YES, the international negotiating climate must change dramatically if the Copenhagen Summit, which is just five weeks away, has to achieve a comprehensive climate change treaty. Time is running out fast and still there are a large number of substantive issues, which must be agreed upon. In order to the break the current deadlock, the industrialised countries, which are primarily responsible for the global warming process, have to demonstrate that they are committed to establishing a fair and legally binding international instrument to halt and reverse the climate-changing trends.
The good news is that at the recent UN General Assembly session the world leaders had taken a positive approach. President Obama has signalled a major departure from the Bush era, and Washington, after years of non-cooperation, is now lumbering towards a carbon cap. Chinese President Hu Jintao said that they were "endeavouring" to cut down their carbon emissions. The Indian leadership also showed some flexibility. The Europeans, who have been at the forefront of the current negotiations, have also ratcheted down their emissions target.
The bad news is that these mere pronouncements and gestures are not enough to meet the serious challenges, which lie ahead. The situation on the ground is far more damaging than was apprehended. The original global target was to cut down warming pollution by 80% by 2050 by stabilising the heat-trapping carbon dioxide to about 450 per parts per million (ppm) so that the global temperature did not rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius from 1990 levels. Unfortunately, it now seems that the 450 ppm level had already been reached about four years ago.
Consequently, scientists are now calling for more drastic action to bring down the warming level to 350 ppm urgently to avoid the collapse of the continental ice sheets, which could cause dangerous rise in the sea level. This would also mean adoption of highly ambitious measures of 97% reduction in carbon emissions by completely switching to renewable energy systems by mid-century.
The other major challenge before the industrialised countries is creating a global fund to help the developing countries, particularly the vulnerable countries, and paying for the development of renewable energy resources.
The current estimate calls for a commitment of about $160 billion from the industrialised countries each year by 2020.
Cynics believe that the time available is too short to resolve all outstanding issues and work out a comprehensive climate change treaty. They are more or less resigned to the idea that the Copenhagen Summit, at best, would be able to adopt a general declaration of some broad principles and pave the way for continuation of negotiations towards a ratifiable comprehensive agreement sometime next year.
Others, however, maintain that stopping the global warming process is fundamentally a problem of political will and that any further delay in global action could lead to an irreversible situation. The authors of a recent report for "Economics for Equity and Environment Network" -- an affiliate of the non-profit Ecotrust, which undertook a study on the cost of meeting the 350 ppm goal -- are of the opinion that for the sake of longer term economic gains it is necessary to take most expeditious action to meet the ambitious targets.
As regards the creation of a fund, they point out that with an investment of approximately 1-3% of global domestic product, or $600 billion to $1.8 trillion, it should be possible to rapidly switch to renewable and clean energy sources, including wind and solar power, and to replenish global forests which could trap billions of tons of carbon. They further argue that these efforts would create millions of new jobs and also save the industrialised countries from frequent loss due to fluctuating oil prices.
Apparently, the price of 1-3% of global GDP appears to be too high, but they point out that in reality that may not be the case and cite the instance of the United States. US economy is currently growing at 2.5 annually and, hence, it should be possible for them to achieve the target just by skipping one year's growth.
They also underline that both US and China are currently spending more than 4% of their GDP in defence, which is much higher than what it would cost them to stop the global warming.
Climate change is a matter of life and death for Bangladesh and other badly affected South Asian countries. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has effectively highlighted our grave concern at the preparatory meeting in Geneva, at the UN General Assembly and, most recently, at the EU sponsored preparatory meeting in Stockholm. Five out of the eight countries in our region are Least Developed Countries and they just do not have the means to face the fall-out of the global phenomenon.
Topographically, countries like Bangladesh and Maldives are most vulnerable, and if the sea level rises by about one meter then it is apprehended that one-fourth to one-third of our country might go under the sea while Maldives might just disappear from the face of the earth.
Simultaneously, the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers by as much as 23 metres annually would seriously affect two billion people of the Indo-China region.
The meltdown has already increased the frequency of floods, but it could soon lead to acute water shortage and the drying of our rivers. Bangladesh has already experienced unprecedented natural disasters, colossal tidal surges, drastic change in the rainfall pattern, landslides, heavy river erosion, dramatic fall in agricultural production and serious health hazards.
The fall-out of climate change has already affected all the countries, developed or developing, and in this era of emerging globalisation and interdependence, a negative impact in one area will inevitably affect other parts. Given the longer term catastrophic consequences of climate change, we in Bangladesh would expect that the global leaders would demonstrate much greater political will in Copenhagen and adopt a legal regime under the UN Framework Convention on Climate change (UNFCC).
Syed Muazzem Ali is a former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh.