Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 76 - 79)

TUESDAY 29 JANUARY 2002

DR BENITO MÜLLER AND DR SALEEMUL HUQ

Chairman

  76.  Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you for the very full written submissions. The questions that we want to ask you today are in the sense of further and better particulars from those submissions. Dr Huq, you argue that helping to build the adaptive capacity of communities for dealing with extreme events should have a beneficial effect for strengthening adaptive capacity for future climate change. Often the measures to deal with extreme events in communities are based around developing early warning systems, building flood defences or providing life saving measures like cyclone shelters. How does this help address longer term vulnerability or is the point more to do with building the necessary institutions and capacity that can address both extreme climate events and longer term climate changes?

  (Dr Huq) I think we need to do both. If you look at the history of dealing with particularly extreme climate events and the rehabilitation work that goes on afterwards they tend to concentrate on just reproducing the status quo before the event as it were—rebuilding the houses, the roads, whatever infrastructure was damaged, without giving a lot of thought to preventing or coping with such events in future. Part of the work that needs to go into coping with extreme climatic related hazards has to be in building the capacity to cope with them in future which includes both early warning as well as institutional capacities at many levels—national levels of relief agencies or hazard warning agencies as well as in local communities for them to be able to cope with it. There have been examples of this in my country, for example, Bangladesh, where we had a major cyclone which killed over 100,000 people, you may recall, in 1991. Since then there have been a lot of efforts at improving early warning systems and building cyclone shelters. We had a similar sized cyclone in 1997 which only killed about 30 or 40 people. I would ascribe that in large part to people being much better prepared for the event that occurred at that time.

  77.  In your memorandum you argue for strengthening the capacity of institutions and civil society to adapt to climate change. What kinds of measures need to be taken at local, national and regional levels, what support should donors like DFID play and which donor agencies have demonstrated significant leadership?
  (Dr Huq) If I can give you another example from my country, Bangladesh, with respect to floods, we had, as you may recall, in 1987 and 1998 two very big floods which caused a lot of damage and loss of life, after which the entire donor community got together and tried to invest in developing flood protection for Bangladesh. There was this major activity called the Flood Action Plan which at that time I and my institution based in Bangladesh had opposed because we did not feel that that was necessarily the right way to go. It was simply an engineering driven vision of trying to dam up the country and prevent these floods from occurring. Our argument was that first of all that was not a feasible option; secondly, even if it was technically feasible it was not commercially feasible: there was not the money to do it; and thirdly, it was much better to invest in much softer options, such as improving the early warning systems, improving communities' abilities to deal with floods. Again these things were done and a major flood which occurred in 1998 did not cause as much damage as had been expected because people and communities had been empowered. DFID has been a major contributor to this softer option approach which many of the other international agencies like the World Bank have not supported. They have taken a much more engineering approach to the question.

  78.  You argue in your paper for there to be an allocation of emission targets on a per capita basis, but is it not right that by 2015 emissions from developing countries are likely to exceed those from the developed world? Therefore is there not a danger that developing countries could become complacent about emissions?
  (Dr Huq) I will let my colleague answer the question in more detail but I will just make one point there. Even if the developing country emissions become much larger, as they are predicted to do in the next few decades, if you calculate those on a per capita basis for countries like China and India they are going to be orders of magnitude smaller than those for the West, and particularly for countries like Bangladesh, which has very low emissions to start with and a very high population right now, our per capita emissions are almost zero in comparison to the rest of the world.
  (Dr Müller) I have to say that I am not an expert on impacts but I have worked on the international regime which has focused so far on mitigation mainly. With regard to this issue of the second commitment period targets, and these of course are on the table, I think one has quite clearly to say that allocating these permits, these targets, for countries is a matter of allocating a common asset. It is establishing property rights for something and there are different ways of doing it. You can do grandfathering, you can just say, "We have them already", or you can say, "No, there are no property rights involved; we all have equal rights to it". It is not a matter of responsibility in all these things. If you want to make policy decisions about who ought to do what and when then you really have to look at per capita emissions, not at country groupings. If you start comparing country groupings then Switzerland, for example, would never have to do anything at all because the rest of the world emits always more. If you want policy decisions, who has to start with something? It is like wealth comparison. If your policy depends on the richer starting to do something you do not do it in absolute terms. It would be ridiculous to say that Switzerland does not have to do anything because they have 50 times less GDP than the US. In order to look at these allocations of assigned amounts you have to look at per capita emissions. There of course all of the developing countries are still much less culpable than we are.

Mr Robathan

  79.  Taking the per capita emissions basis and the fact that people in developing countries are less culpable than the rest of us, that is all very well but that does not actually affect the global warming as a whole.
  (Dr Müller) It does, with respect.


 
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