Climate Change: How It Impacts Us All

60th DPI/NGO Conference: Climate Change: How it Impacts Us All

The NGO year 2007-2008 began with the annual DPI/NGO Conference, which ran from September 5 through 7; this year’s theme was Climate Change: How It Impacts Us All. The three days were filled with speeches by UN officials, experts on climate change, and people from all over the world reporting on the effects of climate change in their regions. Other sessions presented the needs of people in various parts of the world to prepare for the effects of climate change and ideas and projects that are addressing the new needs.

A few of the “tidbits” I gleaned:

  • In arctic Scandinavia, some parents carry rifle while walking their children to school, to ward off polar bears; as polar ice shrinks, the bears are unable to feed on seals and are migrating toward human settlements. Some towns set fresh meat out at a distance from their town to sate the bears and keep them away;
  • in 2003, more than 50,000 people died of unusually extreme heat:1400 people in India, and about 35,000 people in Europe, more than 14,000 in France alone;
  • Two-thirds of the coastal infrastructure of Africa will be destroyed, according to predictions;
  • Well-trained and well-equipped meteorologists are an important factor: they allow leaders to make plans based on accurate information about coming storms or changing conditions like drought and flood.

A constant theme was that there are two major aspects of adjusting to climate change:

  • mitigation (changing our ways to curb human acceleration of the changes) and
  • adaptation (finding ways to live with the results of the changes).

Adaptations range from developing new types of agriculture to relocating those whose territories will disappear.  The poorest people and countries, of course, have the fewest resources to make the needed adaptations.

A complication to mitigating or adapting to climate change is the effort to create “sustainable development” especially in areas where large portions of the population live on less than the equivalent of a dollar a day.  This means helping them bring themselves out of poverty without polluting the environment and also preparing to adapt the new development to a new environment as the climate changes.

Perhaps the most memorable statement was made by Sr. Joan Kirby, co-chair of the conference: “Darfur is the only first of the climate change wars.”

The Midday Workshops focused on solutions.  Some interesting ones were soil-less agriculture in tall towers, for cities; a small organic farm started by two Sisters in Nigeria, which now employs 125 people and teaches sustainable methods to people in the area; and lower-cost batteries for buses and cars being developed now in China.  A more ambitious suggestion is channeling solar energy from beyond Earth’s atmosphere with satellites fueled by minerals from asteroids.

Some of the speakers at the conference were Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary General (since Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was called to Darfur the night before the conference began), Mr. Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa, President of the General Assembly this year, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, plus heads of departments and consortia in various countries.

Because the opening of the General Assembly was held during the last week of September, no one other than delegates and heads of state were allowed in the building.   The Partnership held its UN Orientation Days workshop across the street, since the Church Center for the UN is usually free during those sessions.

However, you may remember that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, met with religious leaders on Wednesday.  I was on my way to help out at the workshop when Mr. Ahmadinejad arrived, so I (along with many others) had to wait for two hours until he had left the building.  Fortunately, there is a small park nearby, next to the UNICEF building, so I sat at an ironwork table and did some research for a project I am working on.

This project is a set of parish bulletin inserts suggested by Sr. Lucianne Siers, director of the Partnership.  They will focus on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and how Catholic Social Teaching is related to them.  The mid-term report on the MDGs just came out, so I will incorporate that into the inserts.  The Millennium Development Goals are the pledge of developed nations to bring the most impoverished peoples out of dire poverty by 2015; July 7 (07-07-07) was the mid-term. More on those when I finish the inserts.

M. Doretta Cornell