What Type of Climatic Legacy to Leave Behind

Talks in Doha continue, without making any concrete progress. Folks hit the streets—streets that are only too familiar with demonstration to notice a peaceful walk. As nations defend their emissions records, rights to pollute, and excuses for inaction, fortnight of get-together almost comes to an end.

We are unfortunately too accustomed to UN’s climatic conventions. Delegates circumambulate old debates (developed vs. developing; emissions reduction vs. economic growth, etc.) more than Buddhists do of their stupas. While the latter seek accumulation of merits, the former forgo further atmospheric thickening of GHGs. While the latter seek path to heaven, the former headed to climatic hell.

An evermore frequent climatic extremes in the past year or two have taught many deniers that human induced climate change is no longer a distant theoretic debate, but a living reality. However, as we wait for more people, regions, and nations to come aboard, we are literally running out of time.

An increasing body of scientific reports warns that the world is unlikely to meet the 2-degree target even if all current pledges were fully delivered. To top thing off, many of the natural feedbacks, namely emissions from thawing permafrost, haven’t become a part of the climatic conversation until recent months.

As the Kyoto protocol is about to expire, and the promise by rich nations to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help more vulnerable states is nowhere near to fulfill, not even a comprehensive plan in place.

Climatic Skeptics

Climatic skeptics repeat the same old question. “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” They suspect. I wish it were a giant hoax. I wish the climate skeptics were right. I wish the melting arctic, the expanding tropics, and the acidifying oceans have nothing to do with our emissions. I wish a planet increasingly raked by winds, strafed by storms, and scorched by heat has nothing to do with the thickening of atmospheric concentration of heat-trapping gases. I wish the floods in Pakistan, the wildfires in the U.S. West, and the lingering drought in Yunnan Province in China does not share the same root cause. I wish NASA scientist James Hansen’s testimony before Congress in June 1988 meant nothing. I wish the scientists’ discovery of steady rise in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in Mauna Loa in 1950s had nothing to do with our unbridled economic growth and resource exploitation. I wish the world’s leading scientists at U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their reports were all wrong. But then again, what if science trumps ideology? What if emissions do derail the earth’s energy balance? What if we are exhausting many of the earth’s resources and ecological carrying capacity? What if our kids, grandkids, and the many more generations yet to come will not be able to enjoy the oasis generation come before them have? What if we can no longer afford to linger but to act?

Holistic and Systemic Evaluation

It’s time for us all to be real, and stop the nonsensical bickering about who should act, because we all have to.

When a nation is applauded for its greenness, let’s not be shy to shed a light on the sources of its food, the factories where its good are manufactured. If Brazilian produces feed them, and made-in-China supports them, then are they really that green? It is their appetites for goods that have caused international pollution leakage, and driven the pollution bars up on the developing countries charts. The Guardian’s Duncan Clark reports change in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2011, and to no one’s surprise China’s pollution outgrows everyone else’s and India is right behind China. Countries like Russia and EU 15  (-0.305 GT) showed some gains.

Russia’s emissions plummeted largely because of the breakups of the Soviet Union and collapse of its heavy industries. However, recent study found that E.U. emissions have actually gone up by 7 percent rather than the reported gain of 0.305 GT. So, who is right and who is wrong? It’s where trade comes in. In an evermore interdependent and interconnected global web, we can no longer view a nation and/or a region’s emissions solely according to its geographic boundaries. We have to examine and evaluate emissions from a more holistic, systemic, and life-cycle point of view. We have to evaluate the amount of emissions and resource consumption that are embedded in commodities that are exported or imported.

With a more holistic and inclusive global emissions reduction formula, nations may find it easier to move on from the current developed vs. developing debate, and take initiatives. To certain extent, China emits because the world demands made-in-China produces, which consumes energy and emits GHGs. Developed nations find it hard to make legally binding commitments without marching along the developing nations, because they are not fully realizing that their factories and pollutions are often exported into the very nations they blame as cheap polluters.

I find the developing countries’ argument about “you polluted and become developed, and now it’s our term,” is naively silly at best. After all whether the atmosphere holds an equal amount of emissions from every nation or not, the new climatic norms—I am talking about lingering drought, flash floods, stronger storms, encroaching desertification, rising sea level, and much more—will hit us all. It is the impoverished populations of developing countries, who will find themselves hopeless and helpless, if we don’t join hands and act now.

Long-term vision vs. Short-term goals

We need a long-term framework, call it policy vision, if you will, with enough purpose and strategy to it, so that it doesn’t rely on short-term government changes or social fluctuation.

We need short-term goals that will collectively materialize the long-term climatic vision. We need to act rather than waiting for someone else to act. When nations deliver their emissions reduction pledges earlier than agreed, it is time to thank them for their excellent work rather than choking them harder with higher targets.

It is time to collectively hold a firm ground for the protection of ecosystems, upon whose services our livelihoods depend. It is time to safeguard and conserve our shared natural heritage for the many more generations yet to come.

Dec. 4th, 2012

Tupgon T.


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