or watching the news these days can be frustrating.
But there's really a couple of lines of reasoning
that bring forth in me the urge to kick or slap somebody.
first is when I listen to US apologists explaining
away what theyre currently doing in Iraq. That
feeling I suppose is shared by many in this country.
The second, more esoteric perhaps, is when I hear
people say: If global warming turns out to be
a problem, which I doubt, it won't be solved by making
ourselves poorer through energy rationing. And
I have some friends who add: Anyway, we have
more important problems here in Ireland than to worry
about global warming".
paraphrased in the first quote above from Myron Ebell
of the American Competitive Enterprise Institute
the equivalent of the Irish IBEC. Ebell, whose fondness
for America's fossil fuel consumption is related directly
to his paycheck, was, of course, then promptly buried
under a foot of snow over last weekend. It can't be
easy, insisting that the world is flat while having
to shovel evidence to the contrary.
scientists and negotiators from around the world begin
their second week in a Milan, Italy in a United Nations
backed conference on global climate change, one fact
is eminently clear: the world is not flat. Major global
climate change, triggered by rapidly increasing atmospheric
carbon dioxide levels, is an established fact. Human
activity as the major cause of it is an established
fact. Nobody outside corridors of power in Washington,
D.C., Houston Texas and some of our own heads nearby,
has questioned any of this for years. As the body
of scientific evidence grows, the scope and speed
of climatic changes are, if anything, proving far
worse than the most alarmist scientific predictions
of only a decade ago. These changes affect not just
temperature -- nine of the ten warmest years in recorded
human history have come in the last 14 years -- but
extremes in atmospheric pressure, a resulting increase
in wind speeds, drought, sea level increases, extreme
cold, and extremes in precipitation -- like last weekend's
unusually heavy and early East Coast snowfall in the
US or the warmest and driest summer for two centuries
in Europe, including the UK, this year.
science has scrambled to track all these changes,
and to track the havoc that changing climates are
already beginning to wreak on what turns out to be
an exquisitely balanced natural world, the phrase
"global warming" turns out to be a misnomer.
It is a euphemism, as a cluster of trends so catastrophic
that without dramatic human counteraction will, in
a matter of decades, threaten food and water supplies
and much of the natural and technological infrastructure
that we humans have developed to support ourselves.
Warming is a symptom -- an important one, as the increased
carbon dioxide levels trap more solar radiation in
our lower atmosphere -- but only one of many impacts.
By using a term that defines the problem as solely
one of temperature, we get two levels of denial --
oil company Flat Earthers, and their mouthpieces,
sneering at "junk science" (didn't Copernicus
hear that, too?), or comments like those of Russian
President-for-Life Vladimir Putin, who joked earlier
this year that for his country, warming "might
even be good. We'd spend less money on fur coats and
other warm things."
is a central figure this week in Milan. He is expected
to announce -- after a much disputed electoral victory
Sunday that gives him firmer control over Russia's
Parliament -- whether Russia will ratify the 1997
Kyoto accord. But Russia only has this much leverage
because the obstinacy of the United States leaves
Russia's ratification necessary for the treaty to
take force -- and Russia's decision is a question
only because, after five years of publicly backing
Kyoto, Putin's government has backtracked in the past
year due to fierce anti-Kyoto pressure from the Bush
policy on climate change has been nothing less than
a crime against humanity -- and, for that matter,
a crime against many of our biosphere's other inhabitants,
too. But it's not just Bush that's been the problem;
it's all of us humans, especially all of us in consumption-happy
countries. As Bill McKibben, -- one of the earliest
authors to spotlight climate change as an urgent issue
with 1989's The End of Nature, noted recently,
global warming is being thought of by leaders and
ordinary people alike "in the way they think
about 'violence on television'
let me add here
in the way we think here in Ireland of child
molestation by priests,' or the illiteracy of
one in four of our people as a marginal concern
to us, if a concern at all!
calculated efforts to torpedo Kyoto, and the ongoing
campaigns by oil and energy companies and by Bush
Administration officials to cast doubt on the scientific
legitimacy of the issue, are reprehensible, but hardly
unique. Kyoto's provisions are far short of the steps
actually needed to combat the problem -- but it was
American negotiators, headed by then-VP Al Gore, who
worked to water down the originally proposed treaty.
Afterwards, as 120 countries moved to ratify Kyoto,
including Ireland and the UK, it was Bill Clinton
who refused to submit it to the Senate. Enter Bush
next. All the while, the clock has been ticking, the
seasons turning, the temperatures rising.
provisions expire in 2011 -- meaning that as we approach
2004 we're at the halfway point before Kyoto expires,
and it has not even taken force yet, thanks in large
part to Washington. At this point, negotiators in
Milan shouldn't be worrying too much about the details
of Kyoto. Even if Russia ratifies it, negotiators
should be more concerned about hammering out a framework
for what comes after Kyoto.
