Monday, 28 January 2008

Bali Summit, Nepal and a Rethink on the Kyoto protocol

By Surya B. Prasai, the USA

In Nepal´s case, there appears to be little significant benefit to achieve sustainable development even after signing the Protocol, since it has little control effect over its environmental future, situated as it is between two huge economic giants that have a transferable, cross- emission effect caused by rapid industrialization and unsurpassed economic growth which has its sponge effect on our daily lives.For much of the first week of December 2007 and the next, UN and international climate change officials and experts gathered in Bali , Indonesia for highly contentious talks on a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol. The organizing officials were distributing speculative media clips to the international press that not all the 190 countries of the world attending the 12-day meeting might end up being happy in the end. Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General, on the other hand felt time was really running out in the fight against global warming. "We have read the science. Global warming is real, and we are the prime cause. Our job in Bali and beyond is to shape this nascent global transformation – to open the door to the age of green economics and green development," he said with some speculative reasoning. But unfortunately, within the Kyoto Protocol, what is still missing is a global framework within which the planet´s people can coordinate their efforts to fight climate change scientifically or measurably. Climate change if unchecked will be the main cause of another major world war according to the doomsday forecasters, leading to huge unchecked mass migration, depletion of agricultural land to rising water levels in coastal areas and oceans, melting of the Himalayan glaciers and the Polar ice caps, and the scarcity of water itself with soaring temperatures by the time the next generation reaches adulthood. It is already happening in most parts of the world and the world is already fighting to store limited resources including oil. The United Nations Environmental Programmed believes a third of our plant and animal species will vanish and large parts of Africa and Central Asia will go barren. But lost in these bad news of course is the good, which according to the summit organizers means, reversing some of the effects at far less cost than most of us can imagine. "We're already seeing many of the impacts of climate change," Yvo de Boer, head of the UN climate change secretariat, stated. "The world is on a very dangerous path, but it is still manageable." The conference, which began on December 3, attempted to kick start talks over the Kyoto Protocol which is due to expire in 2012. A new agreement must be concluded within two years to give countries time to ratify it and ensure an uninterrupted transition, which at best is difficult. "There is a very clear signal from the scientific community that we need to act on this issue," states de Boer added, "We have to turn the trend of global emissions in the next 10 to 15 years." But how? Why the uncontrolled global warming despite the Kyoto Protocol, which Nepal, a fragile eco-state had also ratified? The fact is, the Protocol which is the baby of the 1997 UN conference held in Kyoto, Japan , requires nations to reduce carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses emitted by power plants and other industrial, agricultural and transportation sources to at least five per cent below 1990 levels by 2008-12, which is well nigh impossible. A total of 174 nations have ratified the pact, none have achieved it. The UNFCC has even divided countries into developed and developing nations. Not all have the same commitments, the EU, for example, which negotiates as a bloc, has committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. If taken together, the limits would reduce overall emissions of six greenhouse gases from these countries by approximately 5 per cent below 1990 levels before 2012. A relatively small reduction in percentage but a huge step for the world´s environmental scientists since Europe is the world´s leading economic power house and industrial belt. Similarly, of the three dozen industrially developed nations that have signed it, the US and China , the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, continued remaining outside. Prospects for a global deal were only boosted recently when Kevin Rudd, whose party swept to power in Australia , immediately put signing the Kyoto pact at the top of his international agenda. Australia had previously refused to sign the agreement. Also, President George Bush from the US who opposed Kyoto as a threat to US economic growth had recently suggested the US would take part beyond 2012, since the US has its own internal environmental safeguards that exceed the Kyoto standards. "We'd like to see consensus on the launch of negotiations. We want to see a Bali roadmap," said Paula Dobriansky, US Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs earlier on in the meeting. "We will go to Bali with openness, flexibility." The Americans were watching closely and consciously what Japan , China , India and the European Bloc werel actually commit themselves to at Bali . But will the Bali meeting achieve anything in the end? Indeed Kyoto Protocol analysts are apt to believe that its signatory status appears advantageous to developed nations to meet their emission reduction targets at lower abatement expenditures. However the question is, will the emission reduction burden be equitably shared between the developed and the developing countries despite the end consensus? An MIT study shows, under the present Kyoto commitment, per capita emissions are reduced by 14% on a global scale, however reduction is less severe in developed countries. At one extreme is Japan , where per capita emissions would be less only by 2.7% because it will import 92% of its emission reduction obligation. On the other hand, per capita carbon emission reduction is 18% in developing countries. Therefore, neither the Kyoto commitments nor the scope of trading do much to change the ratio of emissions per capita between the industrialized and the developing economies of the world, all are polluters to the first degree. Again, if the US and China are to be considered the two worst global polluters given their advanced industrial ´burn out" effect, both are also environmentally conscious countries that do not have to go by the Kyoto Protocol. For instance, in the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has rigid pollution standards that still makes America one of the world´s environmentally cleanest countries going by the principal of "polluters pay first´. Businesses in many parts of America are adhering to clear public policies on climate change, regardless of what form they might take – regulation, emission caps, efficiency guidelines or just basic industrial licensing ground rules. This is equally true of countries such as France , Germany and Russia that have environmental friendly ´recyclable´ economies that are still considered highly energy efficient and clean.
