Caricom and UK fight man-made Climate Change: Britain’s Secretary of State in the Department for International Development (DfID) Douglas Alexander speaks out before summit at Copenhagen

As climate change negotiations begin this week in Copenhagen, one thing is clear: for millions of people around the world climate change is not simply a future threat, it is a current reality.

For millions of people around the world, climate change is not simply a future threat, it is a cruel reality

For millions of people around the world, climate change is not simply a future threat, it is a cruel reality

In my role as the United Kingdom’s International Development Secretary, I’ve met people around the world who are living with the consequences of climate change – from families in Bangladesh forced to leave their flooded homes, to women in parts of Ethiopia who are walking further each year to collect water for their families, to the people in the Caribbean who will lose their lands and places of work on the coastline due to sea level rise or more intense hurricanes.

These people are the least responsible for climate change, yet they are already most affected by it. As we look to the future it is clear that climate change will increasingly hit poor people hardest.

By 2020, some countries across Africa could see the yields from rain-fed agriculture fall by a half. By 2035, parts of the Himalayan glaciers, which provide water to 1.5 billion people across Asia, could have disappeared. By 2080, an extra 400 million people could be exposed to the threat of malaria.

Climate change threatens to make poverty the future for millions of people. That is why the government of the United Kingdom believes that the world has not only a common interest, but also a moral responsibility to people in the most vulnerable countries, to secure a fair deal on climate change.

To keep global temperature rises below 2 degrees centigrade will mean nothing less than a 50 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. This will require a firm commitment from rich nations to significant cuts in emissions – for developed countries do bear the greatest responsibility for the emissions we have seen over the past century. A deal will also need to involve developing countries – because the greatest growth in emissions over coming decades will be in such countries.

At the same time we must agree a strong deal on climate finance, to help developing countries both adapt to the now-inevitable effects of climate change, and get their economies on a low-carbon path to growth.

The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has led the way in calling for around $100 billion per year by 2020 – drawn from a combination of public finance and carbon markets – to help developing countries develop clean energy, adapt to the effects of climate change and protect forests.

Some of this climate finance can legitimately come from official development assistance, where investment helps to both fight poverty and tackle climate change. But a ceiling should be placed on the proportion of development assistance that goes towards climate funding.

Without such a commitment, there is a risk that governments will divert a large proportion of aid budgets to fulfil their commitments on climate change, diverting money away from healthcare, education and humanitarian assistance. We cannot allow a choice to exist between fighting poverty and tackling climate change, and that is why the UK has set a limit of up to ten per cent of development assistance that can be invested in climate funding.

Our support is already helping communities to tackle climate change and lift themselves out of poverty. For instance safer houses and landslide protection for the most vulnerable is being provided as part of our disaster risk reduction support programme in the Caribbean. We are also helping to boost understanding of the expected socio-economic impacts of climate change and increase the use of low carbon alternatives and renewable energy sources in the region.

In the run-up to the Copenhagen meetings we have also provided support to ensure that developing countries have a strong, coherent voice at the table. For example we have assisted the CARICOM Task Force on Climate Change to collect and compile the impact data they need for the negotiations as well as strengthen their public awareness campaign efforts over the last few months.

The next few weeks represent not a window of opportunity, but a window of necessity in our efforts to strike a climate deal to protect the lives and livelihoods of this and future generations.

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