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Wars Could Arise out of Climate Change

Living in Nairobi for 3 1/2 years changed Klaus Topfer, UN representative on environmental policy. The decline in aid to developing countries to 0.24 percent has brought frustration to Third World negotiators, Topfer laments.

UN environmental representative Klaus Topfer urges uniting environmental protection and combating poverty. The North must abandon its ecological aggression against the South

[This interview originally published in:die tageszeitung, July 23, 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.taz.de.]

taz: You have lived in Nairobi for three- and a half years as head of the UN environmental program (Unep). Has your view of the environment changed?

Klaus Topfer: Absolutely, this has completely changed me. In the last year, we lived through the worst draught in the horn of Africa. The extreme weather conditions take food from the people here. One only has to go once to downtown Nairobi. In the slums there, you meet environmental refugees who have nothing in their homelands since it is now degraded to steppe and the wilderness spreads. Combating poverty is urgently necessary. This was clear to me in Nairobi.

Many in the North don't regard the poverty in the South as their problem.

Klaus Topfer: The countries of the North shift the environmental costs of their prosperity to the South. Here tropical forests from which the North gains the wood for its model have practically zero tariffs. Practicing solidarity with the South is not merely a charity business.

Is that also true for climate change?

Klaus Topfer: The North above all changes the climate. The countries of the South pay the follow-up costs of climate change. That is the ecological aggression of the North against the South.

Can this lead to wars?

Klaus Topfer: Wars over water could arise when the rainfall changes through climate change. The ecological aggression is real and must be described drastically to people in the North, not only those confronting it daily in the South.

Is the climate change already visible?

Klaus Topfer: Changes can be seen. The frequency and severity of draughts, rain floods and storms increase considerably as can be learned from the balance-sheets of insurance companies. We had the great draught at the horn of Africa and also see the storms in Great Britain.

What chances do you see for the summit in Bonn?

Klaus Topfer: The politicians will have to agree. At last the economy has advanced. The modernization of the energy supply in China had the side effect that the emission of climate gases decreased 10 to 12 percent. Improving economic conditions is central. Thus investments in the energy supply only bring relief when modern technologies are used. As a result I expect a positive conclusion of the Kyoto process. Many questions still must be solved.

Do you mean between the EU (European Union) and the US?

Klaus Topfer: There are also questions with the developing countries, not only between the EU and the US. The small island states want to know how adjusting to climate change will help them. An adjustment is discussed. The poor countries expect that we will meet them halfway. They also expect a transfer of modern technology so they can develop without burdening the climate.

What is the mood among the negotiators of the developing countries?

Klaus Topfer: Great frustration prevails. Important promises of the 1992 earth summit in Rio where the climate process was introduced are not observed.

Can you give an example?

Klaus Topfer: At that time increasing aid to developing countries to 0.7% of economic output was promised. Aid was at 0.4 percent. In the meantime it has not grown but has even drastically shriveled to 0.24 percent. That is frustrating.

You gathered together 1500 scientists for a new inventory of the environment. Don't we already know enough?

Klaus Topfer: We know much about the condition of the environment but much too little about the causes and dynamic of destruction. The environment is an enormous treasure. We borrow trillions of dollars in values more or less free of charge annually. Knowing the limits of nature is obviously important. If we unconsciously overstrain nature, this has powerful consequences.

Do you have a model?

Klaus Topfer: My model is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. Its assessment of climate change and the consequences declares to politicians what has to be done and presses them to act. The diversity of species, the chance of the soil and the oceans are also urgent problems.

What comes after the climate negotiations?

Klaus Topfer: We also need concrete goals in other questions. Hopefully the earth summit in Johannesburg will set new themes next year. Let us commit ourselves to cutting in half the number of people with no secure access to drinking water in the next ten years. Let us allow the economy to grow without further limiting the diversity of species. Let us commit ourselves concretely to reducing wastes worldwide. Let us come to a "New Deal" in which the resources and diversity of species of developing countries are finally valued.

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