Environment: movement as disaster looms

The recent initiative of President Bush regarding n alternative to the grid locked Protocol of Kyoto has been welcomed by the Russian Federation, as new statistics present a catastrophic forecast for the next century.

The international community stands divided between the position of the Russian Federation, the USA and Australia on one side, and the European union and the environmental groups on the other. Predictably, Japan’s has not yet pronounced where it stands.

The abandoning of the protocol of Kyoto by the USA was due to the fact that this agreement stipulated fixed quotas for the emission of Greenhouse Effect Gases (GEG), which cause global warming. These quotas were to be imposed on developed nations but would not penalise Less Developed Countries. Under Kyoto, the USA, responsible for 25% of the world’s polluting gases, would have been strictly punished, meaning that thousands of industries would be lost, costing many thousands of jobs, whereas China, for example, would be allowed to pollute without sanction.

The proposal by George Bush, on the eve of his tour of Asia, is to induce companies to reduce GEG emission on a voluntary basis, rewarding those which do so with fiscal benefits. This, it is hoped, would lead companies to invest in cleaner industries, such as wind farms. These voluntary reductions would be phased, reaching 18% over the next ten years.

The position of the Russian Federation was made clear by an energy Ministry official, who declared that it was a “great advance”, while Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that “The Americans took the need to find an alternative solution seriously and did not simply reject the Protocol of Kyoto”.

Japan, where the Protocol was signed in 1997, has not made its reaction clear, while the European union is strongly against the new initiative. Margot Walstrom, EU Environment Commissioner, stated that Kyoto “is the only international framework efficient enough to combat global warming” and considers that the Bush plan would only serve to increase GEG emission.

Certainly, urgent action is needed. According to a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) at the University of Boston, the calculations made on the effect of global warming on ocean levels could have been seriously underestimated.

Until now, the International Panel on Climate Change had calculated that the level of the oceans would rise by between 4.8 and 10.8 centimetres by 2100. However, the geologist Mark Meier, of the University of Colorado, calculated that at current melting rates, the polar ice caps will contribute up to 20 centimetres more to the level of the oceans.

Studies have proved that the melting of the polar ice caps and other glaciers was considerable throughout the twentieth century, becoming more accelerated after 1980, and after 1988, twice the rate of the previous decades over the century. A rise of 30 centimetres in water levels would produce a 30-metre impact on coastlines, meaning that islands such as the Maldives will disappear, along with the Seychelles and Kiribati, coastal cities such as Houston and Lisbon would almost disappear, the coastline of Portugal would be dramatically affected, 80% of the population living near the sea and 100 million people would be made homeless in Bangladesh.

While the nations squabble and bicker, GEG emissions continue unchecked as never before.


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