Global Trends by Martin
Monday 11 September 2006
Act now on climate, leaders told
At the Asia-Europe Summit
held the past few days in Helsinki, the political leaders were told
to make climate change a top priority in their future discussions and
cooperation activities. It is the world’s gravest threat, signs of
adverse effects are already evident, and greater catastrophe awaits
if emission-reduction measures are not taken immediately.
Among the topics at the Asia-Europe
Summit held at Helsinki last weekend was the crisis of climate change.
It is an issue that will
increasingly haunt us. The United Kingdom government’s chief scientific
adviser Sir David King has said: “Climate change is a far greater threat
to the world than international terrorism.”
In Helsinki, an Asia-Europe
Dialogue on the Climate Challenge was held last week on the eve of the
Summit. Present were policy makers, parliamentarians, scientists and
NGOs. Malaysian participants included two Members of Parliament, Hasni
Mohammad and Dr.Ago Anak Dagang, and myself.
Organised by the Finnish
Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of the Environment, the dialogue highlighted
the latest scientific facts and discussed what can be done.
The effects of climate change
are already being experienced in the form of extreme weather events
including severe floods, droughts and storms, while glaciers are shrinking.
Scientists at the meeting
said that this century global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees centigrade,
a level which threatens human survival. Anything beyond an increase
of 2 degrees would be intolerable.
To limit temperature rise
to 2 degrees, developed countries have to reduce their emissions of
greenhouse gases below the 1990 level by 15-30 per cent by 2020 and
60-80 per cent by 2050.
Very little progress has
been made. The European Commission’s climate change director Jos Delbeke
said Europe’s emissions today were only 1 percent below the 1990 level,
whereas Europe is obliged under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce by 8 per
cent by 2012.
He was confident the target
could be reached through increase in energy efficiency and renewable
energy, plus emission trading. But responding to a question, he could
not give any convincing reason for his optimism, agreeing that the worst
area was transport as vehicle emissions rose 33%.
A sad reflection of the state
of policy is that few participants had faith in politicians in taking
the lead. Instead the role of religious leaders was stressed. If they
can speak up on the lifestyle changes needed, the world will have a
The Finnish Foreign Minister
Erkki Tuomioja was perhaps an exception. He drew graphs showing the
climate situation had passed crisis point, and asked participants to
pile the pressure on Ministers to keep them on their toes.
He advocated the equity principle
in a global solution: take the total carbon dioxide amount that the
world can sustainably absorb, divide that by the world population to
get the per capita carbon dioxide that is the right of each person to
emit. Those countries over-emitting carbon beyond their rights would
have to pay those countries that emit less than their entitlement.
The “fairness” principle
was stressed throughout the meeting. While China and India are blamed
for their increasing share of global emissions, it was pointed out that
in per capita terms their pollution levels are far below those of the
United States and Europe.
In the Kyoto Protocol, only
developed countries are obliged to reduce their emissions. This is in
recognition of their historical and present huge contribution to the
build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Negotiations have started
for the next round of commitments beyond 2012. Developed countries
are trying to find ways to get developing countries to begin to commit
to emission reductions.
But the latter are resisting.
They argue that the rich countries have not yet fulfilled their targets
and that emissions per capita are still low in developing countries,
which should thus be given the space for economic growth (which would
be curbed if they have to limit their emissions).
One way to bridge the gap
is for the rich countries to transfer climate-friendly technology to
developing countries, so that they can grow economically with less emissions.
The European Commission is
setting aside funds for this, for example to help China develop a zero-emission
But the rate of technology
transfer may be too little and too late. One hurdle pointed out at the
dialogue was the role of intellectual property.
Companies owning the patents
for safer chemicals to replace the ozone-depleting CFC and halon chemicals
have previously refused to allow Indian companies to make these substitutes,
even when the latter were willing to pay royalties.
There is a danger that the
same problem will block the spread of climate-friendly technologies,
unless the global patent laws are changed, or those governments that
fund innovation insist that the technologies are not privately patented.
Out of the dialogue came
a Message to the political leaders of the Asia-Europe Summit, calling
on them to make climate change a top priority, and to arrange for technology
transfer and multiplying financial aid.
“We urge leaders to continue
discussions on the future global climate regime to agree on a global
equitable climate protection after the Kyoto protocol,” it said.
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