Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Monday, 24 March 2008

Tony the climate tiger: Roaring success?

Saleemul Huq
Saleemul Huq

Does the world need Tony Blair as a climate change envoy? In the Green Room this week, Saleemul Huq argues that he shows few signs of understanding the impacts that climate change is already having on the developing world.

Tony Blair (Getty Images)
Mr Blair's own track record on climate change is questionable - the UK's emissions of greenhouse gases rose under his leadership

Tony Blair rode into Japan on his white horse earlier this month calling for a "global environment revolution" that would see the world's biggest polluters, including China and India, cut their greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change.

So far, so good; but Blair's credentials on climate change and some of his recent statements show that he needs a revolution of his own mindset if he is to succeed.

The same applies to Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda who will host this year's G8 summit.

Japan is inviting the leaders of Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, South Africa and Mexico to the join the G8 at side talks on climate change.

While this is important given these countries' greenhouse gas emissions, what is striking is the absence of those hardest hit by climate change.

Yet another G8 meeting has forgotten to invite the poor and vulnerable.

Inviting the major emitters to talk about targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a bit like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Sure, the horse needs to return to the stable - emissions must be reduced rapidly to limit climate change - but right now, the horse is already out there causing havoc and trampling people's livelihoods and future prospects.

Small emissions

Climate change is no longer a future possibility. Its impacts are already being felt by some of the world's poorest communities.

Farmers building a terrace in southern Ethiopia (Image: Tearfund)

And these impacts - floods, drought, crop failure, disease and sea level rise - are set to get worse before they get better.

These impacts will be felt most in more than forty Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans; in the UN-recognised group of 50 Least Developed Countries (LDCs), mainly in Africa but also in Asia; and in a number of other highly vulnerable African nations.

These 100 countries have a combined population of nearly one billion people, but produce only 3.2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), there is already a process that engages all countries, rich and poor.

At the UNFCCC summit in Bali last year, the parties to the convention agreed to finalise a global agreement to address climate change by the end of 2009.

What we need now is more support for this inclusive approach, which is the only real hope of reaching an agreement that is fair and equitable.

What we don't need are distractions from this vital goal, especially if they marginalise the poorest countries by focusing only on mitigating climate change and not on adapting to its inevitable impacts, as the recent moves by Mr Fukuda and Mr Blair do.

Mr Blair's own track record on climate change is questionable - the UK's emissions of greenhouse gases rose under his leadership.

Graph of per-capita greenhouse gas emissions against per-capita GDP for four example countries. Data sources: UN, World Bank, US Census
Rich nations emit more greenhouse gases per person than poor ones

Last year the former PM said he had no intention of taking fewer long haul flights for holidays and that it was "a bit impractical" to expect the public to do the same.

He revealed his thinking to be fundamentally flawed last week by saying: "If we do not take substantial action over the next two years, then by 2020 we will be thinking seriously about adaptation rather than prevention".

But the time for thinking about adaptation has already long passed. It is time to act.

Poor people in poor countries are feeling impacts of climate change today. Some are already taking steps to adapt to these and future threats, but the scale of these activities is pitiful.

The level of funding that rich countries have pledged to help the poor adapt is minuscule, and the amounts actually provided are smaller still.

Yet hundreds of millions of people urgently need to adapt, by altering the way they live, work and support their families.

Rising tide

It is also too late for Mr Blair to be talking about prevention.

Man wearing ceremonial robes (Image: BBC)

Delays in the Earth-Atmosphere system mean that we are already committed to more serious climate change impacts, even if all greenhouse gas emissions stopped this instant.

Things are going to get worse before they get better.

By Blair's 2020 adaptation deadline, rising seas will have forced the people of the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea to flee their ancestral land as climate change refugees. In fact. in 2008 they are already preparing to leave.

It is the world's poor who are on the frontline of climate change, yet they have done the least to contribute to the problem.

It is the world's rich who are causing the problem and will be most insulated from its impacts.

Under the UNFCCC, rich countries (including all G8 members) have an obligation to help SIDS and LDCs to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

But neither Prime Minster Blair nor Chancellor Merkel of Germany saw fit to invite leaders from any of these countries to the past two G8 summits, which they hosted. Mr Fukuda risks making the same mistake.

