Emissions targets must help those affected

FaceSt Vincent de Paul Society founder Frederic Ozanam lived and participated in a very political society, much like our own. But as Andrew Hamilton points out in his review of the new Ozanam biography, he 'kept in sharp focus the faces of the poor', and let that determine his political manoeuvrings.

In deciding whether to urge the Australian Government to support an interim emissions reduction target at the current Bali UN climate change meeting, our moral compass must be the faces of the poor. Many Australians would be well able to live with the financial consequences of such a target, such as increased electricity bills. But it's a different story for the low-income families.

Vinnies expressed concern earlier this year at the suggestion of a $10 a tonne carbon levy as a way of tackling the important issue of climate change. It argued that the levy would have a disproportionate impact on pensioners.

Obviously this relates to only part of the climate change scenario, as decisions about emissions control are being made not primarily for our wellbeing, but for that of future populations. Therefore we need to read the faces of the poor who live around us today, but also imagine those of the future.

In addition there are many who live away from the political process that affects their wellbeing. These include the tribal peoples of the world whose habitats are rapidly being deforested.

In this issue of Eureka Street, Irish Columban ecologist Fr Sean McDonagh writes from the Bali meeting, articulating his position on deforestation. His authority is derived largely from his experience working with the T'boli tribe in a remote area of the southern Philippines, people without a voice in global politics. He spent 11 years reading their faces.

McDonagh points out that even solutions to ecological malpractice are often directed to needs other than those of the people who have been directly affected.

'During my time in the T'boli hills, I often came across reforestation proposals, from government and other agencies, that completely overlooked the fact that tribal people both lived in the forests and lived off their resources.'

He argues that any initiative — such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) — must address the needs of rural forest dwellers and indigenous people. Similarly a frenzied adoption of emissions targets at Bali that leads to large-scale job losses would be regrettable in the short-term. Their adoption for the sake of long-term human wellbeing needs to be carefully justified.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. He was also editor of CathNews, after working as information officer for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome.




submit a comment


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up