All eyes on Copenhagen | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, November 15, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, November 15, 2009

All eyes on Copenhagen

CLIMATE change is today's stark reality and there isn't any way to escape its ravages such as severe drought and intense flooding as well as frequent storms and rising sea levels. As warned by the scientists, this is already happening as demonstrated by the recent havoc in Kenya, India, the Philippines and Bangladesh. Last week, a global day of actions on climate change was observed across the world, from the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef to the summit of Mount Everest. That the climate change concerns are no more in the backseat is proved through climate change rallies and other related events which all centered on the number 350 to draw attention to 350 parts per million (PPM), which the scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Currently, we are, however, at the figure of 385, which is enough to keep the atmosphere warm to a reasonable measure for sometime to come. For hundreds of thousands of years the atmosphere was fairly stable at around 270 to 240 ppm. Then, two hundred years ago, the industrial revolution took place, and with the proliferation of smoke emitting factories and coal burning engines the ppm number shot up from 280 to 385, which is why the Arctic is melting now. Even if the use of fossil fuels is immediately stopped there is enough carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases stored in our oceans, which would continue to come out over the decades!
Given the present rate of carbon emissions we are going up by 1.5 ppm each year as countries like China and India want to catch up with their developmental targets. Consequently, scientists predict that we will reach the 450 ppm figure by the middle of the century. As the world is still dependent on fossil fuels for energy, and with the deforestation continuing at its current rate, we are heading towards a world drastically different from the one we know. According to Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- every single estimate that the people have come up with has been exceeded by reality that is worse.
The solution, of course, is to cut down the energy we use as soon as possible and turn to renewable energy like wind and solar. But it's easier said than done. In fact, energy experts point out that the amount of energy we use in the world is projected to grow by 50 percent by 2030.
European politicians argue in favour of limiting emissions to 450 ppm in order to try to keep global average temperature rise to 2°C, saying any further increase will mean that we will have no chance of limiting climate change to acceptable levels. Right now, 450 ppm is more palatable to political leaders in the West. Obviously, limiting carbon dioxide levels to 350 ppm would mean even more stringent emissions cut.
Currently, global leaders are more or less agreed upon cutting global emissions by 30 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. Although the EU says it will do this while President Obama merely wants to follow the suit -- leaders of China and India are still uncertain. Right now, there is a good chance to prevent things from going out of control if the global leaders can commit to a strong and binding climate treaty in Copenhagen in December. After the Kyoto Protocol turned out to be a fiasco, Copenhagen is the last straw for the optimists who assert that this can be done by improving the outlines of agreements so far reached.
Some climate change activists and enthusiasts insist upon getting back to safe levels by rapidly halting the use of coal, gas and oil. The powerful gas and oil lobby backed by Opec countries are obviously upset by such a campaign. Hence, their frenzied behind the scene efforts may sabotage a global treaty by the end of the year. But arrayed against them are many developing countries with large coastal areas, and the low-lying island states have now committed in principle to setting 350 ppm as a worldwide goal.
The number, activists say, has become a kind of shorthand for a fair and binding climate treaty. "The people in almost all the nations of the Earth are involved (in it)," stated 350 spokesman Archbishop Desmond Tutu. "It's the same kind of coalition that helped make the word 'apartheid' known around the world." If enough people around the world put adequate pressure on their political leaders, agreement on an ambitious deal to limit global warming could be possible in Copenhagen.

Brig ( retd) Hafiz is former DG of BIISS.

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