Millennium Goals or Global Warming?

by on Friday, 28 December 2007 Comments
The struggle against global warming has taken a new dimension during the year 2007. Though many concrete decisions remain to be agreed upon and implemented, financial and human investments are sure to increase dramatically during the years to come so as to tackle an unparalleled challenge. This is good news indeed. At the same time, this evolution reflects a shift in global consciousness that might bear some preoccupying counter-effects. Around 2000, the Millennium Goals were sketching a roadmap, the focal point of which was the elimination of extreme poverty for 2025. It was apparent enough that humankind had the means and the know-how for achieving what, in other times, would have seemed like an impossible dream.

Struggle against poverty is still very much on the agenda. At the same time, mobilization has been far below what is deemed necessary for achieving such a lofty goal. And we might now witness a subtle trade-off between two objectives: eradicating poverty and alleviating global warming. For sure, the two goals are not contradictory per se, they are even mutually reinforcing: eradicating poverty will prove to be impossible if natural disasters caused by climatic changes occur in Africa or impoverished Asian coastlines. Deforestation and water depletion diminish the meager capital that many populations have to rely upon for earning an income. However, international credit allocation obeys to bargaining laws and power games, and these games might actually benefit rising developing nations rather than the ones suffering from extreme poverty – the latest counting for around one sixth of the world’s population. Developing nations contribute to the rise in carbon emissions and rely on highly polluting technologies: subsidies for cleaning up the environment will go primarily to them. When poverty is such that you do not contribute to greenhouses emissions you might be left out of the new distribution mechanisms of global subsidies… Global warming would such become a pretext for developed nations to spread and sell their technologies, and for middle—income nations to profit from an array of international subsidies.

World governance is still suffering from a lack of comprehensive mechanisms that would allow people to arbitrate between priorities and policy choices. Still, from now on, the struggle against poverty and the one against global warming must be conceived and implemented together rather than risking to become, even partly, a kind of trade-off – in which case the losers of the game would be, once again, the poorest of the poor. This shows that the struggle against global warming cannot be considered as a mere technical challenge bur rather as a political and humanist endeavor. It is not enough of a Al Gore for tackling the issue. We also need a Gandhi who would remind us of the humane, social and spiritual issues at stake.

Photo by Liang Zhun
Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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