Bali conference on climate change | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 13, 2007 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 13, 2007

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Bali conference on climate change

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Faced with melting polar ice, frequent occurrence of cyclones and floods and worsening droughts, climate experts at a massive UN conference on December 3 began asking searching questions as to how quick action towards an international agreement that will limit the rise in global temperature can be negotiated.
A heightened sense of urgency surrounds the two-week (December 3-14) conference in the light of the report issued last month by the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which described the potentially devastating effects of global warming in the strongest language.
The conference had a big boost when it learnt that Australia under the new prime minister ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, leaving totally the US, the only developed country, not to be a party to the Kyoto Protocol. It will increase pressure on the US to seriously consider how to reduce greenhouse gases.
Why new treaty?
The purpose of the conference is to launch negotiations that will lead to a long term policy response to climate change beyond 2012 when the first phase of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expires. The second period of the Protocol starts on 2013 where developing countries (such as China, India, South Korea, and Brazil) are exempted from any cut in emissions.
A meeting of the Kyoto parties in Austria in last August recommended emission cuts for rich nations of 25 to 40 per cent by 2020 and green groups are keen for a similar figure to be mentioned in the future global agreement.
Against the background, developed countries are eager to make a compact with developing countries for emissions-cut in a new global treaty where China, Brazil, South Korea, and India agree to cut emissions in future.
Micro issues
The conference opened with delegates from nearly 190 countries including Bangladesh will have to deal the following micro-issues:
* Whether emission cuts would be mandatory or voluntary.
* Does economic growth conflict with reduction of greenhouse gases?
* How to balance economic growth within an environment-friendly system.
* Will poor countries be expected to forego economic growth to cut emissions?
* How to draw the US, the highest polluter (36%) of the world, into the pact to agree to mandatory cut of emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
* How to bring China, Brazil, South Korea and India to the pact?
* Whether to enforce per capita ceiling on pollution or to reduce emission of greenhouse gases on the basis of development.
Each one of the issues is complex and debatable for months together because many of the developing countries are not yet legally ready to undertake legally binding or semi-binding commitments for their economic development..
Other macro issues
Besides the micro-issues, there are several macro-issues that are linked with environment. Environment cannot be separated from other social and economic issues. It has to have holistic approach.
Some of the macro-issues are described below: First, poverty reduction is another area which comes within the issues of environment. Poverty is the principal source of pollution in developing countries. Poor people destruct their nearby forests for fuel. Poor people without proper sanitation, and hygiene, live in slums, and utilise all kinds of materials as fuel, some of them are highly toxic. Unless poverty reduction is addressed, degradation of environment in developing countries will continue.
Second, growth of population is another domain that needs to be considered for environment. The more people in the world, the more housing, the more electricity and the more utilisation of natural resources will be required. By 2050, there would be nearly 9 billion people in the world, 90% of which is expected to be born in poor countries (Bangladesh is likely to have 254 million people by that time).
Third, oil-export countries have always opposed the reduction of use of fossil fuels.
Financial interests of the oil-export countries are to be considered. Their alternative source of income needs to be explored so that these countries become on board for an international agreement for cutting emissions.
Fourth, women, especially in developing countries, constitute the natural linkages with environment. Rural women's role in developing countries is important because rural women obtain their daily needs from natural resources. They collect water from river or waterhole, use plants as medicine, and gather fuel woods from forests. Rural women are very good in resource management and they know how to use natural resources. Their survival is threatened when forests are denuded and water is polluted.
Fifth, more fundamental is the question as to whether global warming is a cyclical or due to human activities. Although overwhelming number of scientists including the members of the UN IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change), have concluded that human activities are responsible for global warming, some scientists still believe that global warming has nothing to do with human activities and in the past the earth has gone through such cycles of warmth and cold alternatively.
Sixth, sustainable development is to be accepted before delegates make up their minds. Sustainable development means natural resources may be used in such a way to meet today's requirements without compromising the ability to meet the needs of future generations.
Seventh and finally, while some economists do not hesitate to use all available natural resources for economic growth, some environment-friendly economists hold the view human beings derive satisfaction not only from man-made or transformed goods but also directly from natural environments, such as parks, beaches, undisturbed forests, fauna and flora. One cannot say that economic growth is the only purpose of human beings on earth as the old maxim says: "man does not live by bread alone."
The above issues are partly ethical and partly developmental. The degradation of environment should not be seen only through a narrow vision, but through a wider focus including the macro-issues connected with environment. The Bali conference needs to have hard look to the micro and macro issues of environment.
Few participants expect this round of talks in Bali to produce significant breakthrough. It will be session of brain-storming, loud thinking of concluding an agreement by 2009 because the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
By far the biggest obstacle to forging a new accord is the United States. President Bush on November 28 made it clear this position clear: "We must do it in a way that does not undermine economic growth or prevent nations from delivering greater prosperity for their people.
Let us hope that delegates come up with sensible proposals to have a global framework on climate change.
The issue of global warming is of great concern to Bangladesh because the rise in sea level may submerge many of its south coastal lands under water, uprooting millions of people. Higher sea levels may cause salinity to intrude surface and ground water supplies, disrupting availability of safe drinking water and damaging agricultural lands. It is reported that pollution has led to disappearance of 18 species of birds and animals in Bangladesh. Out of 600 wild species, 70 species are included in the list of endangered ones.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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