Doomed Planet

The UN’s Hard-to-Swallow Climate Fare

dumpsterDistracted by papal fanfare in New York City last week, few spotted the Trojan horse being rolled along the left bank of the East River. It moved quickly, perhaps aware the seven-hectare UN HQ complex at Manhattan’s Turtle Bay was once the site of a slaughter-house. Then, in a masterly piece of bureaucratic theatre — and subterfuge – its cargo of climate-justice warriors was delivered safely inside what inmates dryly call the Peace Factory, and all without so much as a media murmur.

Football fans following the finals series may have missed it, but last Friday a new UN initiative was agreed by 193 countries: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They not only endorsed a 15-year commitment to end “poverty, hunger and inequality worldwide”  — a piece of cake, surely, for minds such as these — but also issued a response to the “demand for leadership on climate change” alleged to be rising from “voices around the world”.

With the unanimous vote, the UN’s eight 2000 Millennium Development Goals were replaced with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or Global Goals for short. Inside the SDG Trojan horse was a present for climate sceptics: Goal 13, which deals with climate change. But more of that in a moment.

The UN’s self-celebratory lunch was another medium for a message. According to the ABC, chefs prepared climate-alarmist fare – landfill salad, burgers and fries, but no viande de cheval. Made “entirely of food that would have ended up in garbage bins”, it shone a gastronomic light on the “extraordinary waste in modern diets” and, bien sur, its “role in worsening climate change.”

Under the SDG 29-page Transforming our World agreement, Australia has signed on to “work for an ambitious and universal climate agreement”.

We reaffirm that the protocol, another legal agreement, instrument or agreed outcome with legal form under the Convention applicable to all Parties shall address in a balanced manner inter alia – mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, development and transfer, and capacity-building and transparency of action and support. (Clause 31, page 6, here).

The country also has committed to the targets for Goal 13, detailed on pages 19 and 20 here, and to taking “urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”.

Australia is now obliged to:

  • integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning (13.2)
  • implement the commitments undertaken by developed-country parties to the UNFCCC to a goal of mobilizing jointly US$100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, and fully operationalize the Green Climate fund through its capitalisation as soon as possible.

What is going on here? Will the number thirteen be unlucky for, if not the Liberal Party, then at least our Environment Minister, who presumably signed off on these commitments without public consultation or awareness?

On the UN side, neat bureaucratic manoeuvring by UNDP Administrator, former NZ PM, Helen Clark, has whipped up a bunch of fresh national obligations under the rubric of “sustainable development”.

According to Ms Clark:

Ours is the last generation which can head off the worst effects of climate change and the first generation with the wealth and knowledge to eradicate poverty. For this, fearless leadership from us all is needed. If the global community collectively is prepared to step up to the challenge of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, then there’s a chance of achieving sustainable development – and with it better prospects for people and our planet.

According to UNDP, indulging its gift for exaggeration, “there is no country in the world that is not seeing first-hand the drastic effects of climate change.” As head of the agency since 2009, Ms Clark swears blind she has seen “the impact of a volatile and unpredictable climate. Our erratic climate is having major impacts.” This peril, she insists, means “a strong outcome in Paris will be a big step in the right direction.” Climate change suddenly has become as “an important pillar in the UN’s post-2015 era of sustainable development.”

Indeed, the original Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed in 2000, now have been superseded by 17 SDGs.

The (MDGs) were:

(1) eradicate extreme poverty/hunger, (2) achieve universal primary education, (3) promote gender equality/empower women, (4) reduce child mortality, (5) improve maternal health, (6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, (7) ensure environmental sustainability, and (8) develop a global partnership for development.

Spot UNDP’s new goals here (in bold):

(1) No poverty, (2) zero hunger, (3) good health/well-being, (4) quality education, (5) gender equality, (6) clean water/sanitation, (7) affordable & clean energy, (8) decent work/economic growth, (9) industry innovation/infrastructure, (10) reduced inequalities, (11) sustainable cities/communities, (12) responsible consumption/production, (13) climate action, (14) life below water, (15) life on land, (16) peace and justice/strong institutions, (17) partnerships for the goals.

The UN’s Global Goals now invoke pretty much every warm and fuzzy nostrum a social engineer or ardent redistributionist would wish to imagine, yet one cause remains conspicuously unmentioned: population growth. This despite the UN Population Division’s 2015 Revision of World Population Prospects, released on 29 July this year, which concluded that humankind is likely to greatly exceed the previous global-population estimate of nine billion people by 2050.

The current world population is 7.3 billion and increasing by 83 million a year. Assuming UNPD’s medium variant projection is correct, it will reach 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100. If a higher growth rate prevails this century, it could reach 16.6 billion people by 2100. India will surpass China as the most populous country in a mere seven years. Nigeria will overtake the US to become the world’s third-largest country in 35 years. UNPD’s report concludes that between 2015 and 2050, half of the world’s growth is expected to occur in just nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, the US, Indonesia and Uganda.

John Wilmoth, head of UNPD, was interviewed by the ABC’s Mandie Sami two days after public release of the 2015 Revision.

SAMI: Overall, would you say that this is a positive picture or is it one that worries you when you look at these numbers?

WILMOTH: That’s a very difficult question. The births have stopped increasing. The number has more or less stabilised over the last 20 years. But what is increasing is the number of people living at older ages and this is an enormous sign of success.

However, you can’t deny that the increased human activity in terms of consumption and production and the impact of human activity on the Earth’s environment is troublesome to anyone who looks at it.

To look at the change and speed of change that’s taking place, it’s troublesome to think about what this may bring in terms of environmental changes and how that then could alter the Earth’s ability to support not only human life, but life of other species. So I thought it was a mixed picture for me in terms of am I an optimist or a pessimist when I look at demographic trends.

At the Is This How You Feel?climate change installation  at Melbourne’s Fortyfive Downstairs art gallery last August, sponsored by  National Science Week 2015 and Inspiring Australia, there were 42 letters from international climate researchers on display. Ninety percent expressed what might be termed generational anxiety, a concern for future generations, especially one’s own offspring. Only five percent, however, mentioned the global demographic outlook.

One of the letters was penned by Dr Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and also a signatory to the recent RICO letter to President Obama demanding that climate sceptics be prosecuted under the same laws most often used against Mafia dons. Trenberth felt population was a bigger problem than climate change:

 The burgeoning population and its demands on resources is a bigger problem. We humans are fowling our own nest….  It was not so much an issue when there were just a few billion of us – not that long ago – but now there are over 7 billion living unsustainably….Now that is scary.

Despite more accurate data, ‘troublesome’ projections and recent dramatic increases – one billion additional people since 2003 and two billion since 1990 – there is, paradoxically, less concern about global demographic trends, at least within institutions like the UN and its agencies.

Those who worry about dangerous anthropogenic population growth are dismissed as neo-Malthusian alarmists and worse. They are urged to get with the main game – dangerous anthropogenic climate change — and the 2030 sustainable development goals. Go figure.

Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature’s Mighty Feast – Reflections on the Growth of Humankind and a frequent contributor to Quadrant and Quadrant Online.


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