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Public Lecture and Workshop on “Climate Change”, Antwerp, October 2007

11 October 2007 - 12 October 2007

In the framework of the annual network meeting of the European SCRIBANI Jesuit network (cf. www.scribani.net ), which is coordinated by UCSIA, and in the wake of the last SCRIBANI conference on “Africa and Europe. Cooperation in a Globalised World” (organised in Munich in September 2006 by the Institut für Gesellschaftspolitik), UCSIA organised a public lecture on “Climate Change: A Challenge for Global Social Justice” on October 11th at the University of Antwerp, followed by a workshop on the topic for the SCRIBANI network on October 12th.

Key note speakers were professor ROBERT SPICER of the Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (CEPSAR) of the Open University, UK and professor JEAN-PASCAL VAN YPERSELE of the Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics Georges Lemaître of the Université Catholique de Louvain and Vice-Chair of the IPCC Working group II.

In the workshop FRANCOIS GEMENNE, FNRS fellow and PhD candidate at the Centre for Ethnic Migration Studies (CEDEM), Institute for Human and Social Sciences, University of Liège and at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques of Paris, presented his research findings on the topic of environmental migration and to conclude MICHAEL REDER, Scientific Coordinator of the Institut für Gesellschaftspolitik, gave a presentation of the research project on climate change and justice he coordinates, as a possible response from a Jesuit institution to the challenge of climate change.

At the time of the proceedings the Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in which guest speaker van Ypersele plays an important role, for their efforts in advancing the awareness of climate change.

Robert Spicer approaches the topic of climate change from a geological long-term history view which learns us that climate change is not a new phenomenon. From a comparative point of view we can even state we live in a fairly cool period of time. Nevertheless a sudden rise in temperature since human industrialisation cannot be ignored. Whereas climate changes throughout earth’s history have been triggered by natural causes, human activity is now definitely contributing to the warming of the planet. In building models for predicting future climate evolutions the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) takes into account only a relative short period in climate history. These models, rooted on weather forecast models, are necessarily simplifications of the real situation and given the scientific consensus and policy implications involved, the IPCC predictions stay on the conservative side. The models still underestimate the effects of climate change and the proposed scenario is just one of many possibilities and is not consistent with deep-history measurements or geological evidence. Even if we stop emitting carbon-dioxide tomorrow we are already committed to climate change warming which calls for serious adaptation measures, since emitted carbon-dioxide stays in the atmosphere for over a hundred years and the climate takes a long period of time to readjust.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele focuses on the ethical implications of global justice and solidarity. Climate change is influenced by the accumulation of carbon-dioxide emitted foremost by developed countries. It affects the developing countries in the first place. Those who are least responsible bear the hardest consequences. This calls for adaptation strategies to be integrated in development processes, through for instance the transfer of technology, for which the funding should be assured through a polluter pays principle (certain experts propound an extreme logic of the market approach by allocating to each human being an equal share of greenhouse gas emission potential and allow trading of these shares). At the moment 3.5 gigatonnes (a billion tonnes) of carbon-dioxide are being added every year to the atmosphere. The argument that the demographic explosion in the developing countries will enlarge their share in the emission of greenhouse gases is often invoked by developed nations not to embark on such burden sharing schemes, but data show that the share per head of the smaller western population outweighs by far the share of the denser populated southern hemisphere. Sub-Saharan Africa will be victim to additional stress by the need to adapt to more brutal climate change effects, adding to the other problems it already has to face. This calls for an equitable North-South partnership to address common responsibilities in a differentiated way.

In the ensuing workshop of the SCRIBANI-network dedicated to a reflection exercise on the possible role the Jesuit community worldwide could take on in this matter, these issues where further investigated.

Bob Spicer characterised the current political attitude by the image of a blind man on a rail track hearing the train coming but waiting to see what colour it has. It is obvious the train is coming and the need is felt (by the scientific community) to shout out loudly in order to be heard but without raising panic. As a scientist he points out that it is dangerous to manipulate the global system without understanding it, that the climate will not react immediately and it will take centuries to undo the damage. The earth will react in a series of pulses bringing about periodic dramatic events (draught and hurricanes). This will have its effects also on our economic system which will have to cope with the costs this engenders. He advocates action in the field of education to sensitize the people who will be electing future leadership.

François Gemenne warns for the effects of displacement of people and the conflict potential this implies. By 2050 the number of migrants will double. It is expected that two hundred million people will have to move permanently following climate change effects. The first regions to be touched are coastal cities such as Shangai and Mumbai, regions in South Asia such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, the African coastline and small island states such as Papua New Guinea. The island of Tuvalu is already undergoing the effects of rising sea levels. The warming of the climate makes arctic regions, such as the Inuit village of Shishmaref inhabitable because the permafrost underground is melting. Sub-Sahel Africa already experiences movements of people due to drought (the crisis in Darfur was initially caused by such climate refugee movements). Migration is the final resort of adaptation to new climate circumstances. It is a corrective process, the ultimate solution when other adaptation measures do not gather effect. This migration first takes the form of internal dislocation (staying as close as possible to home in the hope of returning) and South-to-South migration. Adaptation strategies will be needed in the affected regions, but also in the receiving regions. Side effects of this movement of peoples may be conflict and loss of cultures. In what ways can we cope with this phenomenon? Developing adaptation strategies is one way, ensuring a secure status for these climate refugees or environmental migrants is another. According to the juridical framework in place, the Geneva Convention does not recognize these displaced peoples because they are not victim of political persecution or forced migration to another country for security reasons. The current status is inapplicable and if the Geneva Convention is to be revised, the fear that it will be downgraded is not without ground. The protection of displaced people nevertheless should be considered as a common good. Therefore an extension of the UNHRC mandate, combined with a regional burden sharing scheme that is globally funded, seems an appropriate answer.

Michael Reder explains that the Institute für Gesellschaftspolitik, member of the SCRIBANI network, has embarked on a three year research scheme in cooperation with the Catholic aid agency MISEREOR, the funding agency Munich Re Foundation and the Potsdam Institut für Klimafolgenforschung (PIK) to study the issues of climate change and poverty. It starts from the premises that climate policy is a component of fair globalisation and given the fact that climate change reports and models mainly focus on the West, it wants to include the voice of the South. The poor and developing countries will be the first to be affected and should be empowered to counter the challenge. The project starts from the concept of vulnerability and aims at developing scenarios for vulnerable countries through dialogue with partners from the South. Vulnerability encompasses a biophysical notion which is being overemphasized in comparison with the social dimension. Global justice is not only about economic development and welfare but also implies empowerment of the poor and intergenerational justice. The outcome of the project is conceived not so much as a product (report), but as a process (influencing public perception and understanding). Thus the IGP presents us with a concrete example of possible Jesuit action in this domain.


11 October 2007
12 October 2007
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