It was a sunny day with clear skies. The aircraft, having taken off from Dubai and being airborne for about nine hours, was nearing its destination. The bird’s eye view, I had through the window of the descending aircraft been fascinating. There, I saw a vast stretch of sandy beach towards which dark blue waters of the Indian Ocean, cruising relentlessly and creating milky waves of some pattern. At last, the aircraft made a perfect touchdown at its destination, the airport in Durban-South Africa.
Durban always reminds me of Mahatma Gandhi. About hundred and fifty years ago, the British colonials brought Indian indentured labourers to South Africa for sugar cane plantation work. Gandhi was a practicing lawyer who subsequently ventured into politics, using nonviolence as a novel tool to deal against violent western imperialism. Presently, in Durban - South Africa, a new form of nonviolence movement is under way. It is the crusade against global warming, perpetrated by the same violent western imperialism in the name of development.
The latest Climate Change Conference or COP 17 was held in Durban-South Africa. It is one of the BASIC countries in which others are emerging super powers- Brazil, China and India. Playing host to the Summit Conference, South Africa which leads fifty six countries of the Arabian Union is now a key player in Climate Change deliberations. Once been a neglected and exploited continent, Africa is now rapidly growing at a rate of six percent, surpassing its former conquerors and exploiters, such as North America and Europe and it is presently open towards China, India and Asia at large.
It is common knowledge that our planet is getting warmer and warmer, endangering the very existence of its living beings. What makes it so, and who could be held responsible for it? Human beings have achieved their so called development over the years as a result of burning fossil fuels such as gas, oil or coal. Eighty percent of present day activities depend on fossil fuels, without which the global economy may crunch and vanish. However, the negative effect of burning fossil fuel is that it releases carbon dioxide and other gases, resulting in global warming.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) were instrumental in formulating the Inter-governmental Panel Committee on Climate Change (IPCCC) in 1988, as a new independent scientific body. Having studied matters related to climate changes and global warming patterns, with their causes and effects, the IPCCC published its first assessment report in 1990. Based on that report the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) was established. Its final text of the agreement was adopted in United Nations headquarters, New York, in May 1992 and the Convention was opened for signatures at Rio Earth Summit in June 1992. The next Earth Summit -Rio 20 Plus- is scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. In this regard, it is interesting to note that although the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997; it was activated only in September, 2005.
According to IPCCC assessments, the global warming should be restricted to two degrees centigrade and the emission of carbon di oxide should also be curtailed to a level below 450 ppm, if we are to prevent the planet from heading towards a catastrophic environmental disaster, at 50:50 probabilities. It also has been warned that beyond 2 degree Centigrade bio carbon hidden underneath icecaps (Thermo frost) would be released causing serious problems to the atmosphere. In the wake of these alarming findings, the Kyoto Protocol, having identified 39 most developed (or polluted) countries as being high emitting countries, wanted them to cut their emission level, collectively by 5 percent, with respect to 1990 emission level.
However, as a concessional measure, it was proposed that the relevant countries be allowed to adhere to the stipulated emission cut levels only after the first commitment or transition period, beginning from 2008 and ending in 2012. Joint implementation, Emission Trading and Clean Development Mechanism are the three mechanisms been included in the first commitment period. The joint implementation was assigned to industrialized countries whilst the emission trading was assigned to West and the former Soviet Federation countries. The under developed and developing countries were to make clean energy and conservation efforts, avoiding fossil fuels, and they were made eligible to get emission trading permits from Annexure 1 countries. That was how the Carbon Trading was initiated.
At the Summit, it was noted that for the bargaining purposes of the industrialized countries, various inter-governmental bodies, such as the least developed countries (LDC), the small island nations and the tropical forest associations were been formed. Also, the other inter-governmental organizations like G-77 China, African Union, Arab League and SAARAC countries were seen playing a significant political maneuvering at the climate discussions.
Adaptation and mitigation were identified as two processes to meet the challenges of climate change related issues. Accordingly, Technological Transfers, Capacity Building and formation of climate green fund was suggested and ratified. Many discussions took place and COP meetings held. Having identified many matters related the crisis; experiences, ideas and information related to cyclones, floods, droughts, sea level risings, earth quacks, spread of vector bone diseases and extinction of bio diversity etc. were exchanged. However, the root cause for the problem remained unresolved.
Burning fossil fuels has increased many folds. Since 1990 the emission level has risen by fifty percent. It had been 8309 million tons in 1990, whilst 12493 million tons in 2009. Also, the intensity and the frequency of environmental disasters have increased significantly. However, there had been no way of preventing any further addition of fossil fuel.
As I entered the conference venue in Durban, I noticed that the atmosphere prevailed there was less enthusiastic than what we experienced at Bali (2007), Poznan (2008) and Copenhagen (2009). In view of the Fukushima disaster, it seemed that everybody was playing safe, by keeping silent about the use of Nuke as an alternate energy. It was obvious that due to the economic crisis prevailing in countries in Europe and North America, they were only interested in more growth and not in any unpopular austerity measures. So, in order to continue with their burning of fossil fuels, they had no alternative than to defer the problem, perhaps to be solved by the next generation.
A scientist who was much concerned about the impending calamity, at the conference, clearly spelt out that the future generation is our generation and that disastrous two degree centigrade increase may happen in 2035. He further said that if we are not going to cut our emission level by 2015, we will be faced with very serious environmental problems in 2030. A calculation showed that in order to put the environment in order, for at least forty percent probability, all the coal plants in the world should be shut down by 2030.
The million dollar question is as to who is going to cut their emissions? The United States and Canada backed out from the Kyoto Protocol, manifesting the fact that their Anglo-Saxon arrogance is far from over. It is a pity that the United Nations Organization and other world bodies are being incapacitated from imposing any sanctions against these countries for their crime against humanity. The so called developed countries, shamefully relocate their pollution in free trade zones and export zones in developing countries and adding insult to injury, the former ask the latter to cut their emissions. Under these circumstances it is quite natural for the least developed and developing countries to fault the developed countries for their carbon debts and agitate for their right to develop.
I observed two emerging trends in Durban. The first is that North America getting increasingly marginalized by Europe and the other is China and India, embroiled each other in many issues, coming forward with new proposals. The Chinese presence in Bali, Poznan or even Copenhagen was hardly noticed. However, the presence of China is now getting increasingly noticed, especially due to its possession of the most cost effective renewable energy technology (solar and wind) and more importantly, its sound financial position, required for implementation of its plans.
When China proposed emission cuts to be made effective from 2020, the developed countries, excluding European Union, raised objections to it. However, they finally settled down for a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and accordingly, go in for mandatory agreements in 2015. By that time I hope China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia would be able to lead climate discussions with the progressive support from the European countries.
Since Asia is now moving and shaping the new world, it is high time it leads the sustainable development and green growth, whilst imposing green sanctions against the USA and Canada. This double dip global economic crisis may end up creating a new sustainable future if we were to fulfill our historical responsibility.