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Kyoto Treaty on Climatic Change and the Environtal Game

By: Dr.Dipak Basu
Nov-05-2009
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(The author is a Professor in International Economics in Nagasaki University, Japan)
 


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Not much time is left before a climatic catastrophie will occur to the entire world , if the predictions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) are correct correct. However, both India and China have joined USA to undermine the Kyoto Treaty of 1997 to arrest further damages to the world"s climate by controlling human activities that may have caused the crisis.

The main culprit according to UNFCCC is the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by the industry and the transport system. One solution is to set a limit on carbon emissions for a region or industry. In the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, each country"s polluters are given carbon permits that add up to the limit. They can then sell permits if the have reduced their emissions to those who have not. In practice, it means rich countries can pollute if they can pay to the poor countries to buy rights to pollute.

The pay-to-pollute principle is supposed to start from 2013, but it is already undermined by the greed of the developed countries. Germany, in particular, is demanding that 30 industrial sectors be given their permits free of charge. The sectors are responsible for 90% of emissions in the scheme. If the Germans win the argument, the incentives for going greener will be minimized and revenue from the scheme will collapse.

The US, the biggest polluter, signed the Kyoto Treaty, but never ratified. Now, it made it clear it would oppose on economic grounds any deal that did not set binding targets for the developing world, mainly India and China. China is determined to undermine internationally binding goals for emissions reductions. China also is demanding that rich countries should contribute at least 0.7% of their GDP to help poorer countries acquire clean technology and cope with the floods, droughts and storms created by rising temperatures. India is supporting China on this matter along with South Africa and Brazil. Their arguments are that setting limits to emissions would threaten their growth and prevent them from alleviating "energy poverty". The UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen will be held in December 2009 to approve a new document to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which will become the new international agreement to regulate the reduction of harmful emissions in the atmosphere of the planet. However, the prospect of a successful negotiation is in severe doubt due to USA, India and China.

The planet"s temperature has climbed to levels not seen in thousands of years, warming that has begun to affect plants and animals. The Earth has been warming at a rate of 0.36 degree Fahrenheit per decade for the last 30 years. That brings the overall temperature to the warmest in the current interglacial period, which began about 12,000 years ago. The current rate of movement of a given temperature zone has reached about 25 miles per decade in the period 1975 to 2005. Already, 1,700 plant, animal and insect species moved towards the North Pole at an average rate of about 6.4 km per decade in the last 50 years. In the far north of the World, melting ice and snow expose darker land and rocks and methane, a gas 23 times more powerful to warm up the World than carbon dioxide, is being released from the permafrost of the Siberia at an increasing rate. Northern Siberia currently emits 3.8 million tones of methane this way each year - up to five times higher than previous estimates. The polar cap of the Earth has been lessening in size. About 80 percent of ice will disappear in the Arctic Ocean during the forthcoming decade. It may vanish entirely in 20 years

Warming has been marked in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. Those oceans have a major effect on climate and warming that could lead to more devastating storms. Already the storms are growing in force and frequency. There will be severe water shortage due to the melting of glaciers on the mountains of the World.

If the world becomes warm by 2 or 3 degrees Celsius more, it will be a very different planet than we know. The last time it was that warm was about 3 million years ago, when sea level was about 25 meters (80 feet) higher than today and most continents were under water. Are we going to have the same situation again, which would obliterate the current human civilization?

Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences thinks that the human civilization will most likely have to experience the global warming and that may spontaneously change to a sudden drop of temperatures. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean may turn fresh as huge glaciers thaw. The phenomenon may interrupt the regime of the so-called oceanic warmth conveyer. Many warm currents, including Gulf Stream that currently heats the northern hemisphere, will change their directions. As a result, European temperatures may drop and a new ice age may emerge. The thawing of floating glaciers will not raise the sea level, but most human being and animals will be frozen to death.

The argument of the UNFCCC is that burning of fossil fuels, like coal, natural gas and petroleum have altered the levels of carbon and methane gases in the atmosphere, which have led to this warming. World Meteorological Organization and the UN Inter-Governmental Climate Change Program said that the average temperature on the surface of planet Earth raised by 0.6 degrees Centigrade during the 20th century.

Most striking is the fact, that each record reveals a steep increase in the rate of warming since the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. The temperatures of the most recent decades are the warmest in the entire record. In addition, warmer than average temperatures are more widespread over the Northern Hemisphere in the 20th century than in any previous time. The recent record warm temperatures in the last 15 years are indeed the warmest temperatures the Earth has seen in at least the last 1000 years, and possibly in the last 2000 years.

The global temperatures may go up soon by one or two degrees within a century. The number of natural disasters taking place in the world nowadays has quadrupled in comparison with the 1970s and the frequency of catastrophes could be linked with the global climate change. The death toll in developing states exceeds the number of casualties in developed states 20-30 times.

However, most rich countries do not wish to reduce their industrial activities, which are accompanied with the emission of harmful gases in the atmosphere. The United States, initiated the forum of world"s largest economies to develop a new agreement to undermine the Kyoto Treaty. USA urged other countries to set up a new legal agreement, which would, unlike the Kyoto treaty, force all countries rich or poor to reduce emissions. India and China are opposed to it claiming that their per head emissions are very low compare with that of the rich nations. If the new international agreement is not approved, the world will face new conflicts caused with climate migration. About a quarter of the planet"s population - some 1.8 billion people - may suffer from the shortage of water by 2080.

