Striving valiantly

Environment ministers have been striving valiantly to mobilize international action. But too many of their counterparts -energy, finance, transport and industry ministers, and even defence and foreign secretaries – have been missing from the debate.

Climate change should be their concern as well. The barriers that have kept them apart must be broken down so that they can, in an integrated way, think about how to “green” the massive investments in energy supply that will be needed to meet burgeoning global demand over the next 30 years.

Doom-and-gloom scenarios meant to shock people into action often end up having the opposite effect and so it has been at times with climate change.

We must focus not only on the perils but also on the associated opportunities. Carbon markets have reached a volume of $30 billion this year, but their potential remains largely unexploited.

The Kyoto Protocol is fully operational, including a Clean Development Mechanism that could generate $100 billion for developing countries.

The Stern report suggests that markets for low-carbon energy products are likely to be worth at least $500 billion per year by 2050. Even today, it is baffling that readily available, energy-efficient technologies and know-how are not used more often – a win-win approach that produces less pollution, less warming, more electricity and more output.

Low emissions need not mean low growth or stifling a country’s development aspirations. And the savings can buy time for solar, wind and other alternative energy sources to be developed and made more cost-effective.

Efforts to prevent future emissions must not be allowed to obscure the need to adapt to climate change, which will be an enormous undertaking because of the massive carbon accumulations to date.

The world’s poorest countries, many of them in Africa, are least able to cope with this burden – which they had little role in creating and will need international help if they are not to be further thwarted in their efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals.

There is still time for all our societies to change course. We must not fear the voters or underestimate their willingness to make large investments and longterm changes.

People are yearning to do what it takes to address this threat and move to a safer and sounder model of development. Growing numbers of businesses are eager to do more and await only the right incentives.

The Nairobi conference can and must be part of this gathering critical mass. It must send a clear, credible signal that the world’s political echelon takes climate change seriously. The question is not whether climate change is happening but whether, in the face of this emergency, we ourselves can change fast enough.

Kofi Annan former secretary-general of the United Nations.