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Poverty reduction, climate change and biodiversity loss to be tackled as an integrated global problem

Press release | 21-07-2008

With current trends international goals disappear out of sight: poverty and hunger will not be halved by 2015, global warming will exceed 2-degrees target and biodiversity will disappear at an increasing rate. Because of growth in population and consumption it is hard to reach these goals simultaneously, certainly not in the short term. Thus, robust and coherent international policy is required to strike a balance between fighting poverty, tackling climate change, and minimising biodiversity loss. However, views differ on how this can be achieved; through international agreements between a select group of developed and developing countries and/or by strengthening more comprehensive global institutions, such as the United Nations. This is the conclusion of the Second Sustainability Outlook entitled “The Netherlands in a Sustainable World” by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency to be published tomorrow.

Development at the expense of the environment

The world population will grow to approximately 9 billion people in 2040 and consumption per person will double between 2005 and 2040, raising the demand for land and energy even further. Consequently, greenhouse gas emissions will increase by a further 50% without additional reduction policies such as the EU Climate Initiative. The increasing demand for agricultural products will accelerate biodiversity loss in Brazil, parts of Africa and other regions, even with maximum use of all current agricultural techniques. Reversing these trends requires a global reversal in thought and action by policymakers, commercial companies and individual consumers.

Large coalitions and binding international agreements

These trends can be reversed through robust international policy. However to date, the coalition of countries has been neither broad enough nor powerful enough to achieve the objectives and to enforce effective sanctions. There are sufficient options to fight poverty, tackle climate change and limit the loss of biodiversity but binding international agreements are required in order to make substantial progress. This implies commitment to financial promises to fight poverty and to reach climate change goals by a large coalition of countries including China, India and the United States, while coalitions working to reduce biodiversity loss need to include Brazil, Indonesia and Congo. Furthermore, working through international policy and flexible mechanisms such as the European Trading System for greenhouse gas emissions which can be extended to other regions, can limit the cost of these options to a few percent of a doubled GDP in 2040.

Coordinated international action and the EU

As well as robust international policy, an integrated approach is needed to tackle sustainability issues because development policies have consequences for biodiversity and climate change, and vice versa. For instance, large-scale production of biofuels has consequences for biodiversity, especially in tropical regions, and will drive up food prices. Improving agricultural techniques especially in developing countries and creating and financing more nature reserves (CO2 storage in forests) are examples of options where international policies for development, climate change and biodiversity can be integrated. Integrated approaches can be broadened to include policies on energy, agriculture and trade. Instead of individual European countries, the European Union would be the most suitable player to take the lead in promoting a coalition of large countries, including those with rapidly growing economies. This is a promising route to a new global deal for poverty, climate and biodiversity.

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