Remarks on Climate at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in the session:
Investing in Science and Technology: Top ten strategies for successful Sustainable Development

John C. Mutter

    Although the topic of Climate is not an explicit component of the WEHAB agenda for the WSSD it is not possible to extricate the effect of climate on any of the WEHAB issues. These issues all focus on areas of vital importance in determining the conditions under which humans live on our planet today. If people are not fulfilled in these areas they will be poor, sick and hungry and we are all too aware from the consistent messages of the Summit that more than a third of all of humankind on our planet today are just that - poor, sick, and hungry.

    Because climate enters as either a significant modulator or sometimes even the prime determinant of the WEHAB life support factors, climate becomes a significant input to the conditions under which one lives. Jeff Sachs at this summit and in other venues has pointed out that the great majority of the world's poor people today live in tropical or arid environments. Certainly there are exceptions such as the poor who live in former Soviet countries, but to a very good first order approximation the concentration of the poor in the tropics, and the rich in temperate zones is quite stunning. It seems that some aspect of these environments presently inhibits human development and since climate is so much a factor in establishing the environmental conditions climate then must be considered a significant factor in determining why people are poor, hungry and sick. The more we understand about how the Earth's climate system works the more we will be able to insulate the poor from its most harmful consequences including devastating climate shocks like drought. Climate science can then be thought of as a tool for development and poverty elevation. Consider the following:

    The Earth's global hydrological cycle is what it is because of Earth's climate condition. We have monsoons in the tropics and not in Greenland. The average annual availability of WATER and its seasonal variation is fundamentally controlled by climate variations; phenomenon like the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) are what give rise to, or significantly enhance the likelihood of adverse conditions like drought with all the attendant hardships associated with food shortages, particularly in the tropics.

    Deeply connected to water availability is AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION and food security. Rain fed agriculture, which is so common in many parts of the poor world obviously depends on rain that is determined by climate conditions and their variation. When rain is unreliable food production is also and poor people who have little if any adaptive capacity will suffer. Climate is not the only factor by any means. People go hungry in parts of the world where food is plentiful and we are well aware of the politicized nature of food delivery and worse still, the ways in which purposeful interruption of food relief in famines can be used as an instrument of deadly conflict. But this just makes it more urgent that we use what we know about climate to insulate the poorest and most defenseless against these threats.

    The distribution of all plant and animal species is what we mean by BIODIVERSITY and that too is primarily controlled by climate. There are no monkeys in Iceland, for instance. Natural species are able to adjust to climate fluctuations like the El Nino, but all species will shift in their distribution if the average climate conditions change and there is good evidence that this is already happening. We don't know if species distribution the new climate regime will be as resilient to climate variations and we already know that species are vulnerable when exposed to stresses associated with ecosysyem fragmentation from anthropogenic interventions. Because many aspects of human health are associated with interactions with the natural systems loss of biodiversity through climate change could be detrimental to human well being, particularly in the tropical regions where the poor live in close relationship to their environment.

    The major threat to human HEATH today in Africa is the HIV/AIDS pandemic and it does not, as we know, climate is neither the cause nor a significant factor in the spread. But the historically most afflicting health problems and continuing burden comes from tropical diseases like malaria. Not wishing to state the obvious but on a warmer planet the topics will likely expand and with it the range of tropical diseases. Already there has been an increase in occurrence in the sub-tropics. As important though is that diseases like Malaria that take the life of a child every 30 seconds on our planet today are carried by vectors like mosquitoes whose populations are substantially controlled by climate fluctuations. The more we understand about how climate variations work, the more we can anticipate changes in vector populations and occurrence of disease. We can't prevent climate variation but we can predict them and being forewarned we can take mitigating actions and reduce the burden of tropical disease in poor populations where these diseases are prevalent. Sick people "cannot earn and they cannot learn" and cannot move out of their situation and on the path to well-being and basic human dignity.

    The provision of ENERGY to the poor has arisen as a significant focus of the WSSD. I first want to make a brief comment that I have not heard enter the discussions on this subject to date. In providing energy systems for the poor we hear a lot of discussions about the use of renewables like solar and wind and biofuels. But almost all these renewables are subject to climate variations -- wind power needs steady wind, solar energy needs clear weather and biofuels need stable production of appropriate crops. Why are we suggesting energy systems for the poor that make them more vulnerable to climate fluctuations? Surely what they need is energy that has one more characteristics beyond the three suggested by Klaus Lackner - it must be cheap, clean, abundant and, I would argue, reliable. No source of energy that relies on climate can be fully relied upon. A warmer world may be cloudier. Wind patterns will almost certainly shift so that those parts of the world that are presently windy may not be in the future. And we know that agricultural productivity will shift as the climate shifts. Surely we must provide energy for the poor that is robust to climate fluctuations to reduce their vulnerability.

