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 warming 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 2010, regrettably the global resolve to address the issue appeared to have waned
The Copenhagen summit had begun with great expectation and attended by 198 global world leaders, including United States President Barack Obama, attending the conference. However, 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 and deep cuts in global emission are required according to science”. It also mentions to hold the increase in global temperature 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’. Kyoto protocol, 1997 agreement that requires 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.
Apparently, Kyoto protocol will not be renewed at 2011 UN conference at Durban, South Africa, and will likely be replaced by a new World Bank -administrated Fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change. Many voices were raised at Cancun how World Bank could do honest job in funding projects on cleaner energy when its own track record on the issue has not been very good.
Perhaps, one of the biggest setbacks on the policy front is the Republican capture of 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 not wise to make changes in the nations energy economy. Their ascendancy is threatening to 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 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 lobbyist in Washington DC 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.
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”.
India’s weak and poor regulatory framework has resulted in haphazard urbanization, deforestation and unprecedented air, water and land pollution. Economic growth has resulted influx of people to different metro cities and towns in search of livelihood and education, in the absence of huge employment and educational opportunities for generation next. The national chaos also reflected in UPA government’s commitment to tackle the impact of climate change, its policy, swinging from voluntary commitment to reduce emissions and keep steady economic growth to expressing India’s willingness to accept legally binding commitments for emission cuts and compromise the future of emerging middle class.
The World is facing irregular challenges by climate change as 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. There is a very high probability that climate change could trigger many more such regional catastrophes in immediate future. Australia experienced unprecedented floods on first day of New Year in Queensland, flooding more than 200,000 km2. If climate change driven catastrophes are not handled through multinational cooperation early on, seemingly they may spark intense competition for humanitarian relief, international aid funds and water resources.
Mitigation aims to cut off global warming at its source by reducing emission of greenhouse gases and black carbon was actively pushed by the Group of 77 developing countries at Copenhagen summit, now it seems harder than we once thought. Although, the world is flattened by information technology and social networking sites such as face book, but highly uneven politically and economically. Indeed, it will take decades to deploy new energy affordable technologies on a global scale.
What has happened thus far is only the beginning, but the impacts of climate change are already manifesting across the planet: altered seasonal patterns, declining arctic sea ice, shrinking global glaciers, and increased frequency of extreme weather events. The full social and economic impacts of these geophysical and ecological changes are yet to be felt. The Pakistan and Australian floods show that climate events can affect a major section of the population of an entire region.
We are on a fast track of thickening the blanket of greenhouse gases and jeopardizing the climate. It is, therefore, urgent to adapt to climate change than continuing to adopt 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 for south Asia requires a distributed effort like “knowledge Action Networks”, that is, managed social networks that link global science, technology and policy communities to local initiatives.
Author: This article has been written by Prof. Syed Iqbal Hasnain for Climate Himalaya Initiative’s Expert Speak Column. Prof. Hasnain is a Distinguished Fellow at Stimson Center in Washington, DC, 20036, USA.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.
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