Environment: last chance to save planet

The issue of GEG emission is again on the table in Marrakech as 180 countries come together under the auspices of the United Nations to finalise an agreement.

The COP7 meeting in Marrakech is the seventh of the countries which signed the Rio de Janeiro Treaty in Brazil in 1992, which recognised the need to reduce Greenhouse Effect Gas (GEG) emission.

GEG are gases which damage the environment, acting like a blanket as they lie in the stratosphere and do not allow the earth’s accumulated heat to escape. This heat is constantly increased through the consumption of energy and the entry of solar rays which bounce back down off this layer of GEG. Scientists call this the Greenhouse Effect, which gives rise to Global warming.

The weather changes which result from this phenomenon cause an imbalance in climate conditions, creating prolonged drought in some areas and severe flooding in others. Floods will also be caused in coastal cities if the polar ice caps continue to thaw at the current rate and countries such as the Maldives are given 15 years of lifespan before they are submerged. 80% of Portugal’s inhabited areas will be submerged within 100 years if the present trend continues.

Rio 1002 was followed by the protocol of Kyoto in 1997, in which emission quotas were fixed for the world’s industrialised nations. This protocol lost its force when in March 2001, the USA decided not to ratify it, despite having previously promised to do so, under the pretext that it would be damaging for the US economy to reduce GEG emission. Given that the USA provides around 25% of the world’s GEG pollution, it is clear that this country would have to make a much greater effort than others to reach similar emission levels. Other countries have complained about this position, but the fact remains that the Protocol of Kyoto has not been ratified by anybody.

The philosophy behind Kyoto was that the richer, more developed nations should set an example for and pay a higher price than the Less Developed Countries (LDCs). What followed the Protocol has been a scenario in which so much is said, but so little is done, as developed nations scramble to buy the emission quotas from LDCs which they know will not by reached. If, for example, country A has an emission level set at, say 10 and country B has one set at 4 but will only produce an emission of 2, the remaining quantity (2) can be bought by country A, which could then emit its own emission level (10) plus the two it bought. Such a policy is manoeuvring and escapism, not putting policy into practice.

Another way round the problem is the excuse of Carbon Sinks, by which forested areas are stipulated to have a soak-up effect on Carbon dioxide. Countries with larger forested areas are therefore allowed to pollute more because their forests will absorb more CO2. The scientific community is strongly divided as to the veracity of this principle. It is also a major bone of contention between the USA and European union, one which is certain to be raised in Marrakech.

At Bonn in July, 2001, the majority of participating countries, without the agreement of the USA, decided to forge ahead with a political agreement to reduce, by 2012, GEG emission to a level 5% lower than that of the 1990 level.

What Marrakech will try to do is to establish a scenario whereby the Protocol of Kyoto can be ratified. However, at the present moment, with the world’s attention focussed on the Hindu Kush, the whereabouts of UBL and the threat of more terrorist attacks in the coming days, the importance as to how much CO2 a forest will absorb fades into insignificance.

Good idea, bad timing.


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Author`s name Editorial Team