Man Vs Mother Earth: Who has betrayed whom? - Part 1

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An inconvenient truth of climate crisis has already told us whether the planet earth has betrayed mankind or the mankind has betrayed planet earth. Unchecked anthropogenic activities have taken us to a point where every country is pointing at every other country to take (or at least share) the responsibility for the collective mess we have created over the last century and half. Its high time that, every country should ask not what every other country has done for the cause of climate crisis, but should ask itself what it has done (or what it has to do) for avoiding terrible consequences of climate crisis.

This is first in the series of articles about climate crisis. This article should set the historical context for you to get interested in knowing about climate crisis, how it all started and how the world leaders realized the importance of saving this planet from unethical anthropogenic activities. In the subsequent articles, I will be discussing about the challenges, results of scientific research and their importance, how the world leaders and scientific community dealing with this issue and more importantly about the road ahead.
I will try to keep it precise yet informative.
Historic Perspective - Setting the context right

Scientific community has been warning mankind about the threats of global warming. Until 1970s, most of the countries were busy making policies for socio-economic development. This was evident in the younger democracies just out of colonial rule. But it was in late 70s and early 80s, the debate of global warming started getting attention as the industrialization reached new heights. UN, the global body was not far behind to realize the consequences of climate crisis.

1. Setting up of IPCC
United Nation General Assembly took a bold step by adopting a resolution in December 1988, on global warming and climate change and endorsed the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) and World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) proposal for setting up of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "to assess scientific and socio-economic infomration relevant to increasing our understanding about climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation." The IPCC does not carry out research, nor does it monitor climate or related phenomena. The main activity of the IPCC is publishing special reports on topics relevant to the implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)[wiki]. "The reports of the panel are written by teams of authors, nominated by governments and international organizations, and selected for a specific task according to their expertise from more than 100 countries. In addition, several hundred experts participate in the review process [Yojana, June 2008]." The first IPCC assessment report published in 1990 laid down the policy framework for addressing climate change.

2. UNCED and the birth of UFCCC
Just four years after setting up of IPCC, the UN Summit Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was conveyed in Rio De Janerio in June 1992. It was in this conference that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC was adopted by consensus. Since then, UNFCCC is acting as a multilateral legal instrument on Climate Change. UNFCCC gave a formal platform for multilateral negotiations on the issue of climate change. Currently there are 192 UNFCCC member countries and 4 observers. The members (or signatories) of UNFCCC are divided into three groups.
  1. Annex I countries (industrialized countries)
  2. Annex II countries (developed countries which pay for costs of developing countries)
  3. Developing countries.[wiki]

3. Principles and Responsibilities enshrined in UFCCC
Not all countries have the same responsibility with respect to climate as the carbon emission varies from country to country. UNFCCC recognizes that all countries have "their common but differentiated responsibilities and relative capabilities." That means, the country producing high amount of green house gases will have higher responsibility. This principle of "differentiated responsibility" is the foundation for all climate change negotiations so far. This is conspicuous from the fact that, "from 1850 to 2000, which would correspond to the period of accelerated industrialization in the developed world, the United States has been responsible for 30%, the EU-25 nations for 27.2%, China with 7.3% and India with 2% of the cumulative CO2 emissions." Thus, on the principle that "polluter pays", the developed countries (Annex I countries) have a higher responsibility to cut back on the harmful green house gases. The UNFCCC does not require developing countries to undertake mitigation measures (or reduction) on their own[Yojana, June 2008] but. UFCCC also advocates,
  1. Promoting sustainable development.
  2. Open international economic system that would lead to sustainable economic growth and development.
  3. Developed countries should help the other countries in terms of finance and technology for implementing projects which are climate friendly.

4. The Kyoto Protocol
The second IPCC report published in 1995, led to the adoption of Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Kyoto protocol includes an obligation/commitment on the industrialized countries (Annex I countries) to reduce Green House Gases (GHG) to their 1990 levels. Europe, Canada, Japan and Russia have accepted some obligations under Kyoto Protocol. But the United States, the largest emmiter of GHG has not accepted the Kyoto Protocol. The US argues that, "Irrespective of historic emissions (i.e. Irrespective of who has emitted more GHG so far), all major current emitters should be required to take on some commitments, and US has particularly singled out lack of commitments by China and India as the reason for its failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Thus, US remains a single biggest obstacle to global progress on climate change [EPW].

5. Post Kyoto Scenario and Bali road map
The third report of IPCC published in 2001 and the fourth report published in early 2007[IPCC reports], are a crucial references for providing information for deliberations on climate change items. The term of Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012 and the leaders around the world are busy thinking about what next after 2012. The recently concluded Bali Conference has provided a road map (also called 'Bali road map') for future climate change negotiations. "There were at least three interconnected issues at stake on how to design the Bali road map [Navroz K Dubash, EPW]."
  1. How should the progress of the Annex I countries who agreed to commitments at Kyoto be reviewed?
  2. What should be done about the US, which accounts for about 20% of global emissions, but has failed to ratify Kyoto Protocol?
  3. Should developed countries take on any commitments, and how should they be articulated?
After the intense negotiations for two weeks at Bali, the world leaders have come to consensus about the road map for post Kyoto Protocol scenario. The next Conference is scheduled for December 2009 in Copenhagen. The leaders are expected to finalize the "shared vision for long term cooperative action" on climate change.

To be continued...

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.