Climate Change Around The World: A View From The UN Regional Commissions

The most recent meeting of the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD 15) examined global climate change, along with energy, air and industrial development, as a comprehensive cluster of issues. The risk of climate change commands the most widespread preoccupation of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Governments throughout the world.

The UN Regional Commissions have developed approaches to the economic and social consequences of climate change to complement the analysis of its environmental aspects and its consequences for development from a regional perspective.

The further development within the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of land use, land-use change and forestry activities, including the potential of mobilizing resources for avoided deforestation initiatives and its potential synergy with poverty reduction, is of particular interest to Africa and Latin America. In Latin America, the potential for comprehensive urban-scale programmatic CDM projects involving urban transport, energy and waste management infrastructure is being explored by city authorities (i.e. Mexico City). The potential for carbon capture and storage presents an opportunity for technology development in oil-producing countries for enhanced oil recovery. The high-growing Asian economies pose a challenge of achieving "green growth" or effectively decoupling economic growth from rising energy intensity, excessive pollution, waste generation and high-resource consumption, which exceeds the already stressed ecological carrying capacity of many countries in the region. The Commission's views highlight the diversity of opportunities available in different regions.

From the standpoint of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), some of the main challenges to responding to climate change in Africa are the low levels of access to technology, reliance on rain-fed agriculture and high poverty levels in the region. Therefore, Africa has a high level of vulnerability and low capacity to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. African countries need greater access to funding and other assistance available through the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms and the Marrakech Agreements on Funding to improve technical and institutional capacity, support and accelerate the development and implementation of National Adaptation Programmes of Action. The region also needs to continue strengthening human and institutional scientific capacities and international cooperation to address adaptation at the national and local levels, where vulnerabilities are most pronounced. Sponsoring climate fora -- to improve regional cooperation and early-warning and information-sharing systems to reduce agricultural and other vulnerabilities within the region -- should also to be enhanced.

Africa highlighted the need for all countries worldwide to abide by their obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. The region emphasized some priorities as enhancing and expanding policy research on climate and climate-related issues to promote effective knowledge networking, and inform policy and programme development in response to climate change challenges identified by the UNFCCC. This should be matched with enhancing and promoting policy coherence and the integration of climate change mitigation and adaptation concerns into priority development policies and programmes, including poverty reduction strategies.

For the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), many countries are planning to take significant steps to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to prevent a warmer climate and an associated risk of increased extreme events. However, ECE feels that much more is still needed and that detailed plans for implementing measures are often lacking. There is a huge potential for energy savings and for improving energy efficiency in the region, which is both an economic and environmental imperative and can be achieved with existing resources and technologies, as was highlighted at CSD 15. Significant investment in energy efficiency is required. It is clear that many barriers need to be overcome for energy-efficient measures to deliver their full potential, particularly in the countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. This is why ECE is particularly active in this area, focussing on education and awareness-raising, capacity-building, fostering behavioural change, encouraging policy and regulatory reforms, emissions trading and the establishment of private and public-private sector investment funds or funding mechanisms.

ECE countries are becoming increasingly aware of the need for integrated strategies to tackle air pollution impacts, climate change and sustainable energy consumption. Air pollution and GHG emissions are often from the same sources, e.g. the burning of fossil fuels, with some air pollutants themselves being GHGs. The work under the ECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution has demonstrated that there are significant savings to be made if abatement strategies are integrated. More can be achieved to cut GHGs and air pollution for less cost, through end-of-pipe technology or structural changes. However, results have also highlighted that not all measures reduce air pollution and cut GHGs; for example, wood is a renewable energy source, but burning it often leads to increased air pollution. More scientific and technical effort needs to be directed to this area of work, and government policies need to take account of the benefits of integration. ECE countries are also beginning to think more globally in their approaches to air pollution and climate change. There is more recognition of the global movement of air pollution and the need to improve interregional collaboration. The sharing of information and knowledge will be key to future success and could achieve much to cut GHG and air pollution emissions globally.

