Anti-Poverty Group Urges APEC Leaders to Tackle Climate Change

Failure to tackle climate change at the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit could create problems in the future, warns a prominent coalition of anti-poverty groups and individuals.

In its new report, the Make Poverty History coalition stated that if the annual meeting of Pacific Rim leaders was unable to deal with the issue of climate change then it could potentially exacerbate regional security challenges, increase the rate of natural disasters and undermine a global effort to eradicate extreme poverty.

"Climate change is expected to substantially reduce freshwater availability in much of Asia, leading to widespread malnutrition and adversely affecting more than a billion people by the 2050s. In other places, more frequent flooding will lead to a large increase in deaths from diarrhea and cholera," warned Make Poverty History's co-chair, the Rev. Tim Costello.

"With projections that higher sea levels, floods and droughts could displace tens of millions of people, there is a risk of exacerbating tensions between different communities, precipitating territorial disputes and generating new waves of refugees."

Costello said it was in the interest of APEC to swiftly tackle the issue through a unified response to avert the worst effects of climate change.

Andrew Hewett, the co-chair of the Australian arm of Make Poverty History, also weighed in on the debate, saying that the group to bear the brunt of global warming was often those who contributed least to its cause.

"It is the poorest countries which stand to suffer the most from climate change, even though they have contributed the least to its causes," said Hewett.

"With the likelihood of more typhoons and more people being flooded each year, many families will be left without homes or livelihoods. Even a one meter sea-level rise, which is entirely possible this century, would displace more than 56 million people."

Hewett also added that if leaders from the 21 Pacific Rim economies who will be attending the Sept. 8-9 summit do not tackle this problem then the aid money that the poverty-relief coalition had campaigned for would be used for disaster response instead of lifting people out of poverty.

The issue of climate change and more specifically global warming has been increasingly prominent in Australia, where the APEC summit is being held this year, especially with the Nov. 10 federal elections fast approaching.

As they are worldwide, Christians in Australia are split on how to respond to the issue of global warming. Some believe that Christians should stay clear of it given that there is "no consensus on this issue." However others are urging for immediate action to tackle the problem, saying the failure to do so will "cause severe consequences."

"We do know that human activity is doing great, and maybe irreparable, damage to our home, the earth," the Rev. John Henderson, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia, has said in response to the issue.

Furthermore, in the "Australia's Faith Communities on Climate Change" report published last year, the Australian Baptist Churches claimed there was "overwhelming scientific evidence show(ing) that humans have caused much of the global warming occurring today."

Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, however, has noted that the evidence on global warming is "mixed, often exaggerated."

"We have been subjected to a lot of nonsense about climate disasters as some zealots have been painting extreme scenarios to frighten us," the cardinal wrote in a column published this year in the Sunday Telegraph. "Scaremongers have used temperature fluctuations in limited periods and places to misrepresent longer patterns."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, the host of this week's meetings of Pacific Rim leaders, is reportedly keen to promote climate change as the top priority for the gathering, but has acknowledged that security and terrorism would be discussed in bilateral meetings.

Also, while he acknowledged that not all of the world's problem could be solved at the meeting, Howard said the gathering was still significant since it brings the three biggest polluters together.

"You never solve all the world's problems at one meeting and it's always a mistake to say that unless this meeting achieves A, B or C, it's a total failure," he told the West Australian news publication.

"I think the big thing about APEC, significant thing, is that it brings together in a manageable sized forum . . . the three biggest polluters in the world — Russia, America and China. If we can get some consensus on a way forward on climate change out of a body including America, Russia and China, that's a huge step forward," the Australian prime minister stated.

On Wednesday, U.S. President George W. Bush urged Pacific Rim nations to band together on tackling global warming, saying all major polluters must be part of any solution. But finding consensus among Asian leaders at their annual summit has proven elusive.

APEC's developing countries, in particular, were trying to squelch the inclusion of specific targets to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, officials said.

Though APEC still considers itself chiefly a trade group, its mission has expanded in recent years, taking on health and security issues and natural disasters that disrupt economic growth.

The 21 APEC groups include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China and its Hong Kong territory, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

Christian Post reporter Eric Young in Washington contributed to this report.