An Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate and economics report for South Asia, released some time ago stated that climate change will affect South Asia more than most other regions. South Asia’s weather is likely to become hotter than the global average, while monsoon rains and heavy storms will increase in most parts of the region.In the plantation sector, there could be both direct and indirect impacts.
Background to UN initiatives
In the early 1980s, scientists were beginning to raise concerns about climate change. In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meterological Organisation (WMO) to assess the scientific knowledge on global warming. Its first major report in 1990 showed that there was broad international consensus that climate change was human-induced.
That report led way to an international convention for climate change. This became the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed by over 150 countries at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. (By the middle of 2000, over 180 countries had signed and ratified it).
The convention took effect in 1994. By 1995 negotiations had started on a protocol — an international agreement linked to the existing treaty but standing on its own. This led to the Kyoto Protocol, adopted unanimously in 1997. The main purposes of this protocol were to: Provide mandatory targets on GHG emissions for the world’s leading economies, all of whom accepted it at the time; Provide flexibility in how countries meet their targets; Further recognize that commitments under the protocol would vary from country to country.
Rich countries emit more
As a general principle, it was also recognized that most of the GHG emissions contributing to climate change come from the industrialized ‘Northern’ countries that have been developing since the Industrial Revolution, as such emissions remain in the atmosphere a long time. In addition, they have been developing for longer than the Third World, so action to address this must proportionally be with those industrialized nations. The following summarizes this well:
Industrialised countries set out on the path of development much earlier than developing countries and have been emitting GHGs in the atmosphere for years without any restrictions. Since GHG emissions accumulate in the atmosphere for decades and centuries, the industrialised countries’ emissions are still present in the earth’s atmosphere. Therefore, the North is responsible for the problem of global warming given its huge historical emissions. It owes its current prosperity to decades of overuse of the common atmospheric space and its limited capacity to absorb GHGs.
Developing countries, on the other hand, have taken the road to growth and development very recently. In countries such as India, emissions have started growing but their per capita emissions are still significantly lower than that of industrialised countries. The difference in emissions between industrialised and developing countries is even starker when per capita emissions are taken into account. In 1996, for instance, the emission of one US citizen equalled that of 19 Indians.
While the convention was weakened due to US threats to not attend Rio if there were binding commitments to stabilize GHG emissions, it is still a useful framework. The convention provides a framework to tackle a number of issues and had some objectives set, including the following: Recognize that a problem exists (earlier in the 1980s and beginning of 1990s there was a huge amount of scepticism that human-induced climate change exists because there are also natural cycles in the change of the climate that occurs over 100s of years. However, now, the body of research indicates that humans are a factor in the current climate changes). As a result, the ultimate objective, as described in Article 2, is to achieve “stabilization of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Continued scientific research is encouraged because the climate is a very complex issue and patterns are likely to continue changing. The convention recognizes that the current developed and industrialized nations have the largest current and historic emissions and that they should therefore take the lead and burden of helping reduce harmful effects and cut down emissions. This is significant, as it recognizes the right for developing countries to develop economically.
During the Kyoto summit, this was hotly contested by the United States, which is the largest emitter of GHGs in the world — for just about 4 percent of the world’s population, they emit over a quarter of the world’s emission. Per capita, this is far, far higher than any other nation as well. Note though that most debate has been on reduction of emissions. While that is good, what is often left out is the fact that those developing countries already facing problems, or are about to, are left without much help in adapting, as a part of this report points out. The convention also recognized that it is likely that the poorer nations will suffer the most, as there are less resources and capabilities to adapt to sudden changes of this magnitude.It is also recognized that a more sustainable economy is needed as current consumptive patterns could be destructive.
Now in Lima 2014
United Nations members have reached an agreement on how countries should tackle climate change. Climate change is not a far-off problem. It is happening now and is having very real consequences on people’s lives. Climate change is disrupting national economies, costing us dearly today and even more tomorrow. But there is a growing recognition that affordable, scalable solutions are available now that will enable us all to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies.
