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Politics of global warming take centre stage in Copenhagen

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th December 2009 03:00 AM

THIS week the world’s focus will be on the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. World leaders and policy makers from 192 nations will seek a solution to reduce global warming by agreeing to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

THIS week the world’s focus will be on the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. World leaders and policy makers from 192 nations will seek a solution to reduce global warming by agreeing to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

By Suleiman Otieno

THIS week the world’s focus will be on the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. World leaders and policy makers from 192 nations will seek a solution to reduce global warming by agreeing to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

Major decisions will await the arrival of environmental ministers and heads of state in the final day of the conference due to end December 18.

Some of the contentious issues that might surface at the two-week conference, dubbed COP15, will revolve around the modalities of reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases are the gases that naturally form a blanket on the earth, keeping it at about 33 degrees Celsius warmer than it could be without the gases in the atmosphere. Though the gases are important, excess concentration of the gases has adverse environmental effects.

The concentration of the main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorocarbons in the atmosphere pose a major concern to the world because of changing climatic conditions that has led to droughts, diseases and floods. Industrial emissions through burning of fossil fuels (for example, coal, oil, gas) and deforestation, are some of the main contributors of greenhouse gases.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established in 1988 by the UN organisation for environment, UNEP, in their fourth report published in 2007, concluded that climate change is man-made and is happening faster than earlier assumed.

The report shows that climate changes are a reality today with the main culprit being greenhouse gas emissions caused by man — and notably carbon dioxide emissions. Successful lobbying by world leaders, environmentalists and opinion leaders in Copenhagen should lead member states to agree on modalities of reducing emissions and hopefully signing a treaty.

Should a treaty be agreed on, it would replace the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997 and came into force on February 16, 2005. What is of major concern though is, whether the US, one of the highest producers of greenhouse gases, and who did not sign the Kyoto Protocol for fear it would be harmful to their economy, will sign a treaty on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in Copenhagen.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reported on November 17, 2008 that although industrialised nations reduced emissions between 1990 and 2006, in recent years, between 2000 and 2006, greenhouse gas emissions have generally increased by 2.3%.

Who should finance the cost of climate change programmes for poor countries? Should we expect, for example, developing countries to agree to reduce emissions by the same percentage yet developed countries are the major culprits when it comes to global warming?

The fact that industrialised countries are also the main financers of poor countries might tilt the bargaining power in favour of developed countries when negotiating reduction of emissions.

The reality on the ground is that developed countries are more industrialised and as such lead in industrial emissions. Furthermore, usage of renewable energy is still minimal compared to coal and oil. For example, China’s energy sector is reliant on coal by about 70%.

In the coming weeks we are bound to witness a debate that puts the lifeline of major economies at stake. With many economies still reeling from the effects of global recession, would countries, particularly developing countries, be willing to sacrifice their economic growth at the expense of climate change?

Many would hope that the demand created by the sensitisation of climate change would result, for example, in a reduction of global oil prices because of increase in use of renewable energy, which would translate to reduced cost of living among the many poor. But is this just wishful thinking?
While adapting to global change is inevitable to any government, financing of climate change programmes poses the major challenge.

Perhaps the question that citizens from developing countries should be asking is: How well are our governments prepared to tackle climate change? With water levels reducing due to droughts, East African cities for example, have experienced irregular supply of electricity and power rationing.

Green energy (environmentally-friendly energy) can be an alternative that is both friendly to the environment and cheaper in the long run. Africa has vast potential of harnessing green energy from wind power, solar energy and biogas among other forms of renewable energies.

With the cost of electricity becoming exorbitant for many of Africa’s poor, green energy may just provide the answer for African governments to better achieve sustainable development aimed at improving lives at a lower cost.

Concerted efforts in the cities should focus on reducing emissions from manufacturing industries, automobiles and construction industries that are the main sources of greenhouse gases.
Conservation of water catchment areas and forests should also be considered if we hope to preserve our tourist attractions like Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya for our future generations.

Governments also should review investments in the energy sector to take into account climate change considerations.

We do hope that as world leaders and policy makers meet in Copenhagen to strike a deal on reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases, temperatures in the conference hall will not only be favourable, but will also translate into formulation of adaptive policies that will benefit all nations and guarantee the protection of favourable global temperatures.

The writer works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Politics of global warming take centre stage in Copenhagen

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