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Shielding the ants from the elephants

Climate
Peru
2014-12-08-kiribati-590.jpg

The Pacific island of Kiribati is one of the countries on the frontline of climate change. Dep. of Foreign Aid and Affairs under a Creative Commons Licence

Humankind is in a face-off with the hottest 30-year period on Earth in 1,400 years. The new international climate change treaty must address prevention of further global warming in parity with building worldwide resilience to severe fires, storms, floods and other unavoidable impacts.

Former president of the Pacific island of Kiribati, Teburoro Tito, remarked: ‘It’s like the ants making a home on a leaf floating on a pond. And the elephants go to drink and roughhouse in the water. The problem isn’t the ants’ behaviour. It’s a problem of how to convince the elephants to be more gentle.’

The elephants have not been gentle. Recently, Kiribati bought land in Fiji in anticipation of being submerged by the rising ocean.

For those who bear the brunt of the industrialized world’s failure to phase out fossil fuels, preventing planetary warming, though vital, is no longer the entire solution. Adaptation to climate change, and not just mitigation, must become the focal point of ongoing international climate talks.

At the UN Climate Conference in Lima this month, the heart and soul of negotiations are countries’ INDCs, or ‘intended nationally determined contributions’.

INDCs are pledges which nations will individually volunteer with an aim to limit collectively the rise of the global average temperature. The finalization of INDCs will form the basis of a new, universally applicable and legally binding climate change treaty which must emerge no later than the UN Climate Conference in Paris next year.

In the view of some, the INDC of a wealthy nation should comprise ambitious emissions-reduction targets and a medley of financial pledges to assist poor nations in performing their own mitigation and building resilience to worsening climate impacts.

In the view of others, particularly the developed countries themselves, INDCs should not include mitigation, and developing countries should make a minimum contribution that is not contingent on aid money, lest the overarching goal, preventing climate change, be lost in a fog of ‘lesser’ priorities. In defence of the mitigation-exclusive INDC approach, the United States observed in its recent submission to the UN that ‘INDCs are not the only game in town’.

Mainstreaming adaptation through nations’ INDCs may increase the likelihood that climate-vulnerable peoples receive adequate support from the rich and culpable. But nations should not be able to offer adaptation contributions instead of mitigation contributions; to push either to the wayside will have a price-tag measurable in human life.

In the words of Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank President, ‘Dramatic climate changes and weather extremes are already affecting millions of people around the world, damaging crops and coastlines and putting water security at risk.’

Any solution that requires compromising either mitigation or adaptation will not be enough. We must shield the ants from the elephants.

Milan Gandhi is a student of the University of Queensland’s TC Beirne School of Law and a Global Voices Australian Youth Delegate to the 2014 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima.

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