Resources & Climate

More Sign of Warming, but United Nations Climate Change Negotiations Still Cold

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By Syed Iqbal Hasnain – The world seems to have taken a step backward in combating climate change in the past year, even though more signs of climate disruptions are evident across the globe. In the roughly 12 months between the two United Nations climate change conferences, the Copenhagen summit in December 2009 and Cancun a year later, regrettably the global resolve to address the issue appears to have waned.

The Copenhagen summit had begun with great expectations; 198 global world leaders, including United States President Barack Obama, attended.  But it ended with an innocuous political statement known as Copenhagen Accord (CHA), which states that “we underline that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time.” It referred to the need for deep cuts in global emissions, and to hold the increase in global temperature to less than 2 degree Celsius below the pre-industrial level.

The Cancun summit, in contrast to Copenhagen, began with modest aims, with only low level global climate negotiators from 190 countries attending it. The so-called Cancun agreements were   described by international media and non-profit organizations as an agreement ‘on framework and not on climate change’.   The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which called on most wealthy nations to trim their emissions while providing assistance to developing countries to pursue a cleaner energy future, was a modest success even though United States was not on board. 

At  the next UN climate conference, scheduled for December 2011 in Durban, South Africa,  the Kyoto Protocol will likely  be replaced  by a new World Bank-administrated Fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

The State of the Climate Change Challenge   Growing global and regional emission levels are adversely affecting various ecosystems resulting from changes in temperature and rainfall incidence. Increased climate variability has the potential to cause significant loss of biodiversity as well as impacts on food and forests products.

  • Perhaps nowhere is this more concerning than in South Asia. Aside from floods in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, consider ramifications of intense melting of Hindu Kush-Himalayan glaciers. The melting of summer sea ice in Arctic at a record pace, and the ongoing collapse of a big portion of western Antarctic ice sheet are examples of the adverse affects that will begin occurring.
  • In 2010, the United States experienced its warmest year on record, China experienced devastating mudslides, and Russia experienced searing heat and devastating forest fires. Australia experienced unprecedented floods in Queensland, flooding more than 200,000 km2.
  • Meanwhile, China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest energy consumer in mid-2010, according to the International Energy Agency. Beijing’s relentless drive to urbanize its 70 % population by 2030 has made it world largest emitter of greenhouse gases and black carbon. A downside to urbanization is that cities are hotter than the surrounding countryside, creating what meteorologists call” urban heat islands”.

The Need for International Cooperation  If climate change driven catastrophes are not handled through multinational cooperation early on, they may spark intense competition for humanitarian relief, international aid funds and water resources.  Yet the options are fraught with political controversy and difficulty.

Perhaps one of the biggest setbacks on the policy front is the Republican victory in the U.S House of Representatives in the November 2010 midterm elections. Several GOP congressman  with  ‘Tea Party’ affiliations think that that climate change is ‘cyclical’ and see no need to make changes in the nation’s energy economy. Their ascendancy could derail whatever policies the Democratic led Congress and Administration had put in place to reduce emissions.

  • The new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican Fred Upton of Michigan, says he will target the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is writing rules to limit greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. He warned the White House that, “We are not going to let this administration regulate what they have been unable to legislate.”
  • America’s oil, coal and utility industries lobbyists have collectively spent more than 500 million dollars since the beginning of 2009 to lobby against ” cap and trade’ legislation and to defeat the candidates that actively supported the US climate change legislation in the midterm polls.

More generally, one needs to consider the mitigation and adaptation options, at the society and regional levels.

Mitigation aims to cut off global warming at its source by reducing emission of greenhouse gases and black carbon; it was actively pushed by the Group of 77 developing countries  at Copenhagen summit, but now it seems harder than we once thought. Despite the availability of information technology and social networking sites, the world remains highly uneven politically and economically. Indeed, it will take decades to deploy new energy affordable technologies on a global scale.

It is, therefore, urgent to adapt to climate change rather than continuing the “business as usual” approach. Key adaptation decisions will be needed at variety of levels. They involve local infrastructure and vulnerabilities, therefore adaptation to climate change can not be successful without the participation of local communities. Nonetheless, local communities lack knowledge and ability to take prompt action. And those who are working at international levels are often unaware of local environmental and socio-economic conditions.

An effective adaptation requires a distributed effort like “knowledge Action Networks”, that is, managed social networks that link global science, technology and policy communities to local initiatives.  


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