For the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the region's share in global GHG production remains small, yet it needs to improve its preparedness to deal with the potential impacts. Climate change is a matter of concern in the region due to its considerable effects on the people's quality of life, such as an increase in the frequency of extreme weather, changes in agricultural productivity, the rising sea levels and water stress in urban areas. In recent years, numerous measures on climate change have been implemented by Governments at the institutional level, including national inventories, the establishment of designated national authorities, diversification and decentralization of actors to involve Governments and local groups, and information-sharing discussions. There has also been considerable interaction with the private sector. Some countries have already prepared a number of national communications, pursuant to the UNFCCC, and some have introduced an obligation for industries to report their GHG emissions when applying for environmental operating licences.

There are also opportunities for regional cooperation on climate change -- a regional register of the initiatives underway would be a useful instrument to steer cooperation. This should include natural disaster prevention, response capacities and documents to support ongoing discussions on the development and workings of the climatic regime. It is very important for the region to discuss the types of projects that may qualify for CDM and disseminate up-to-date information about it. The Caribbean countries, potentially the most fragile, have expressed concerns over post-disaster assistance, including the effectiveness of insurances. The Andean countries are interested in developing a subregional environmental strategy, whose principles would include the linking of climate scenarios with social scenarios and the ex ante economic assessment of both vulnerability and prevention (i.e., adaptation).

Other countries have noted the advantages of conducting integrated programmes to facilitate synergies between energy efficiency, clean production and the climate change agenda, and between this element and international agreements. There is a certain consensus that it would be an asset to have a regional accreditation organization with better knowledge of the region to certify CDM projects at a lower cost. It would also be advantageous to seek coordinated stances on funding, given the likely rise in demand for international funds for building capacity to deal with the adverse effects of climate change, increased technology transfer and issues of eligibility for carbon-offsetting schemes.

For the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), climate action, in the context of oil-price rise, becomes increasingly compatible with the region's economic development goals, such as energy security and industrial competitiveness. Meeting the climate change challenge requires a broad range of measures for both mitigating climate change and adapting to its adverse effects. These measures include further energy efficiency improvements, alternative-energy, carbon capture and storage technologies, and changes to unsustainable consumption and production patterns as well as to coastal zone management and agricultural practices. Of immediate importance is the need to integrate climate change policies into national development plans to mitigate the harmful effects of rising temperatures. In addition, adaptation measures for agriculture, energy, forestry, human settlements, industry and marine ecosystems have to be strengthened to mitigate the adverse impacts on water resources and coastal zones.

The experience gathered in the region shows that energy-efficiency technologies offer win-win opportunities to simultaneously lower production costs, enhance energy security and reduce air pollution and GHG emissions. A wide range of low-cost policy measures have proven effective in improving energy efficiency. These measures include removing electricity subsidies and introducing peak hour surcharges and energy-efficiency regulations for industrial processes and urban activities. The region is actively taking part in CDM activities. By December 2006, it had a total of 218 CDM projects, which accounted for 71 per cent of all global emissions reduction projects registered under the UNFCCC. A recently initiated, proactive effort includes a unilateral CDM that gives developing countries flexibility in initiating projects and assuming the concomitant risks.

For the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), although the impact of climate change on the Arab world has not been fully examined, it is likely that it is quite significant. Arab countries need to implement adaptation measures to minimize the effects of climate change on the most vulnerable socio-economic sectors. One of the most serious limitations of the assessment process has been the lack of capacities, with which to evaluate vulnerability and adaptation, to generate reliable results and incorporate them into the national development planning processes. This limitation stems mainly from inadequate data collection and monitoring, limited access to existing databases and the lack of capacity to analyse, adjust and improve quality assurance in some data sets.

The Arab region is comprised of Non-Annex I Parties and therefore stands to benefit from the CDM. Several CDM activities on energy efficiency and renewable energies are being implemented at the national level. The region holds great potential for carbon capture and storage projects with enhanced oil-recovery technology. Once this technology, which has the potential to achieve the highest emissions reduction possible, is adopted as a CDM-approved methodology, certain Arab countries will become an attractive market for emissions trading.

