Alternatives to combat change world leaders do not seem to want to look at
Doha talks on climate change finally came to an end after a 2 week deadlock over the extension of the Koyoto protocol. Nearly 200 delegates from various countries came to an agreement to cut greenhouse emissions in the next eight years. At the same time, US refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol, Russia had objections to it, India and China were excluded from it.
They called it a ‘modest but essential’ step forward. Any person with the faintest notion of the gravity of the situation would tell you that this is no step in any direction. President Barack Obama in his re-election speech seemed to have finally taken a stand on the growing fears of climate change. Less than a month later, not only did his administration fail to submit a decisive treaty to curb carbon emissions, but also refused to increase funding to help developing countries reduce theirs. This is not to say that the United States has not played its role in reducing its carbon emissions at all. According to the International Energy Agency, US emissions have dropped 7.7 percent since 2006 - "the largest reduction of all countries or regions." But this was countered with China’s increase in greenhouse emissions by 9.3 percent and India’s 8.7 percent. China is the world’s biggest polluter and India ranks as number four.
But before one starts to berate developing countries on their refusal to back down from economic growth at the cost of environmental exploitation, developed nations themselves have to ask the question, what have they done? For the extended period of the Kyoto Protocol, European Union, US and Japan pledged nothing for developing countries to cut carbon emissions. Kumi Naidoo, executive director for Greenpeace, said that while no decisive strategy was laid out to combat the growing threat of climate change, the extension of Kyoto Protocol was at least “baby steps”.
Hailing the extension of a redundant treaty when scientists and environment protection activists have been screaming themselves hoarse, demanding a serious effort, as a small victory is just sad. Why? Because the threat that is facing our world is much more serious than protection of flailing economies. Instead of making growth of economies the top priority, this slump is not being seen as a blessing in disguise. Now is the time to redirect resources, incorporate climate change into a long-term international strategy, alongside economic growth. Lester Brown, in his speech in 2008, said that burning coal makes up 40% of world carbon emissions from energy. To replace that coal with wind power, Brown said we’d need to build about 1.5 million wind turbines worldwide — and we should aim to do it in 10 years. That sounds like an astounding goal. 1.5 million wind turbines seems like a mammoth of a task. But as Brown explained, 65 million cars had been made in the past year. If just one industry could produce that many cars in a single year, there was no question we could build 1.5 million wind turbines in 10 years, if society’s resources were mobilised to that end, he said. Business groups say that the profit motive and markets allocate resources rationally and efficiently. But in practice, it’s so irrational and inefficient that the idle manufacturing capacity in the car industry alone could build Brown’s 1.5 million wind turbines.
Even if car production (one of the key polluters in the world) was not reduced governments could take a different approach – through laws and legislatures. Sure, halting deforestation and going paperless are all commendable efforts, but more could be achieved if governments increased cost of fossil fuels, whether through a "carbon tax" or cap-and-trade system, so that both energy efficiency and alternative fuels become more attractive, and also to free up money to be invested in new technologies. Governments can also invest in “smart grids” (as President Obama proposed in 2009) to improve the efficiency of electricity distribution. Similarly, governments can also invite investment in efficient large-scale investments in research and development of energy-efficient alternatives to production. From this perspective, it is a win-win. Not only will the economies worldwide continue to flourish under such investments, threats of climate change could be met with better preparation.
Such precedents can only be set by developed nations who have the resources and strong economies to do so. James Traub gave the example of the nuclear nonproliferation act as an analogy. He said that just like the United States set the precedent of cutting down nuclear production in rogue and/or developing nations by starting from home, the same could be applied to combating climate change. Developed nations must set the precedents first. And why not? As per the 2011 list of countries with the greatest amount of carbon emissions, US, Russia, Japan, Canada, Germany, Qatar, and many others rank as the top polluters in the world.
The last decade, in the glowing words of world leaders, was spent in combating global warming and climate change. But there has been little to show for it. From Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to Kyoto in 1998 to Durban in 2011, in total the carbon emissions have been reduced by only 1 percent (50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year). Temperatures continue to rise, glaciers continue to melt. Even as world leaders argued overtime at Doha on the to-be-or-not-to-be question on the extension of the Koyoto treaty, over 300 people lost their lives in Phillipines because of the Bhoba typhoon. At the risk of sounding too poetic, it is as if Mother Nature knew that there’d be a deadlock. It is as if she understood that if she did not strike, world leaders would come out of these talks without a decisive plan of action. In retrospect, this is exactly what happened. But if they want to call it a small victory, so be it.