By Cindy Saine, Capitol Hill
Some US senators are calling for bipartisan action in Congress on climate change, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. On Thursday, a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee took up the issue of how the United States and other developed countries should help poorer countries that are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham have joined forces to push Congress to pass a comprehensive climate change bill. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, they said they refused to accept that the United States cannot lead the world on the issue. The Senate is planning several hearings on climate change at the end of this month.
At a Senate committee hearing Thursday, experts called on Congress to substantially increase its funding for the world's poorest countries that are also the most vulnerable to climate change, including African countries, Bangladesh and Haiti. The experts said Sudan was an example of terrible droughts, and Bangladesh was an example of the threat of floods and rising sea levels, both made worse by climate change.
The Reverend Jim Ball is senior director of Climate Campaign for the Evangelical Environmental Network. He says an overwhelming majority of evangelical Christians in the United States support strong action.
"Climate change is a natural disaster intensifier," he said. "It makes floods fiercer, hurricanes harsher, droughts drier. The one thing the world does not need are more victims of natural disasters."
Peter O'Driscoll is executive director of ActionAid USA, a global anti-poverty agency. He says there is good news and bad news on climate change.
"The good news on climate is that the government of the United States is now fully engaged on the issue," said O'Driscoll. "The bad news is that the impacts of climate change are already wreaking havoc on food production, poverty eradication programs and on emergency response systems in developing countries."
O'Driscoll said those facing the worst consequences of climate change have done little or nothing to contribute to it.
"Perhaps the cruelest irony of the unfolding climate emergency, is that those most intensely and immediately affected, are least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming," he said.
O'Driscoll said that women, as the poorest members of society, are the most adversely affected by climate change, and that their voices should be heard as solutions are sought. He singled out two women farmers, Joyce Tembenu of Malawi and Asya Begum from Bangladesh, who have been directly affected by climate change, and who are struggling to feed their families. He said the Senate's deliberations on climate change are crucial to millions of people around the world, and that increased funding for agricultural adaptation programs is urgently needed.
Retired Air Force General Charles Wald, former deputy commander of United States European Command, said climate change has also become a national security issue, because it increases competition for scarce resources and could trigger new waves of refugees.
"What we are recommending is that we, the United States military, start putting climate change in our national security planning, that we, the United States demonstrate leadership in the world," he said. "In my travels around the world it is very apparent that hardly anything major in the world is ever going to happen without U.S. leadership, and the world is begging for that."
Wald says during his active military duty he did development work in Africa, and a study at the time confirmed that for every dollar spent on prevention, $10 was saved in response. He argued that the same principal needs to be applied now to help the world's poorest countries prepare for climate change.
Some of the measures panel members discussed were planting mangrove trees or building seawalls in some places vulnerable to flooding, or creating floating gardens in other places, and growing drought-resistant crops in dry areas.
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