For the other great "polluter" China , it too is moving fast on the environment at least much faster than the UN which compulsively needs to go around persuading global signatories at every major summit. Just last week, senior Beijing officials stated that China would do more to strengthen its existing domestic targets to improve energy efficiency and curb greenhouse gas emissions, if other world powers shared relevant technologies. "If help is forthcoming, if international cooperation is as it should be, we will definitely do more," Yu Qingtai, a climate change negotiator said. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon too believes that China is sincere in its efforts," Much is made of the fact that China is poised to surpass the United States as the world´s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. But lesser is made known of its efforts to confront grave environmental problems such as an investment track fund of US$ 10 billion in renewable energy, second only to Germany, and its commitment to reduce energy consumption (pre unit of gross domestic product) by 20 percent over five years, at par with Europe´s commitment to a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020". And what about countries such as Nepal which eventually live to think of that day when there will be no more snow in the Himalayas and the rivers run dry? Nepal 's environment has already suffered the effects of a bad socio-economic regression period that is the 10 year civil conflict that ended only recently. But more acute problems have been the agricultural encroachment, deforestation and consequent soil erosion, contamination of the water supply, and unsurpassed migration into mid-hill townships and cities that has put local environmental pressures. Do note this: between the mid-1960s and the late 1970s, forestland lessened from 30% to 22% in total acreages since firewood was then over 90% of Nepal 's fuel requirement source. Soil erosion is causing the loss of about 240 million cu m of topsoil each year. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN estimates that at the present rate of depletion, the forests will be virtually wiped out by 2015. Air and water pollution are also significant environmental problems in Nepal , airline pilots complain that Kathmandu valley is always covered with a layer of air pollution. According to United Nations sources, Nepal produces 18,000 tons of carbon monoxide and 3,300 tons of hydrocarbons per year. Roughly one-third of the nation's city inhabitants and two-thirds of all rural dwellers do not have pure water, and the use of contaminated drinking water creates a health hazard. Untreated sewage is a major pollution factor: the nation's cities produce an average of 0.7 million tons of solid waste per year. Nepal ´s pro-green environment lobby has estimated that in 2007, 34 of Nepal 's mammal species and 42 of its bird species were endangered, as were 11 plant species. Some of the animal species classified as endangered in Nepal include the snow leopard, tiger, Asian elephant, pygmy hog, great Indian rhinoceros, Assam rabbit, swamp deer, wild yak, chir pheasant, and gavial. No one has done an accurate study to date. Delegates at the UN's climate change conference in Bali are worried about these types of depletion as well, not just the exchange of carbon emissions and allocating country points, or whether cuts in carbon emissions should be mandatory or voluntary, or how by reducing deforestation, poor countries might be less hit by worsening droughts, floods and violent storms. Clearly, the answer to the future is that alternate global energy demands must be met, and it can be met by deploying half of the existing technology in the developed countries to the developing world, even with a neat profit sum of 10% or more according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN affiliated scientific body that recently shared the Nobel Peace prize. UNEP believes that the global investment in zero sum greenhouse energy could reach $ 1.9 trillion by 2020, enough seed money and a safe transitional period for a wholesale re-configuration of global industry that favors Green economics. While the Bali Summit sought to unite rich and poor nations to fight global warming and could shape global climate change policy for years to come, one should not forget the main thrust of the conference which was to find a follow-on agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto protocol clearly states that countries overshooting their targets in 2012 will have to make both the promised cuts and 30 percent more in a second period from 2013. But the UNFCC's developing nations do not have legally binding targets to reduce their greenhouse gasses during the 2008-12 commitment periods. The predictable outcome at Bali thus was a refusal to accept mandatory emissions targets. Countries that are considered the new global power houses such as China and India, already oppose measures that might impinge on their efforts to tackle poverty and this might have a sweeping influence in Bali since both countries have long been influencing the voice of other developing countries in stating that it should be that county´s individual voice and no one else´s in acceding to binding emissions quotas, and it should not be at the cost of perpetuating poverty and economic stagnation. While both developed and developing countries are able to earn credits, known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CMD), to offset against their targets by funding clean technologies such as solar power used in both groups, poorer countries such as Nepal can only wish that through Bali, the world´s environmental experts can reach some agreement on what is more important than monitoring CDM alone. In Nepal´s case, there appears to be little significant benefit to achieve sustainable development even after signing the Protocol, since it has little control effect over its environmental future, situated as it is between two huge economic giants that have a transferable, cross- emission effect caused by rapid industrialization and unsurpassed economic growth which has its sponge effect on our daily lives. Nevertheless Nepal ´s ratification to the Kyoto Protocol is its commitment to safeguard the environment for the future generations that will inherit this land. (The author is an independent global strategic communications, media and international development consultant based in Maryland , US and cab be reached at

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