WARAH: Forget Aids virus, climate change’s the next big thing - Daily Nation

Forget Aids virus, climate change’s the next big thing

Sunday December 6 2009

By RASNA WARAH

OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS, more than 15,000 delegates representing governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and civil society will be gathering in Copenhagen to deliver a political deal on reducing carbon emissions and halting the prospect of climate change globally.

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change is sure to result in pledges and commitments by rich countries to help poor nations deal with the consequences of changing weather patterns, rising sea levels and global warming.

Already, there is talk of raising up to $100 billion annually to help African countries deal with the crisis.

But like all crises, this one will also give birth to a whole industry. When HIV/Aids became an epidemic in the 1990s, it spawned thousands of NGOs and projects in the world’s poorest countries.

Multilateral agencies, bilateral donors and private foundations threw money at any government or organisation purporting to help HIV/Aids victims or to “raise awareness” about the dangers posed by irresponsible sex.

Every African country (including those whose officials denied the existence or the scale of the epidemic) sought funds for HIV/Aids. The United Nations established a specialised agency to monitor the disease globally, and various other UN agencies “mainstreamed” HIV into their programmes and projects.

There is no doubt that many of these projects did help in slowing down the pace of the epidemic worldwide. However, it is also likely that the money donated was squandered through corruption or mismanagement.

It is also quite possible, as former UNAids consultant Elizabeth Pisani points out in her revealing book, The Wisdom of Whores, that the UN and other agencies exaggerated or skewed data to reflect a “worst-case scenario” so as to keep donors interested in the epidemic, and to keep the HIV/Aids industry in business.

The temptation to manipulate figures so that they point to a doomsday scenario is common among various agencies working in the field of development. Data is the bread-and-butter of the development industry. Without it, it is difficult to convince donors to part with their money. Bad news is a money-spinner, good news is not.

Alas, the heyday of the HIV/Aids industry is almost over. A new threat to civilisation as we know it is on the horizon – that of climate change.

THANKS TO AL GORE AND THE intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world is now fully aware of the dangers of rising temperatures and rising sea levels.

The world’s largest carbon emitters, including China, India, Brazil and the United States, are all gathered in Copenhagen this week to see what can be done to prevent entire cities from drowning and entire populations from dying of hunger and thirst.

Any NGO or UN agency worth its name has lent its name to the climate change bandwagon by starting special projects aimed at addressing these issues. Donors keen on supporting politically correct causes are already seeking projects to fund.

The prospect of climate change is real, and it will affect us all if we do not take drastic measures to address it. But we must also recognise that, like HIV/Aids, there are thousands of NGOs and dozens of UN agencies waiting in the wings to capitalise on sudden donor interest.

Like HIV/Aids, every project will now be infused with a climate change component. Millions of dollars will be spent on “raising awareness” about global warming, and “mitigating the impact of climate change on the poorest and most vulnerable groups”.

Some of this money may find its way to the target populations, but a lot of it will end up in the pockets of corrupt government officials or calculating NGO-wallahs.

What’s worse, in the next few years, hundreds of climate change conferences, workshops and seminars will be held all over the world. These, like the Copenhagen summit, will attract international delegates, many of whom will travel on carbon-emitting aeroplanes.

More conferences will also mean that more funds will need to be raised to meet costs. No one will think of using the environmentally-friendly and inexpensive option of holding virtual conferences with minimum air travel.

If the climate change pundits are serious about mitigating the impact of climate change or reversing global warming, the first thing they need to do is to put a moratorium on all climate change conferences and to upgrade their video-conferencing facilities.

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