    But the issue that is most on the mind of people at the WSSD is the debate over whether the addition of carbon into the atmosphere will increase the temperature at the Earth's surface and harm the poorest most vulnerable people. The development issue in this context is clear. Although most models predict that warming may be greatest in high latitudes, in the winter and at night even modest warming in tropical and arid parts of the world where agriculture is marginal will cause people living on the edge of survival to be pushed over the edge. In a very direct way our lifestyles of luxury and prosperity directly endangers the livelihood of the poor. They may not live in the rich countries but we are connected to the poor through the atmosphere and the ocean currents and we cannot isolate our actions from their lives.

    But there is good news. In the decade since Rio we have learnt a lot about the climate of the Earth. Have cracked a lot of the climate code. And better still the part of the code we have made most progress on (that part of the climate gene sequence we have decoded) is the part that applies to the tropics. We have learnt so much that we can reliably forecast the future climate state in those parts of the world where the poorest most vulnerable people live. There will be an El Nino this year. We were fairly certain a few months ago, we are quite certain now. And it will exacerbate the effects of the drought that is currently causing such hardship in Southern Africa. Such information about the future climate state is potent with social value. But how can we use it?

    How can we realize the good that is inherent in this type of information? We need to improve our forecasting skill everywhere but most importantly in those parts of the world where some of the most impacted peoples live. For instance, our forecast ability for South Asia is quite most at present. We can't provide much useful information in places like Afghanistan where a persistent drought has deeply harmed agriculture and caused substantial suffering. Our science will certainly progress in this area. Infromation with good skill can be used to plan ahead for adaptation and mitigation strategies to minimize the most severe aspects of climate variations like food shortages, disease and hazard shocks. Where we most need to make progress is in understanding how to use this sort of information to the benefit of people in places where scientific and technical capacity is low and institutions are weak. Climate forecast information is relatively easy to apply where there is a strong infrastructure of stable institutions and a reasonable cadre of scientists and technical people who understand the information and can adopt and apply forecasts. But some of the poorest countries that could use the information the most necessarily lack these attributes. At the Earth Institute at Columbia we have established a new institution - the International Research Institute for climate prediction --- that has this very mission. Its task is to advance the science of climate prediction on a seasonal to inter-annual basis, but always mindful that the purpose of these advances is to achieve a reduction in the suffering that comes from unanticipated climate shocks, particularly in the poorest most vulnerable communities, even if they lack capacities and institutions. Much of the work of the institute involves partnerships with scientists and leaders in the most affected countries. In the short time the institute has existed we have learnt that it is much easier to make a prediction that to make use of a prediction. In a way, we can now foretell the climate future but we cannot foretell what people will do once they know the future. Too often there is little they can do. North-south partnerships for capacity building are essential tools for success in this mission. If we can be successful, and I think we must be successful here, our science can be used to reduce poverty and suffering.

    Finally, the issues of long-term climate change. Yes, the introduction of large amounts of greenhouse gas into the Earth's atmosphere will alter its chemistry and that will almost certainly lead to a warming at the Earth's surface. Is there any doubt about it? Of course there is. It's a statement about the future and all such statements must contain some uncertainty. But it is sufficiently certain that we should act - no doubt about that. Now we have been saying this over and over and we don't seem to be winning. Why? Somehow in the US we have allowed the critics to possess the null argument - prove it, they say. Your predictions are uncertain, they say, so we don't need to act. But there is something very important here that is often forgotten. Those who say we don't need to act are also making a prediction. That prediction is that the fundamental chemical constitution of the atmosphere can be altered and, guess what, nothing will happen. What a bizarre idea. Scientist's predictions are based on physics, chemistry and biology and are uncertain, but the uncertainties are quantifiable. We know how uncertain they are. The counter prediction, that nothing is going to happen, is based on nothing; nothing but a faith that the Earth will figure out how to manage the new chemistry of its atmosphere. Such a prediction cannot be quantified, nor can the uncertainty in the prediction. Those who make predictions of this sort should be asked to prove it. This is not a science debate, its debate between science and anti-science. It is like the Stokes trials and it is just as important that reason succeeds in this trial also. What is at stake is the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable. This is a debate that we must win. Too much depends on it.

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