On the last day of the Major Economics Meeting, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on the world's major economies to fight global warming faster, pointing to new scientific evidence confirming worst-case scenarios.
Is climate catastrophe just around the corner?
The French president struck a gloomy note as the MEM wound down in Paris on Friday, April 18, telling the world's biggest carbon polluters that global warming was becoming a driver of hunger, unrest and conflict, and urging them to abandon their defensive strategies in the face of developments he described as catastrophic.
"We must act," Sarkozy told the delegates. "Bad news continues to emerge. Scientific models and empirical observations indicate that the events unfolding now confirm the experts' most gloomy scenarios," he stressed.
Sarkozy also called on emerging nations, such as China and India, to fight global warming.
"You cannot want to have the rights of great economic powers that you are becoming and abstain from your responsibilities," he said. "Fairness demands that all participate in the common effort, even if the developed countries must accept more stringent constraints than the developing countries," he stressed.
Climate change as a trigger of conflict
The event which took place is this week was the third in the MEM series first launched in September 2007. Its stated goal was to prepare for the December 2009 Copenhagen conference and draft a successor agreement to the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012.
"Climate change is already having a considerable impact on security," Sarkozy said in his speech to ministers from the 16 economies that together account for 80 percent of the planet's greenhouse-gas emissions -- including Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the US.
Did climate change contribute to the Darfur crisis?
"Water scarcity and rivalry for farmland and fishing resources were emerging as "major challenges," he said, pointing to the African example. "In Darfur, we see this explosive mixture from the impact of climate change, which prompts immigration by increasingly impoverished people, which then has consequences in war."
"If we keep going down this path, climate change will encourage the immigration of people with nothing towards areas where the population do have something, and the Darfur crisis will be only one crisis among dozens of others," he stressed.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last June was the first to suggest that the Darfur conflict arose "at least in part" from climate change.
Reacting to food crisis
In his speech, Sarkozy also weighed into the debate over food prices, saying the current food crisis called not only for an immediate response but also for an ambitious strategy to support agriculture, and pledging to double France's emergency food aid this year to 60 million euros ($100 million).
"We cannot remain indifferent to the unrest among those people who, in the developing countries, can no longer satisfy their hunger," he said.
Soaring prices for basic grains such as rice, wheat, soybean and corn, have provoked protests and rioting in at least half a dozen developing countries in past months, reports AFP.
Experts have pinpointed climate change as a factor here too, arguing that rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns may be contributing to water scarcity.
Biofuels, championed to help reduce carbon emissions and ease dependence on fossil fuels, have also started to become contentious. With programs such as those in the US and Brazil converting grains, sugar and soy beans into ethanol and biodiesel, the boom in biofuels has become key to the food crisis.
President Bush's environment policies have been described as "neanderthal"
Tempers had flared at the meeting on Thursday when criticism was leveled at US President George W. Bush's new climate plan.
Bush said on Wednesday that he wanted US emissions to peak by 2025, a measure dismissed as too little too late by the EU and Germany, with German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel describing the plan as "Neanderthal."
The White House on Thursday played down Germany's criticism.
"You're always going to see lots of hot-blooded reaction to anything said on climate, and so you should just be prepared for that," said Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman.
Fratto said climate change is such a contentious issue that it was no surprise that Bush faced criticism over his proposal.
"Slings and arrows would have been thrown no matter what we said, and that's the nature of the debate on climate change," Fratto said. "And you're never going to make everyone happy on it."
Sarkozy refrained on Friday from referring directly to the US feet-dragging, but his message was clear.
"We cannot afford the luxury that one of you remains behind by the roadside because the whole planet needs every one of you," he said. "I would like to pass on a simple message to you: the situation is urgent."
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