There is a sense that change is in the air. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited world leaders, from government, finance, business and civil society to Climate Summit 2014 that was held on September 23 to galvanize and catalyse climate action. He has asked these leaders to bring bold announcements and actions to the summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement i n 2015. Climate Summit 2014 provided a unique opportunity for leaders to champion an ambitious vision, anchored i n action that will enable a meaningful global agreement in 2015.
Now the delegates have approved a framework for setting national pledges to be submitted to a summit next year. Differences over the draft text caused the two-week talks in Lima, Peru, to overrun by two days.
There was a good deal of optimism at the start of these talks as the recent emissions agreement between the US and China was seen as a historic breakthrough. But that good spirit seemed to evaporate in two weeks of intense wrangling between the rich and poor in Lima.
It ended in a compromise that some participants believe in keeping the world on track to reach a new global treaty by the end of next year. None of the 194 countries attending the talks walked away with everything they wanted but everybody got something.
As well as pledges and finance, the agreement points towards a new classification of nations. Rather than just being divided into rich and poor, the text attempts to reflect the more complex world of today, where the bulk of emissions originate in developing countries.
While progress in Lima was limited and many decisions were simply postponed, the fact that 194 nations assented to this document means there is still momentum for a deal in Paris. Much tougher tests lie ahead.
Climate deal heralds historic shift
The document preserved the notion that richer nations had to lead the way in making cuts in emissions. It also restored a promise to poorer countries that a ‘loss and damage’ scheme would be established to help them cope with the financial implications of rising temperatures.
However, it weakened language on national pledges, saying, countries “may” instead of “shall”, include quantifiable information showing how they intend to meet their emission targets. The agreed document calls for: An “ambitious agreement” i n 2015 t hat reflects “differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of each nation. Developed countries to provide financial support to “vulnerable” developing nations. National pledges to be submitted by the first quarter of 2015 by those states “ready to do so”. Countries to set targets that go beyond t heir “current undertaking”. The UN climate change body to report back on the national pledges in November 2015. Environmental groups were scathing in their response to the document, saying the proposals were nowhere need drastic enough.
Now, along with other major tea growers, the Sri Lankan tea industry faces an uncertain future due to climate change. Pests and volatile weather patterns threaten an industry already beset by increased competition and rising labour costs. Along with other calamities, climate change poses the threat of collapse to the tea industry.
On our part, we should implement adaptive measures that have been recommended in responding to climate threats:
Use of drought and stress tolerant cultivars
Planting tea cultivars, grafted plants and improved seedlings that are able to withstand adverse weather conditions such as droughts and increasing temperatures. Use of a basket of tea cultivars including those with pest and disease tolerance.
Exclusively, reserve lands with good soil conditions for tea and areas with greater soil degradation for other economic uses. Intercrop tea with other perennial tree crops (rubber and coconut) where soil conditions are favourable for such crops. Utilize low-yielding tea land (unsuited for replanting with tea or cash crops) for other uses such as Gliricidla (Glircidla seplum) thrives in poor soil conditions at low/mid elevations and minimal investment is required. Convert unproductive tea lands to ‘thatch banks’ i.e., planting of rehabilitation grasses such as Mana (Cymbopopgan confertiflorus) or Guatemala (Tripsacum taxum) thereby conserving and improving the soil whilst also supplying green manure to other tea lands.
Soil conservation, improvement and irrigation
Soil conservation and improvement are necessary to increase water and nutrient holding capacity to soil so that tea bushes are well established to withstand adverse weather conditions. Adoption of soil and soil moisture conservation measures. Generation of compost by planting green manure crops and rehabilitation grasses in vacant patches and along fences. Planting of green manure crops as sloping agriculture land technology (SALT) hedge rows. Burying of tea pruning and envelope forking (fork soil without turning). Mulching in young tea lands. Irrigation of tea during dry months.
Establishment and management of shade trees
Establishment and management of shade trees in tea lands will reduce ambient temperature around tea bushes, harvest rainfall, reduce drying up of soil and i mprove soil organic matter status in tea lands. Hence, establishment and management of high and medium shade trees in tea lands will minimize adverse impacts of climate change. All these might help us on our way to a green and climateresilient sustainable development. There is one clear message – by ignoring climate change, we all stand to lose. (N. Yogaratnam can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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