scientists have told us what the effects of climate change will look like. Ignoring all the warnings, politicians have used the situation to negotiate the best deal for them and their supporters. In the best case this meant big concessions for major polluters such as the oil and coal industries, in the worst it was simply a one-man show taking advantage of the opportunity to show off in front of the world.
If you think about it for a minute, would you bring your children to the next bakery, if they had a flu? Would you ask your Samoan neighbour to help out with a written assignment in Greek history, with which your daughter struggles? I bet you wouldn’t. In challenging situations we need specialists and experts. For climate concerns this means environmental and social scientists, producers affected by climate change and all those suffering from it already.
Say you are not sure whether Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco or Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung know more about climate change than a farmer in Uganda, you might still ask yourself ‘what qualities can country leaders have who can’t even stick to their time limit?’, while addressing millions of people hoping for the long expected change. What about the fact that many of them exceeded their time budget as much as two to three or even more times, the US president even by a factor 4.5? Is that proof of serious business practices?
Climate change is all about time and money. Economic deficiencies are the main reason why not more is being done to stop climate change and economic efficiency would be the cure. However, for that we need people who understand the maths, and such who care about the costs of their actions. True, these ladies and gentlemen who attend the climate talks in Paris in lieu of the experts for whom climate costs matter don’t care about budgets, because they are always on the spending side. This applies to members from the different governments as much as to many NGO representatives. All they really care about is how much money they will get from climate negotiations and –more importantly– where their clan members can reach best into the pot before the rest of the money is being used for some fictional climate change mitigation or adaptation project.
In my daily work as an environmental expert I have witnessed so much money being wasted on questionable development programs that I came to think that it would actually be much better for the climate, if the money would not be used at all. In countries where corruption dictates all and any transaction, the more money that flows into the economy means more corruption and hence more accumulation of power and wealth. In Vietnam, the result is evident everywhere one looks: while the country’s economy is booming and major cities boost with venues that compare to those of New York, Berlin or London, the poor remain poor. Many of them would need to work for months to be in the position to order a drink in one of the recent built establishments in District 1 of Saigon, where few years ago people could buy a whole meal for less than a dollar. Meanwhile, the rich and those with access to the lucrative overseas development pots achieve a wealth that allows them to consume and pollute as those in the West. Eventually, climate change related investment programs achieve everything but a better climate.
So, when Obama claims that ‘this is a turning point,…this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet’, you should ask yourself two questions: first, ‘who is WE?’ and second, ‘what does Obama mean by saving OUR planet?’. Will they save us from their empty talks or did they decide that they use the momentum to make the planet their own?