then, China will be a major industrial power. The
landscape of carbon dioxide-spewing humanity has shifted
significantly since the 1990 levels that provide Kyoto's
benchmarks. Russia's post-Soviet industrial economy
collapsed, meaning that its emissions in 2000 were
down 22.8% from 1990; Germany, with its East German
component and with unilateral EU measures, similarly
declined by 13.6%. They will rebound. The EU as a
whole increased its emissions in the decade by only
1.5% -- a vast improvement over the past, but still
nowhere near the modest targets set by Kyoto.
during the same period, carbon dioxide emissions in
the U.S., already the world's leading superpower (spewer),
went up a whopping 18.1%!
look at things nearer home, under the Kyoto Protocol,
Ireland is committed to limiting total emissions of
the main greenhouse gases in the period 20082012
to 13% above 1990 levels. Current forecasts
indicate that Ireland will have to achieve a reduction
of up to 13.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent of
greenhouse gases. However, the 13% limit
allocated to Ireland has already been reached.
annual review of EU greenhouse gas emissions published
recently by the European Environment Agency
shows Ireland has moved to the very
bottom of the performance table.
EU emissions had crept up to be 1%
higher in 2001 than in the base year of 1990 but Irish
emissions have grown 31% in the same period, more
than double our commitment to restrict growth to 13%
by 2008. As well as having the worst environmental
record in this regard, the Republic is now facing
the possibility of massive fines for non-compliance
to the Kyoto commitments. The Environment
Agency blames recent poor performance on increased
emissions from the transport sector and the greater
use of fossil fuel in electricity and heat production.
Ireland has a particularly bad record in each of these
areas and current Government policy is going to make
having the most lenient targets in the EU, Ireland
is also the worst EU member in terms of emissions
of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse
gas. Carbon dioxide CO2 accounts for 82% of the EU
greenhouse gas emissions.
Emissions in the European Union rose by 0.75% in 2001,
according to new data from the German Institute for
Economic Research. However, in Ireland, the rise was
5.7%, almost twice the rate of increase of the
next worst EU member.
increase of almost 6% in one year sits starkly alongside
the commitment, ratified by Government, to decrease
carbon dioxide emissions to 13% above 1990 levels
by 2010. However, according to the German Institute,
at this rate it will take little over two years to
increase by 13%! This is the Tiger pay back.
is important to note, however, that the Green Partys
website disagrees slightly: Based on current
business as usual forecasts, emissions
will grow in excess of 25% between 1990 and 2010 (the
bandwidth commitment period is 2008 - 2012) compared
to the 13% limit allocated to us within the EU. This
limit has already been reached in 2000 which provides
a measure of the task involved. Whether
one believes the German scientists or the Irish Greens,
the conclusion stares us bleakly right between the
Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) position is that
only radical action to increase the use of emission-free
energy will give Government any hope of redeeming
the situation. However, no policies are in place and
none are planned radical or otherwise..
the meantime, the UK has set itself a domestic objective
that goes beyond the legally-binding Kyoto target
- to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 % on
1990 levels by 2010. However, contrary to the wait-and-see
position of Fianna Fail, the Labour Party Government
in the UK has chosen a rather more punitive method
of fiscal penalties in order to achieve its objectives.
Street has published a draft UK climate change programme
(available from Department of Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs (DEFRA) web-site: www.defra.gov.uk)
showing the policies that will deliver the UK's objectives
for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It intends
that all sectors must play their part in reducing
such emissions, and have drawn up the programme in
this light. A key element of this programme is the
climate change levy announced in Budget 99.
to Rodger Lightbody of DOE in Belfast: Northern
Ireland business must respond to a new initiative
to help meet the UK targets of the Kyoto Protocol.
Some businesses could soon face serious cost implications,
or even closure, should they continue operations without
a valid permit when the European Union Emissions Trading
Scheme commences. Major operators such as electricity
generators are aware of the scheme and of the need
to obtain a permit. But many others are not and we
are particularly concerned that companies that use
boilers and combustion units with an aggregated thermal
input capacity of over 20MW come forward.
recently formulated EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU
ETS) is designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide
in line with targets set by the Kyoto Protocol on
climate change. The new Directive will introduce a
carbon-trading scheme next year with trading starting
in January 2005. Businesses, however, who fail to
apply for the required permit before April 2004, could
face losing out on their initial allocation of free
is no question that this is a vital and key issue
for people who dream of a more equitable, humane and
just society. It means simply that we will have to
live differently, because the world is different.
It is already the case that there is no going back
to our climatic world of 50, 20, or even 10 years
ago. Next year, there will be no going back to the
world we are in today. The question now is how to
slow the planet's human-caused changes, and how to
manage or deflect the impact of the more catastrophic
ones. These are issues that transcend borders, domestic
economies, ideological niceties and the flat-earth
stubbornness of one or another elected official.
week, a few of the headlines, alongside those of Iraq
and the DUP/Sinn Fein tussle will be about Kyoto.
Forget Kyoto; by 2011, it will be history. What is
needed, with or without Kyoto, is some sort of momentum,
from scientists, governments, and us the public,
that demands both changes at work and in individual
lifestyles -- especially as they relate to fossil
fuel consumption -- and changes in public policy at
a global level.
must look farther ahead, beyond the scope of Kyoto.
And we must not look very far at all, because a major
part of the problem is in our own front or, as in
some cases, back yard.
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