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Climate Change Conference:INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE MAY YIELD RESULTS,by Dhurjati Mukherjee,2 February Print E-mail


New Delhi, 2 February 2006

Climate Change Conference


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

The recent Climate Change Conference has agreed to a road map to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012, as Ministers of about 180 different countries agreed to launch new open-ended world talks on ways to fight global warming, overcoming objections by the US which had resisted taking part to broader discussions.  It was agreed that this was one of the most productive UN Climate Change Conferences ever.  In fact, the Montreal talks followed a twin track, one pursuing negotiations to advance Kyoto and the other under the broader UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

The US, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and Australia refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol but are members of the parent treaty and Washington had initially refused to support a broader dialogue, fearing it might be a binding commitment for cutting emissions. Under the Kyoto Protocol about 40 industrialized nations have to cut emissions by an average 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.  However, developing countries such as China and India have no targets under the Kyoto Protocol as rich industrial states have to take the lead in cutting emissions after fuelling their economies with coal, oil and gas since the days of the Industrial Revolution.

The agreement on a Kyoto renewal road map would give members seven years to negotiate and ratify accords by the time the first phase ends in 2010.  Most countries agree that deeper cuts will be needed to avoid climate chaos in the coming decades. As it is well known that global warming has been a subject of great concern with increasing build-up of gases from burning fossil fuels, power plants, autos and factories.

Though there has been a sigh of relief at the success of this Conference, it remains to be seen whether it would be possible to bring about deeper cuts in emissions, as was felt necessary by most countries as also by Jennifer Morgan, the climate change expert at the WWF, to counter the devastating impacts of climate change. However, a report released on the eve of the Montreal Conference said that developed countries, taken as a group, have achieved “sizeable emission reductions”.  Compared to the 1990 levels, overall greenhouse gas emissions by the developed countries have dropped by 5.9 per cent in 2003.

In spite of this finding, there is evidence that global warming has been affecting countries around the world. Some scientists believe the effects would be disastrous for tropical countries like India where floods and cyclones have intensified in recent years.  There is lot of scientific debate not just on the extent of climate change but its severity and the resultant impact on human society.

The accumulation of greenhouse gases raises average global temperature which could melt polar ice caps, adding water to the sea, causing a rise in sea levels.  In some areas, warmer temperatures will also mean more rainfall but that doesn’t translate into better crop productivity.  While the impact will vary around the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that the average rise in the temperatures would be between 1.4 and 5.8 by the year 2100.  However, a section of scientists feel that global warming has already begun to affect crop yields in most parts of the world and specially in the tropical countries.

Some parts of Europe may find the Mediterranean-type climate favourable, but its bad news for agriculture elsewhere, not to mention the ski resorts of the Alps.  Traditional tourism hot spots such as Spain and Greece could find their summer temperatures are simply too sizzling, tempting holiday-makers to vacation further north.  Extreme heat waves such as the one that struck Western Europe in 2003 are set to increase in frequency in a warming world, causing wildfires, loss of crops and a rise in summer deaths.

The severity of monsoon rains is expected to increase in Asia which may mean more flooding for the inhabitants of countries of Bangladesh and India.  The last two years are witness to such increase.  To the east, regions such as Indonesia and the Pacific Rim are expected to receive less rain as EI Nino events grow more severe and divert warm waters, which feed rain clouds, towards South America.

Africa is more at risk than most from the dangers of encroaching desertification. Although overall global rainfall is predicted to increase, drought-prone regions look set to expand as rising temperatures strangle plant communities that previously helped to retain water in the soil.  This could have disastrous impacts on food production for the continent.  In sub-Saharan Africa, increasing tropical rainfall could exacerbate problem of malaria, already responsible for around a deaths every year.

The Australian dry continent stands to become even more so if EI Nino events become commonplace.  Warming of ocean waters has already damaged the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest living structure.  Since 1998, the Reef has undergone two ‘bleaching’ events in which huge numbers of corals throw off the coloured algae that live alongside them, as a result of stress caused by rising temperatures.

Antarctica, which has potential to break off the world’s climate, may be in danger as climatologists believe that the break up of the West Antarctic ice sheet would dump huge amounts of fresh water into the ocean and raise sea levels by as much as several metres over the course of the century.

Thus the world wide scenario appears to be quite disturbing. In India, also recent studies indicate that global warming in the last few years has had wide ranging consequences.  A drop in wheat production, for example, in 2003-04, was attributed to warm weather.  A three-year research project supported by the UK Government and the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests has revealed that climate change, in the not-too-distant future, could increase the frequency of weather events, radically change the appearance of India’s forests, reduce rice and wheat yields and create conditions conducive to mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Keeping all this in mid, there is need to view the issue of climate change not just a problem of emission but of a cultural change of outlook – in education, in social discourse and in techno-economics.  There is every likelihood that social, economic and technological changes will be more rapid and will have greater impacts on human population.  But unless these are integrated into climate change strategies, they could act at cross purposes. 

For example, tax reform and fiscal incentives for long-term technological shifts have to be politically buttressed if they are not to succumb to destruction by competitive global markets.  Moreover, it is well known that climate change is a global problem that needs a global commitment through local action.  Thus it is necessary to think and act both globally and locally with commitment and support of the political machinery.

Above all, the solutions have to be adaptive, evolutionary, learned and shared. As Rayner and Malone (1998) aptly concluded: “To commit oneself, one’s family, firm, community or nation to just one viewpoint is to gamble that it will turn out to be right. It is far more likely that all will be partly right and all will be partly wrong. 

Recognizing this, and stewarding the land of intellectual pluralism necessary to maintain viewpoints and a rich repertoire of policy strategies from which to choose, is what promoting social resilience, sustainable development and climate change governance is all about”.  Thus there is hope that the perception of climate change and the need for clean energy and sustainable development would be accepted and implemented globally. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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