Saturday, November 04, 2006

Warm and wet

Protesters who gathered in drought-stricken Brisbane today to march against climate change, had an immediate effect. The march took place in torrential rain (despite erroneous claims from the march had been cancelled). While the weather was welcome to a parched city, the timing was disappointing for event organisers with the crowd well down on expectations of a dry day. The actual crowd was about 2,000 which was exceptional in the difficult circumstances. Those who did turn up struggled to hear Democrat senator Andrew Bartlett's speech before taking part in a drenched walk to Musgrave Park in South Brisbane. The heavy rain never let up and the post-march party had to be cancelled.

Despite Brisbane’s damp squib, the Walk Against Warming successfully took place in over 30 venues across Australia. It attracted national attendance measured in the ten of thousands. Melbourne drew the biggest crowd of 30,000 who marched from the city centre to the new park of Birrarung Marr near Federation Square. Sydney’s event was also marred by poor weather but 10,000 gathered to hear Greens leader Bob Brown address the crowd. Senator Brown told the crowd the Greens would introduce a bill forcing Australia to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90 per cent by 2050. Opposition Environment spokesman Anthony Albanese also told the crowd a Labor government would act immediately on climate change; ratifying the Kyoto Protocol would be its first act in office.

The events come exactly a year to the day after the first worldwide demonstration to press for action to combat global warming. More than 100,000 people took to the streets in more than 30 countries timed to coincide with the most important international climate change negotiations since the agreement of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The conference was held in Montreal and was the first meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol since it came into force in February 2005. There is broad agreement among scientists that rich countries will need to reduce carbon emissions by 80 % by 2050 if there is to be any hope of stopping the climate change escalating out of control.

The Kyoto Protocol targets will reduce greenhouse gas emission by only 5% from 1990 levels. The Kyoto objective is the "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The Protocol covers more than 160 countries globally and over 55% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Governments are separated into two categories, developed countries (known as Annex 1) and developing countries (known as non-Annex 1). Non Annex 1 countries do not have GHG targets. Annex 1 countries that fail to meet their Kyoto target will be penalised by having their reduction targets decreased by 30% in the next period. But because the cost of meeting Kyoto is prohibitive for many countries, the protocol has “flexible mechanisms” which allow carbon trading to offset GHG targets. Countries can buy emissions reductions from either financial exchanges or from developing countries. The German based Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board will vet projects prior to accepting carbon trades.

All the Annex 1 and most non-Annex 1 countries have established Designated National Authorities to manage their GHG portfolios under Kyoto. The US, then led by President Clinton signed the protocol. The Bush administration neither ratified nor withdrew the US from the protocol. Bush has stated he supports the Kyoto principles but said in 2001, “the Protocol was fatally flawed in fundamental ways”. He will not commit the US while China, the world’s second largest emitter of carbons, is exempted. The US does not support the split between Annex 1 countries and others. It has also suppressed expert reports on global warming including a fact sheet by a panel of seven scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that found that global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to a set of a "common but differentiated responsibilities." These were: the developed world had the largest share of global emissions, per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low, and the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social needs. As a result, China, India, and other developing countries were exempt from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol because they were not the main contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions during the industrialisation period that is the cause of climate change. Kyoto critics argue that these countries will soon be the top contributors to greenhouse gases and also claim that industry in developed countries will move to non-restricted countries meaning there will no net carbon reduction.

There is also controversy about using 1990 as a base year. The former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were in a shambles at that time and there was little or no energy efficiency in their infrastructure. Therefore Russia will have little difficulty in meeting the Kyoto targets. This positive side of Kyoto - a chance to modernise industry - is a major reason why Putin signed Russia up in 2004. Defenders of the Kyoto Protocol argue that while the initial greenhouse gas cuts may have little effect, they set the political precedent for bigger and more effective cuts in the future. Six Asia Pacific nations, US, Australia, China, India, Japan and South Korea have formed the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (AP6) which aims to co-operate on development and transfer of technology to enables reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. They have agreed a Charter, Communiqué and Work Plan that "outline a ground-breaking new model of private-public taskforces to address climate change, energy security and air pollution”. The Stern Report released this week has now given impetus to push post-Kyoto talks with Germany urged to take the lead when it begins its presidency of the EU in 2007. The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

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