PETER O. ZIERLEIN
Saleemul Huq has done more to help poor people and countries prepare for climate change than perhaps anyone else in the world. As a co-founder of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies in the mid-1980s, he directed some of the first studies of how climate change would affect the poor. In 2001 he joined the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London. There he worked to raise awareness among European governments, media and NGOs about the great injustice of climate change: it has been caused by centuries of greenhouse gas emissions by rich industrial countries, but its impacts–stronger storms, deeper droughts, fiercer floods, sea level rise–punish the poor first and worst.
The poor deserve help coping, argues Huq. Toward that end, he has helped expand the NGO climate coalition beyond the usual environmental suspects to include leading antipoverty and humanitarian organizations. The landmark 2004 report "Up in Smoke?"–co-sponsored by Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Oxfam and others–pointed out that climate change threatens to deepen poverty, violate human rights and create many more disaster victims. Thus industrial countries must not only reduce their emissions to limit future damage (mitigation, in climate parlance); they must also help poor nations cope with the impacts that are now unavoidable (adaptation). Huq’s other priority has been to help poor-country governments engage more effectively in the UN-sponsored negotiations that will decide international climate policy.
Copenhagen will be the biggest test yet for Huq and his colleagues as they fight for genuine and equitable solutions to climate change. Huq recently told me what to watch for at the talks–and how you can help.
You’ve said it’s not so bad if Congress fails to pass the Waxman-Markey climate bill before Copenhagen. Why not?
Waxman-Markey is not a strong bill. If the Senate passes it, that actually ties Obama’s hands in Copenhagen, because then the US can say, "We can’t do more than this." But if, at Copenhagen, we can get everyone else to up their ante, then Obama can go back to Congress and say, "Hey, guys, we need to do a much more ambitious package than we thought."
We need to find a way for everyone to ratchet up their level of ambition. The European Union has said it will do a 20 percent cut of emissions [from 1990 levels] by 2020, but it would increase that to 30 percent if others do it as well. Same with Japan: the new government has pledged 25 percent cuts, if others do it. "If others do it" is the motto now: we need a race to the top. That’s the trick that needs to be pulled off between now and December.
What are the priorities for poor countries at Copenhagen?
Obtaining a lot more money for adaptation to climate change is their primary goal. The latest studies suggest that adaptation will need tens of billions of dollars annually, not the smaller amounts discussed in the past. In addition, poor countries have a goal they have not had before, on mitigation targets: what do big industrial countries have to do to cut emissions, but also what do big developing countries have to do? The less developed countries have to stand up to the Chinas, Indias and Brazils, which they’re not used to doing and not comfortable with.