ESCWA has identified some regional policies and strategies to support Arab countries in conducting environmental and economic impact assessments of climate change and implementing needed adaptation measures, including establishing institutional capacities in the field. It is also important to support regional collaboration on climate change control and mitigation strategies, and to encourage linkages to international efforts in this regard. Mitigating the impact of policies and measures adopted by industrialized countries to comply with the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and compensating Arab nations for losses incurred as a consequence of these measures are critical issues for the region that remain controversial in multilateral discussions.

Most Regional Commissions agree on the need to facilitate further regional dialogues to promote greater awareness and policy development to respond to the climate change challenge, in line with development priorities, including ensuring appropriate financing sources to meet the necessary infrastructure investment needs, in a manner consistent with a low-carbon, energy-efficient future. Other areas of opportunities where the activities of the Regional Commissions can continue to make important contributions to member countries in the immediate future include strengthening of regional platforms to promote innovative policy options for climate change adaptation actions, disaster-risk reduction from extreme weather, drought preparedness, improved land management for sustainability, preparation of national communications and national strategies for adaptation and mitigation, and strengthened capacity-building to facilitate the Global Environment Facility and CDM projects. In all these areas of work, the Commissions can achieve synergy with other multilateral and regional fora, including the UNFCCC and its technical bodies. The Executive Secretaries of the UN Regional Commissions are: Abdoulie Janneh of Gambia for ECA; Marek Belka of Poland for ECE; Jose Luis Machinea of Argentina for ECLAC; Kim Hak-Su of the Republic of Korea for ESCAP and Mervat M. Tallawy of Egypt for ESCWA.

Future Climate Change Impacts Across the Regions of the World
Africa
  • By 2020, between 75 million and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to an increase in water stress due to climate change.
  • Agricultural production, including access to food, is projected to be severely compromised by climate variability and change. This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition in the continent.
  • In some African countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent by 2020.
  • Toward the end of the twenty-first century, projected sea-level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations.

Asia

  • Freshwater availability in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia, particularly in large river basins, is projected to decrease due to climate change, which could affect more than a billion people by the 2050s.
  • Coastal areas, especially the heavily-populated mega-delta regions in South, East and Southeast Asia, will be at greatest risk due to increased flooding from the sea and rivers.
  • Climate change is projected to impinge on sustainable development of most developing countries of Asia, with the region's rapid urbanization, industrialization and economic development.

Australia and New Zealand

  • Significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur by 2020 in some ecologically rich sites, including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland Wet Tropics.
  • Production from agriculture and forestry by 2030 is projected to decline over much of southern and eastern Australia and over parts of eastern New Zealand due to increased drought and fire.

Europe

  • In Southern Europe, climate change is projected to worsen conditions due to reduced water availability, hydropower potential, summer tourism and crop productivity.
  • Mountain areas will face glacier retreat, reduced snow cover, winter tourism and extensive species losses.
  • In Central and Eastern Europe, summer precipitation is projected to decrease, causing higher water stress.

Latin America

  • There is a risk of significant biodiversity loss in many areas of tropical Latin America.
  • In drier areas, climate change is expected to lead to salinization and desertification of agriculture lands.
  • Sea-level rise is projected to cause increased risk of flooding in low-lying areas.

North America

  • Warming in western mountain ranges is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding and reduced summer flows.
  • Cities that currently experience heatwaves are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity and duration of heatwaves.
  • Costal communities and habitats will be increasingly stressed by climate change impacts interacting with development and pollution.

Polar Regions

  • In the Arctic, additional impacts include reductions in the extent of sea ice and permafrost, increased coastal erosion and increased depth of permafrost seasonal thawing.
  • In both polar regions, specific ecosystems and habitats are projected to be vulnerable, as climatic barriers to species invasions are lowered.

Small Islands

  • Small islands, whether located in the tropics or higher latitudes, have characteristics that make them especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea-level rise and extreme events.
  • Climate change is projected by the mid-century to reduce water resources in many small islands, such as the Caribbean and the Pacific.
  • Deterioration in coastal conditions through erosion of beaches and coral bleaching is expected to affect local resources.