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Mitigation vs. adaptation

February 7, 2009

Mitigation is about air; adaptation is about water: that’s the simplest way of looking at it. But of course nothing is simple in this international climate fight club – the rules are still being written. Previously the first rule of climate adaptation was, you don’t talk about climate adaptation. The fear was that talking about fun adaptation stuff would allow nations an escape clause from talking about tedious mitigation stuff.

But from the talks in Delhi I sense a change is ahead for Copenhagen’s pow-wow in December. I sense it among the heads of state, of which 30 are here at the convention, who are talking now about dealing with changes that are inevitable because of the carbon load already in the atmosphere, not to mention the scary stuff ahead. Some of the scariest stuff for leaders is migration – something that already causes huge headaches for governments around the world and for which there is currently no adequate global strategy for dealing with, certainly not on the scale we will soon face. Demographics and money (population and poverty) are the other looming fists ready to hit our poorly adapted world.

And I sense a change in the science as well. Over the past year there has been a notable increase in the number of papers published that look at how we might live in a warming world, from biofuels to land availability.

But, as the frustrated Rajendra Pachauri (IPCC chair) told me this afternoon, with all this talk of how the developing world must adapt to climate change, there has not been any real help from rich countries in terms of funds or technology for this.

While we are now committed to the warming up to 2050, we nevertheless need to prepare for the second half of the 21st century (a flower in her first flush of youth, like myself, will still very much be around then). And that means mitigation. What I see from business heads here and around the world is that the time to sign up to emissions cuts may have come for developed nations as well as for emerging economies. But from conversations with Pachauri and Indian government ministers I hear the same ‘no caps for developing nations’ standoff. Will this issue continue to be the stumbling block to progress at Copenhagen as it has been for more than a decade?

Meanwhile the numbers of poor continue to rise, and rich countries are cutting their aid: G8 2009 hosts Italy has halved its aid budget; the US ranks bottom of givers in terms of aid as a percentage of GDP, at just 0.16%. We have the potion of building a new economy in which the world’s resources and money are shared more evenly, or, as Jeffrey Sachs told delegates this morning, the rich can retreat behind gated communities and hope that the poor die quietly beyond, without affecting the comfort of the rich. “We are very much heading down this second path.”

It’s been a fascinating three days here in Delhi, food for thought and my belly (the lunches were the best I’ve had at a conference). It’s been hot and steamy intellectually and temperature-wise, but also calm and thoughtful. In London, where the snow still lies thickly, my brother tells me the slopes in Greenwich Park could be classified as a “easy reds or hard blue runs”.

Tomorrow we head south to Kerala to the city of Trivandrum, where last I was more than 15 years ago – I lived in a small village for a few months teaching in a school for deaf children. Trivandrum actually has a new very long name in Malayalam (the local language, the name of which is particularly cool because it spells the same word backwards). Incidentally, this new identity-sure India that changes its place names from colonial ones, has changed Bombay to Mumbai, which ironically was the name given to it by its Portuguese oppressors “Good Harbour”…

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Evan permalink
    February 7, 2009 3:06 pm

    Etymology of Mumbai/Bombay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumbai#Etymology

  2. February 17, 2009 7:02 am

    Hello,

    I am curious as to what your thoughts are regarding solutions to the climate crisis. Do you think that the solutions that are being presented to us by government are in fact going to lead us to a point where we can live sustainably? It seems to me like the inherent structures of our social and economic systems are what is causing the problems in the first place and need to change.

    Do you think that we will succeed in restructuring how we operate as a global society before the consequences of our actions become our undoing?

  3. gaiavince permalink*
    February 18, 2009 7:32 am

    Hi Mark, thanks for the thought-proving questions. I’ve replied in my latest post!

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