Hope is kindled

By Red Constantino

Feature story - February 22, 2005
A new dawn. This is our collective hope as we rise to meet the opening hours of February 16 - the historic day the climate treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol comes into force. Crafted in the Japanese city bearing its name, the Kyoto treaty will become by February 16 a legally-binding global agreement which will obligate the world - beginning with developed nations - to make rapid and significant global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent the onset of dangerous climate change.

Marking the Kyoto Protocol's becoming law in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Protocol is the first required step to protect the climate. Its entry into force is both a cause for celebration and at the same time a grave reminder that a lot more work needs to be done. The climate accord calls for an initial average of five percent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions globally relative to 1990 levels, even though emissions reductions by 75 percent are widely believed to be needed by 2050 if irreversible damage to the climate is to be prevented.

Climate change is considered by the global scientific community as the greatest environmental threat facing the planet today. Ironically, though caused mainly by the massive reliance of industrialized countries on fossil fuels such as coal and oil, climate change will hit developing nations the hardest in terms of loss of life and investments.

Scientists are no longer discussing whether or not climate change will occur; they are today debating how severe the impacts will be if drastic action is not taken globally and immediately.

The 1990s remain the warmest decade in recorded history. Recent studies project that if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced dramatically and soon, the deadly heat wave which hit Europe in 2003 may occur every second summer by the latter half of the century.

Scientists anticipate warming temperatures to significantly fuel the intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts and storms. According to leading global insurance companies such as Munich Re, climate-change related damages might cost $150 billion annually within only a decade.

Due to warming temperatures, up to 64 percent of China's glaciers are projected to disappear by 2050, putting at risk up to a quarter of the country's population who are dependent on the water released from those glaciers.

The British Antarctic Survey revealed recently that the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet might be disintegrating, "an event which, if it happened completely, would raise sea levels around the world by 16 feet." The impact such an event would have on the Philippines is obvious given the country's discontinuous coastline. Among the other impacts of climate change rising sea levels, rapidly declining agricultural yields and the spread of diseases such as malaria borne by insects that thrive in warm temperatures.

We all know what the problem is: burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which release to the atmosphere massive amounts of carbon dioxide, the main climate-wrecking greenhouse gas. And we know what we need to do: produce our energy from clean, safe, renewable resources. Unfortunately, those well-placed to ensure that solutions to the problem are used do not seem to be paying attention.

The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank remain the two largest emitters of hot air. Huge amounts of environmental rhetoric emanate from the two institutions each year and yet up to now, both continue to provide the overwhelming share of their resources to dirty energy projects.

Support from governments of Thailand and Southeast Asian countries played an important role in determining the Kyoto Treaty's content and final shape. And yet today, the Thai energy policy has degenerated into a strategy devoted to negating the Protocol's promise by forcing despised coal plants on communities, which continue to reject dirty power and which have long demanded clean energy.

The European Renewable Energy Council has shown that with the right support policies from government, renewable energy from wind, geothermal, small hydro, modern biomass and solar power can provide 50 percent of global energy supply by 2040. Traditional energy economists say that renewable energy is too expensive and that we can't afford to develop it. The truth is we cannot afford not to.

The Kyoto Protocol will come into force despite persistent attempts by the hooligan governments of the US and Australia to undermine the climate treaty. This fact should remind us once again that concerted action can yield fruit and that big or small, populous, powerful, or frail, each country and each individual has a role to play in redirecting our planet away from its present deadly course. After all, as a great reminder goes, if the world were a huge airplane about to crash, would it really matter that you were seated in first class?

The task of taking back the pilot's cockpit from those who have hijacked our plane of a planet must be our number one priority.

"Global warnings," Greenpeace International, September 17, 2004. http://www.greenpeace.org/international_en/features/details?item%5fid=583710 A groundbreaking study on the subject was published last year by The Journal of Climate, which can be referenced at www.gfdl.noaa.gov/reference/bibliography/2004/tk0401.pdf. See also "Global Warming Is Expected to Raise Hurricane Intensity," Andrew Revkin, The New York Times, September 30, 2004. "Global warming: scientists reveal timetable," Michael McCarthy, The Independent-UK, February 3, 2005. "Responding to the Challenges of the Rising Sea," Rosa Perez, Disturbing Climate, ed. Jose T. Villarin SJ, Manila Observatory, Ateneo de Manila University Campus, Quezon City. Because of new data, some believe that the IPCC may have seriously underestimated the rise in sea levels. See New Scientist, Feb. 19, 2002. "How to blow away China's pollution," Gloria Chang, South China Morning Post, September 18, 2004.