Healing the earth

As Guyana begins to take its first tottering steps towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) readiness, in its move to eventually implement a Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) international climate change negotiations are not going as well as they should. It is common knowledge by now that the hope earlier vested in unanimity being reached at December’s meeting in Copenhagen has been seriously dimmed.

The signs had been there long before, but last week’s meeting in Bangkok, where broad agreements should have been reached to go forward in Copenhagen ended on a low note. However, some optimists such as India’s Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh are now pushing for governments to forget the all or nothing approach and just seek agreement on the issues on which they feel they could move forward.

The real sticking point is the binding emissions cuts contained in the Kyoto Protocol. While some countries are offering emissions cuts of 15 to 23 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, this falls far short of the 25 to 40 percent cuts scientists and activists say are needed to keep temperature increases below two degrees Celsius. The US, for instance, which probably has the largest carbon footprint in the world, had originally rejected the Kyoto Protocol because it exempted countries like India and China from obligations. However with the election of Barack Obama as US President, and his appointment of Nobel Laureate (Physics, 1997) Dr Steven Chu as Energy Secretary, there had been an expectation that there would have been greater forward movement on the part of the US. Dr Chu had devoted his recent scientific career to the search for new solutions to America’s energy challenges and stopping global climate change. When he had appointed him, President Obama had said, in announcing Dr. Chu’s selection on December 15, 2008, that America’s economy and national security was inextricably linked to the energy challenge. He had noted that Dr Chu had led the Berkeley National Laboratory in pursuit of new alternative and renewable energies. However, a recent bill passed in the US House of Representatives and currently before the Senate, only offers to reduce emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020 – and this will be some four per cent below 1990, while the Senate is considering its own bill that would cut emissions by 20 percent. Both still far short of what is needed.

But this does not mean that all is lost. