Editor in Chief
By the time you read this, the Dec. 3-14 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia, will be closing, if not already completed. In addition to workshops and technical discussions, negotiations on how to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocols (which expire in 2012) were expected to spark some intense debates between teams of negotiators from the European Union (EU), the U.S., China, and India. Each of these regions was expected to point the finger at the other regions to step forward and commit to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The top producer of greenhouse gases, the U.S., which never signed the Kyoto Protocols, wasn’t expected to make any commitment before 2009—when Bush is out of office. The second largest producer of greenhouse gases, China (which will soon overtake the U.S. for that dubious honor), has already said that global warming “is not their problem.” Greenhouse gas production is the problem of the developed countries in the EU and the U.S., according to a Chinese Summit representative.
China and India are both likely to sign an accord putting limits on their emissions, but only when it has no penalties for non-compliance. As developing countries, China and India were exempt from the Kyoto Protocols.
It’s interesting to note that no one disagrees with the premise that global warming is actually occurring and that humanity is mostly responsible—it’s not just a cyclical normal occurrence. A just-released report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that warming of the climate is “unequivocal” and that governments must take action now to avoid catastrophic consequences.
Indonesia, the site of the Climate Summit, is expected to lose about 2,000 of its 17,000 islands by 2030 due to rising ocean levels (by nearly a meter from current levels) from the melting polar ice caps and continental glaciers. And while most of these soon-to-be submerged Indonesian islands are uninhabited, the highly inhabited island nations like Fiji, Saint Lucia, and some of the Bahamas will share the same fate.
The surprising fact of global warming is the accelerating rate at which it’s occurring. A number of researchers believe that it’s already beyond the fail-safe point, given the increasing rate at which the U.S., China, India, and the EU are producing greenhouse gases and the lack of any really significant programs to offset those emissions anytime soon.
The talk is always positive. The research into alternative energy sources is substantial. It’s just that we can’t get there fast enough, considering our lifestyles, our economic needs, and our current infrastructure. No one, not the U.S., China, India, or even the very green EU will create “crash” programs to slash their greenhouse gas emissions.
Since the writing is on the wall—and mind you, none of the alternative energy programs should be lessened—these countries should start planning now on how to offset the consequences of global warming. This includes the regional droughts that are likely to occur, the eroding and submerging coastlines that will increase, and the highly volatile storms that are predicted.
About three years ago, I wrote an editorial in this same column about increasing the technologies in the construction industry to defend against the tropical storms and increasing ocean levels that are likely to occur as a result of global warming. I haven’t seen any growth in this area in these intervening years, although I have seen the accelerating level and acceptance of the results of global warming.
It’s unfortunate that our children and their children will have to suffer the consequences of our leaders’ inaction or inability to act together fast enough to create programs that could make a difference. The R&D and the technologies are already mostly there, waiting for the governments to make a solid commitment.