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Global Warming and Some Emerging U.N. Truths
April 14th, 2008

Surya B. Prasai

Recently when delegates from around the world got together in the UN-ESCAP in Bangkok venue between March 31 and April 4, it was strongly felt that complex international agreements alone would not help countries abide by a 2009 timeline to goad them towards slashing global greenhouse gas emission levels, threatening the planet. In effect while ending the Bali meeting, UN member states, including Nepal, had agreed on four main conclusions related to global climate change: namely its mitigation, adaptation, financing and technology adoption. All four factors did matter to developing countries of the world which was led by India, China and Brazil, as much as industrialized countries which were termed major ‘polluters’.

As former US Vice President Al Gore and Head of UNFCCC Rajendra Pachauri had put it jointly, if Bali was an opportunity to think about re-tailoring Global Climate Change the huge implication of accepting such change lies in the participation of smaller countries(such as Nepal, Bhutan Maldives, and Fiji), which have a higher rate of ecological threat, particularly since they happen to be in highly susceptible transformation zone, precisely, ecologically disturbed countries. Yet these smaller countries are also fully committed to the post Kyoto Protocol scenario, despite having little recognized environmental lobbyists who can cast their voice on the global climate change agenda.

Now in Budapest, the U.N. has come up with some truly realistic scenarios on where the earth will be heading in the near future on global climate change, based on recent statements from various climate change experts. An IPCC report presented at the meeting said the decline of water quantity and quality would have a negative impact on health and result in more areas affected by water stress – the shortage of water for drinking and agriculture. For instance, water shortages will become evident in the Mediterranean Sea basin, the western U.S., parts of southern Africa and northeastern Brazil. The UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chairperson, Rajendra Pachauri stated that the rising frequency and intensity of floods and droughts could lead to a food crisis. He stated, “There is a serious concern. We may see a decline in agriculture production but as could be expected with higher incomes and population growth, we could get an increase in demand for food.”

In Africa, 250 million people could be affected by water stress in 2020. There would certainly be higher proportion of rainfall, as much as higher intensity of drought, leading to new mass migration movements, inter-state conflicts and famine. U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer told reporters that Himalayan glaciers which “provide tens of millions of people in India, Nepal and China with drinking water could potentially disappear” creating a serious problem. There could be a general problem of glaciers and mountain snow melting elsewhere in other continents as well. The IPCC report also mentions that in the U.S., the changes physically could be pretty intense with a high likelihood of the American West getting drier. The IPCC is planning to complete its next climate assessment report, the fifth since 1990, by 2014.

Also, why is the Bangkok summit so much in focus now? According to UN conference delegates, the most contentious issue in the Bangkok climate change follow-up talks was Japans introduction of a bottom-up sectoral approach proposal, which received support from major industrialized countries like the US, Canada and Australia but was turned down by developing countries, including China, India and Brazil. The irony is all these countries form the first and second tier of the global polluters list being either fully industrialized power houses or emerging lead developing economies. They do have comparatively more stringent and better environmental pollution checks than the majority of developing countries, but still they do pollute more than the rest since they are advanced industrial economies. Nevertheless, China, India and Brazil have been championing the interests of the developing countries since the Bali Meet in January 2008, and have a strong G-77 lobby backup, which basically thinks that the U.S and G-8 countries are not cooperating enough with them and increasing economic production at unparalleled rates.

Thus, Japans proposal that industrial countries be given a target date around 2020 to reform their global warming reduction goals as compared to 2012 agreed at Bali earlier, was considered as being against the developing countries interest. The developing countries, represented by G77 and China termed it a regressive act contradicting the Bali Roadmap. According to Yurika Ayukawa, World Wildlife Fund Japans special advisor for climate change, Japan had also called for setting mid-term national emissions reduction targets based on industry-specific targets for all the economies. In effect, if Japans proposal were to be accepted, major developing countries would also have to set the same type of quantified GHG emissions reduction targets as Japan. Under the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, only industrialized countries have agreed to reduce emissions by five percent from the 1990s level. Besides, Japan also wanted to include China, India and Brazil as part of the industrial countries movement to curb global warming. On the other hand, Japan, U.S. and China are working aggressively to promote clean energy technology.

The question that is again being repeated after the Bangkok Summit is: Why the uncontrolled global warming despite the Kyoto Protocol? The fact is, the Protocol is the Spring Baby as the Japanese say of the 1997 UN climate summit held in Kyoto, Japan. Its adherence can only as strong as the UN member states commit themselves to. It had required nations to minimize carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses emitted by power plants and other industrial, agricultural and transportation sources to at least five per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12, a dream that will simply not hold true. Therefore, it seems there must be a closer reality check on the environmental standards being adopted by the poorer countries and those that are being practiced by the richer ones. The level of environmental consciousness is not the same among both group of countries, one being developing and the other developed.

The U.S. and the G-8 have continued arguing that most of the industrialized world already have environmental friendly recyclable economies that are still considered highly energy efficient and clean. Russia is a prime example of a winning country that is also focusing on clean energy. Besides the U.S has invested sincerely in developing innovative clean technology mechanism under the leadership of President George W. Bush. Thus in the near future, there is a clear need for the UN, despite its constructive efforts at Bangkok to focus on the post Bali environmental movement itself, and what I an achieve for the Kyoto Protocol in reality.

U.N. voices in fact argue that there is a specific need to focus on how developed and developing countries both can generate alternate global energy demands to meet simultaneous demands since the time factor is really short. For instance, these can be met by deploying half of the existing technology in the developed countries to the developing world. According to clean energy experts, the industrial countries can still earn a neat 10% financial profit in such lending. The industrialized countries did reluctantly agree to share these cuts in Bali this year and to provide quantifiable technological and financial aid to less well-off nations, including to the economically burgeoning China, India and Brazil, but smaller countries must not be left in this technological lurch.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which hosted the Thailand meeting, had reminded the conference participants that the challenge over the next two years would be to negotiate an agreement that ensures that greenhouse gases stabilize over the “next 10 to 15 years” and “dramatically cut back” by the middle of the century. This is a goal worth working for both among industrial and developing countries. But can they make it without huddling closer together?

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