As 180 countries come together at the Hague, Netherlands, for another debate on climate change, French President Jacques Chirac, currently President of the EU Commission, launched a bitter attack on the USA for their continued disregard of limitations on emission of Greenhouse Effect Gases (GEG). “Every North American emits three times more GEG than each Frenchman. It is for this reason that the hopes for an efficient limitation of GEG on a worldwide scale fall on the USA. I therefore appeal to the United States of America to set aside their doubts and hesitations”. The reaction from the US was immediate and obtuse.”The President’s speech was very unproductive” said Republic Senator Larry Craig. However, Frank Loy, the Head of the US delegation at the Hague Conference stated that he knew the USA was the world’s largest producer of GEG. The Hague Conference is the latest in a series of conferences which aim to monitor the question of global warming and the effect mankind can have on climate change. At the Rio de Janeiro Conference, in 1992, limitations were stipulated for Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions, as this gas is believed to be the main cause of global warming. However, only three countries managed to reduce their CO2 emission : the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany. The rest of the list goes from the acceptable (Denmark and Sweden with a 4% increase in CO2 emission) to the depressing (France and Italy with a 10% increase) and the USA with 11%, to the scandalous – Turkey has an increase of 72 %. A further conference in Quioto in 1997 produced a protocol agreement which, it is hoped, will be ratified by the Hague Conference next week. This protocol tries to fix set quotas for CO2 emissions and produce “a new model of development” for the G77 – the world’s countries in development, according to Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General. “The great enterprises received profits at the same time polluting the world. Now they should show interest in cleaning up the mess they made”, he stated. However, US presidential candidate George Bush, a former director of an oil company and with the US oil lobby firmly behind him, has already declared that he is against any ratification of the Quioto protocol. In concrete terms, this protocol sets a reduction of 8% in CO2 emission for the European Union, 7% for the USA, 6% for Canada and Japan and for Russia, the same level of emission that is currently being produced. The effect of reducing CO2 emission or emission of any GEG means massive investment and/or a reduction in industrial output, so it is much easier for countries to close their eyes and take the easy solution than to put into practice responsible policies which the world will benefit from in later generations. There are already warning signs that the climate is changing. Britain had its worst floods for 400 years in October and November with fears that there is worse to come. Russia’s permafrost is melting. In the town of Mirny, Yakutia, a quarter of the population have had to leave their homes because the soil is melting beneath them. As the permafrost melts, the ground moves and damages bridges, railways (including the Trans Siberian) and oil and gas pipelines. The results are at present tangible but in future, could be catastrophic. In China, 400,000 people live in severe shortage of water supply and it has now been proved that the Polar ice caps are melting. As some countries make a real attempt at a change in policy, the USA makes a counter-proposal : to include forests in the calculations on how much GEG a country emits, due to the fact that they act as a sponge, soaking up to 20% of CO2 from the atmosphere. The EU position is that this is not acceptable because it would allow countries with large forested areas, such as the USA, to continue to pollute as much as they are at present without making any real reduction in emission. Sceptics point out that there were worse floods in ancient history and this was before any Greenhouse Gases were invented or emitted. While it is true that climate change is to a certain extent cyclical, it is also true that the changes around the planet are not local or regional, but on a worldwide scale. Things are changing and something must be done. The point is, as long as the world’s biggest culprit pulls in one direction and refuses to ratify agreements, there is no possible hope for a common policy. Such behaviour could be accused as being grossly and wholly irresponsible, if not criminal.
Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey Pravda.Ru Lisbon