Mr Blair and Mr Fukuda need to realise that climate change is fundamentally an issue of social justice and equity.

Unless efforts to address climate change have this at their heart, they will not build trust nor raise the political capital to broker a deal and make a real change.

Saleemul Huq is head of the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Saleemul Huq? Does Tony Blair's track record make him an inappropriate climate envoy, or do his contacts, skills and status suggest he can achieve something meaningful? Is it already time for richer countries to help poorer ones protect against climate impacts? Is the G8 ignoring the interests of the developing world?

Tony Blair might like to consider reducing the amount of hot air he produces, mostly from his mouth, as a way of helping reduce global warming. Add that to stopping travelling so much and instead using technology to communicate with leaders around the globe, he might be onto a good start of reducing his own carbon footprint. Less hot air Tony and more action please.
Robert Matson, Port Vila

Now is the time for richer countries to help poorer countries with climate change. When I was in Morocco in 2005 I noticed several things which helped me to understand this opportunity. First there is plentiful sunlight and inexpensive labor, a good mix to develop renewable energy and perhaps even export it to Europe. Second, there were few land telephone lines but everyone seemed to have a mobile phone and satellite dish, which shows that poorer countries are able to adopt new technologies. And finally there is very little infrastructure, now is the time to build that infrastructure the right way. Perhaps the U.S. under new leadership would be willing to invest in poorer countries in exchange for carbon credits. Perhaps the rest of the G8 will be willing to invest in poorer countries to help bring peace and economic prosperity to those countries. Yes we can
Will Barnstead, Winnipeg, Canada

Tony Blair will NEVER find any credibility as a "climate" spokesman. There isn't one soul anywhere on our sorely troubled planet that should believe word one that might spew from Mr. Warmonger's mouth. Blair should be slapped in shackles and irons and held in the dock at the International Criminal Court at the Hague and face the nice judges that sit there for his monstrous sins.
Skulz Fontaine, Gaza Strip, Utah/Nevada

I totally agree with Saleemul Huq. Mr Blair did nothing when in the most influential role. Crickey he's annoying. As Prime Minister for 10 years he had a golden opportunity to change things for a better environment, and quickly too. He did virtually nothing meaningful and now jets all over the place polluting everything in his path (there's absolutely nothing non polluting about flying). What a waste of time. He comes out with these idiotic statements given to him by others. He's not a leader, never has been. Let's move one and find someone who really cares passionately about the environment but who can bring change quickly, effectively and economically, and there are ways right now it just needs guts. But we need someone who will be listened too and who is respected. We should also note that Mr Blair now avoids the UK.
John Duffy,

Climate change is an inescapable fact.We are going to have to put up with it until it reverses and we head towards another ice age. I believe that we are being arrogant to think that we can influence it by any more than a very tiny amount.We should not be looking for people to blame we should be looking at ways of preparing to live with it before it is too late.
D.Mackay, Cardiff Wales

As recently exposed by the Daily Mail, Tony Blair demands a private jet for each overseas speaking engagement, and I wonder how he travelled to Japan (certainly not on a white horse as described!) He and Cherie have also been using two 4x4s for house hunting. With his past insistence that consumer preferences and economic growth must have precedence over curbing emissions growth, he will be nothing but a spanner-in-the-works to efforts to stave off dangerous climate change.
Jim, London UK

Tony Blair should go back to Iraq so he can enjoy for himself the gratitude of the Iraqi people for all he has done for their country. If he could persuade his friend Mr Bush to go with him, he might just leave the world a better place. The planet needs his "do anything the Americans want" approach like a hole in the ozone layer!
Chris W, Chippenham

Do you agree with Saleemul Huq - NO. Saleemul Huq would appear to be yet another global warming alarmist making his career and probably a good living out of false forecasts from UNVERIFIED climate models based on UNPROVEN THEORIES and numerous doubtful assumptions. Why should he complain if Tony Blair does the same? We have had mild global warming last century and NO GLOBAL WARMING this century, so these climate models we are expected to base our future economy on and radically alter our life style cannot even correctly forecast warming in the first 8 years of the century Is it already time for richer countries to help poorer ones protect against climate impacts? YES. We should stop wasting our money preventing CO2 emissions which have little effect on the climate, allow them to develop their economies as we did using whatever resources they want and help mitigate whatever climate change (warming or cooling) results from predominantly natural causes. Somehow I do not think the Alarmists will ever agree with this despite the growing amount of scientific evidence against their theories and only global cooling will rescue us from their nonsense and vested interests.
Mike Owens, York