To arrest these dire consequences, US and other rich nations should reduce their emission of harmful gases by at least 40% below 1990 levels to keep temperatures under control. However, Carbon dioxide emissions from the US increased by 20.2% between 1990-2007. Its own targets for the period closing 2020 would not even reach the 1990 levels. Turkey"s emissions grew at 118% while that of Spain by 60% and Japan"s at 14%.

Emissions are explicitly linked to the levels of economic activity of a country, as higher production levels require greater fossil fuel based energy. Putting the countries on low-carbon pathways can have substantial impact on economic activity and most of the rich nations have shown reluctance to take any actions that may harm their industry.

Counter Arguments:

USA is helped by a counter argument that human being cannot alter the cyclical pattern of climatic changes that can occur due to two phenomenon, earth magnetic field and the long cycle of warming and freezing, both of which are beyond the control of any human actions.

Magnetic Field:

One is the sudden change in the earth"s magnetic field which occur at regular interval in every 28000 years, changing the climate dramatically and instantly. Mammoth"s in green forests of Northern Siberia had no chance to digest their food, but were frozen instantly and buried under a two-kilometer thickness of ice. That changes will allow only a few human or animals to survive and wipe out all signs of existence. Magnetic field of earth also changes slowly over the years. It can be changed if there is a sudden heavy irruption from the very hot molted part of the core of the earth. Analysis of the movement of the Earth"s magnetic poles over the last 105 years demonstrates strong correlations between the position of the north magnetic, and geomagnetic poles, and both northern hemisphere and global temperatures. The Earth"s magnetic field affects the energy transfer rates from the solar wind to the Earth"s atmosphere, which in turn affects the North Atlantic Oscillation. Movement of the poles changes the geographic distribution of galactic and solar cosmic rays, moving them to particularly climate sensitive areas. Changes in distribution of ultraviolet rays resulting from the movement of the magnetic field, may result in increases in the death rates of oceanic plant life, which destroys carbon. That increases the global warming process.

Long cycles of warming and freezing:

The Earth has experienced other warm times in the past, including the Medieval Warm Period (approximately 800-1300 AD), the mid-Holocene (6,000 years ago), and the penultimate interglacial period (125,000 years ago). Paleoclimate for times before 2,000 years ago are also useful because they reveal the full extent of natural climate variability. These older records show that climate has changed abruptly in the past, and, reveal a remarkable correspondence between carbon dioxide change and temperature change during the Earth glacial cycles, unaffected by any human actions. Thus, it is debatable whether human action alone can be made responsible for the current warming of the earth.

Conclusion:

Although human actions alone may not be responsible for the global warming, since the days of industrial revolution human actions have intensified the warming process and can only be reversed if we change our life style and the method of generations of energy.
CO2 has a very long life-cycle of thousands of years. Oceans can absorb CO2 only very slowly. Methane and black carbon from coal will inevitably be converted to CO2. If we want to prevent cataclysmic climate change, the only question that should concern us is how much of fossil fuels are we willing to leave buried forever in the ground. All that matters is whether we have alternative means of energy production or not. Green" energy sources (wind or solar or tidal etc) are good, but woefully short of tackling this challenge. Conventional Nuclear energy that depends on natural uranium cannot provide a solution.
The viable solutions come from two sources. The Fast Breeder nuclear reactors use natural uranium only in the first cycle, then it can produce plutonium from the waste products to make these reactors self sufficient. However, that cannot rule out any possible accident that may contaminate the atmosphere for many decades.

The other viable alternative is what the Russian scientists have proposed in 1980s, to set up a giant solar reflector in the outer space to reflect sun"s energy to the earth. That can produce all the energy the world needs rather than using the fossil fuels. That can slow down the warming process of the world without sacrificing the life style of the industrialized societies. Thus, a worldwide effort under the auspicious of the United Nations is needed to construct such a giant solar reflector in the outer space, the technical design of which is already developed by the Physico-Technical Institute of the Russian Academy of Science.

Thus, the Kyoto Treaty"s market based solution is only a temporary solution, but is not acceptable the most important country USA, that can make a change regarding the global warming process, unless India and China also accept the restriction on emissions of carbons from their industrial plants. The arguments of India and China based on per head pollutions, rather than total amount of pollution, are not justified.

It is not true that the people of India or China are against the Kyoto protocol, but certainly, their governments influenced by the big corporations are. People of India already suffer too much from industrial pollutions, and carbon emissions. Indian cities (and the Chinese cities) all have very bad polluted air, causing all kind of recepetory diseases. Those who live near the coal-fired thermal power plants also suffer heavily from heart and lung diseases. Rivers are highly polluted with industrial discharges. However, Indian government (and Chinese government) is still saying it is a conspiracy of the West to draw attention to the industrial pollution. Between 1980 and 2006, per capita carbon emissions doubled in the developing countries as a group, and nearly tripled in China.

The arrogance of India and China are only affecting the people of these two countries badly, who suffer from every kind of industrial pollution very badly even at the current rate of emissions. In future, the situation will be much worse. Although human being cannot control earth"s natural movement, it may be possible for the human being to delay the eventual final day of the destruction by using scientific method to control the climatic changes due to human actions.


Dr.Dipak Basu

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