The message coming out of the UN is brutally simple: the developing world is being called upon to pay for most of the sins of the industrialized world.
The luxurious life styles of the rich, the carbon dioxide emissions from burning petroleum in gas-guzzling vehicles, and the gradual degradation of the earth's environment have triggered a devastating phenomenon: global warming.
"Climate change may be one of the biggest threats faced by mankind," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned last week
By next year, more than 50 million people worldwide are expected to be displaced -- categorized as environmental refugees-- because of rising sea levels, desertification and floods.
"There are well-founded fears that the number of people fleeing untenable environmental conditions may grow expontentially as the world experiences the effects of climate change and other phenomena," warns Janos Bogardi, director of the UN University's Institute for Environment and Human Security.
China, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya are in danger of losing thousands of square kilometres of desert and farmlands due to desertification.
The World Bank says the Yemeni capital of Sana'a has doubled its population since 1962, currently standing at over 900,000. But the acquifer providing water is falling six metres a year, and may run dry by 2010.
New Zealand has offered to provide safe haven to about 11,600 citizens of the low lying Pacific island of Tuvalu -- if and when that country is overwhelmed by sea level rise.
Last week the General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the United Nations, turned its attention to climate change and renewable energy. The meeting was a precursor to a major international conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December.
But delegates were treated to a rare spectacle of a tiny island nation battling global warming -- even though it played no significant role in causing it-- warning about the dangers of climate change.
The Maldives, which is threatened with extinction due to rising sea levels, is living on borrowed time -- and on outright grants.
Faced with the threat of being wiped off the face of the earth, the island nation is fighting back to stay alive.
The Maldivian Vice President Mohamed Waheed pointed out that the average height of the country's 2,000 tropical islands was a mere 1.5 metres above sea level making them highly vulnerable to rising sea levels.
But he said the Maldives was shoring up its defences in its most populous islands. A sea wall built around Male, which protected the country from the 2004 tsunami, had cost $60 million: a tidy sum compared with the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) of about $1 billion.
The funding for the project came as outright grants from Japan, a traditional aid donor to the Maldives.
Since every one of its 2,000 islands cannot be protected by costly sea walls, the government has been encouraging inhabitants to move to larger and safer islands.
But there is strong resistance, says Waheed, because most of the inhabitants want to live and die in a land where their ancestors were buried. At least one luxury resort, with a seven star rating, has already gone carbon neutral.
It is using deep-sea water to cool its air conditioning units and turning its organic waste into fertilizer.
Asked why the Maldives, which is hardly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions would bother to go carbon neutral, Waheed said the country's answer was: "the time has come for global leadership."
And that leadership is being offered by the Maldives.
Addressing the General Assembly last week, Ban Ki-moon cited several examples of countries undergoing dramatic transformations of their global energy markets.
During the oil crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Iceland was completely dependent on gasoline supplies. But today it generates virtually all its energy from geothermal and hydro-electricity.
A country that has been devastated by the global financial crisis, Iceland is far ahead of most Western nations in the race for a cleaner environment. Denmark has been described as another pioneer of carbon neutrality while Brazil has shown its potential for biomass as fuel.
As the world's leading producer of photovoltaic cell, China has doubled its windpower capacity five years in a row. "The green economy is the wave of the future," says the secretary-general. But how many will heed his advice?Source: sundaytimes.lk