How much does Tony Blair really KNOW about climate change. Has he studied the science behind environmetal issues? It seems doubtful. It seems equally unlikely that TB has any background in what it's like to live from day to day surviving only on what you and your family can grow and produce. What help will he plan and promote for so many in the world who live like this ?
Sorcha, Argyll, Scotland

TB's record makes him about as welcome as the disease that shares his initials. How can anyone take him seriously? He goes around demanding reform and democracy yet has done more to damage both in the UK than any leader in modern history. He took the honour out of politics a long time ago. We desperately need to have him removed from any form of public life sooner than possible. What right has any G8 country got to demand anything from a developing country. For every item we import we only exported jobs but failed to export the related pollution. We object to the new producer's pollution whilst further increasing our own emissions. There are many homes in cold parts of China with no heating yet we object to them striving to achieve what we have. I also object to countries like New Zealand who claim to be green - but still use imported cars, PCs and all manor of gadgets that left serious amounts of pollution with the producing country. That amounts to hypocrisy.
Jonathan, Slough, UK

After the disaster of Iraq I was rather hoping that no one would ever give Tony Blair an important job ever again - and make no mistake, his new role is a really important job. People should remember that it is the poorest people in the world who are going to suffer most from climate change, and that it is wealthy nations who are responsible for causing that problem.
Paul A, London, UK

I love the way he keeps jetting around talking to people regardless of having no country behind him. But then he always considered himself to be wrestling with his party and country anyway, so perhaps he's just doing as he always did. It may be to early to talk about legacies.
Josh W, Swansea, Wales

Blair doesnt care about anything but his ego and his bank balance. His only interest in being envoy is to hold up and sabotage any progress if it doesnt suit the big companies who have him in their pockets. He lied his way to power in the UK and lied to get the UK involved in an illegal war. He had 10 years as prime minister and never did anything remotely beneficial for the environment. He had his nose between Bushs backside for years and we all know how green he is. He will do exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. Hes a liar,not an environmentalist.
Ritchie, Birkenhead

as for his environmental credentials you have to ask what are the carbon foot prints of the Iraq and Afgan wars?? and how have they effected the environment. of course flying around the world spreading the message of environmentalism is a bit of a contradiction isnt it
richard, cornwall

Someone needs to buy this man a dictionary, so he can look up the words hypocrite and liar.
Erik Smith, Lerwick

As Mr Blair is still a serving MP I would hope he would be too busy to undertake extra work when he should be representing his constituents. If he no longer attends the house I hope he is not claiming his allowances.
Nicholas Payne, Slough

Tony Blair is making the case for globally equal per capita emissions rights under the overall emissions limit that avoids dangerous rates of climate change. This is the global deal known as 'Contraction and Convergence' (C&C). It is exemplary and with that said, it is absurd to suggest, as Mr Huq does, that Mr Blair's initiative [see recent speech on the G8 platform in Japan] is an attempt to deny justice to developing countries. On the contrary, he is as good as arguing their case knowing that not to argue the case for C&C will inevitably result in a quantum of emissions that ensure dangerous rates of climate change: - These will have impacts that devastate the entire human economy eventually, but starting with countries like Bangladesh. Tradable emissions permits are very valuable in the market scarcity demanded by the avoidance of climate change. C&C creates a global total that is safe and the sharing of this in a rational constitutional mechanism that makes market-share proportional to people rather than to money. As such it is a framework-based market defined by prevention. It creates a generously remedial pre-distribution of this equity in favour of developing countries like Bangladesh. As Mr Huq and many others know, this is preferable to more aspirational rhetoric: - It is only within this framework that the adaptation arrangements he rightly calls for make any sense.
A Meyer, London UK

Is Tony going to solve the climate problem before or after he brings peace to the Middle East? This appointment really is a cruel joke.
Mark D, Cornwall, UK

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