Regions, Statistics and Climate Change

Recently, the President of the Asian Development Bank, Takehiko Nakao, published an editorial in which he stated “The Asia-Pacific region currently generates 37 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.” (Read the full editorial here ). This is blatantly wrong. Asia (and even then not all of it, as it is a massive region) generates 37 percent of GHGs, while the contribution of the Pacific is miniscule at best. But the international community likes to think in terms of regions, so Asia-Pacific it is, regardless of the accuracy of statements applying to this mega-region (the same argument would also apply the the ‘Latin America and Carribean’ region).

I have previously argued here that the Pacific is at a distinct disadvantage when it is grouped into the Asia-Pacific region, particularly when it comes to averaged statistics. This is case in point. It is also at a disadvantage when it comes to global goals. Specifically, the goal of the upcoming COP21 in Paris where countries are working towards commitments to limit global warming to two degrees Celcius. Globally, this is a fair (but by no means the best) target. However, this target is a catastrophe for the Pacific. Scientists have calculated that a 1.5 degree Celcius temperature increase is the maximum at which small island states (SIDS) can exist and adapt. This is because adaptation is not an infinite process. At some point – specifcally 1.5 degrees – climate change wins and SIDS lose (as I have argued here ).
It therefore makes it very difficult to read statements by such emminent individuals as the President of the ADB which don’t provide a clear picture of the actual problem. While aggregated statistics certainly make it easier to argue a case, they also result in winners and losers. The Pacific is now tagged as a climate change contributor rather than a victim. So what can be done about this?

First, the international community needs to stop discussing challenges through the lens of these mega-regions. Doing so distorts the complexity of a problem, including causes and solutions. Such as the commitment (maybe) to limit global warming to two degrees celcius when this would be a catastrophe for SIDS. Essentially, we, the international community, need to move away from generalizations when we discuss drivers and responses to issues such as climate change.
Second, we should not be afriad to ask for more. The Climate Vulnerability Monitor and CARE recently launched the ‘1.5 to Stay Alive’ campaign to aggressively raise awareness about the perilous situation of SIDS and advocate for even greater commitment limit global warming – specifically to a 1.5 degrees Celcius maximum increase (read about the campaign here ). Some good news is that with the change leadership in Australia, that country has rapidly come on board to support the cause of the Pacific in advance of the COP. Whether the government will commit to the 1.5 degree goal is yet to be seen (so far no word on any policy change on that front).

Finally, we, as development practioners, need to take personal responsibility for what is being published, particularly when it comes to statistics because we can inadvertently tell the wrong story or provide an inaccurate picture of a situation. Let us be wary and demand clarification of statements that begin with ‘In Asia-Pacific X%…’ because Asia is too large and too diverse to be generalized, let alone throwing the Pacific into the mix. As with ‘Africa’ and every other region. Be wary of causing more harm than good simply because aggregated statistics are ‘easier’ than digging deeper and providing data on very complex situations and needs.

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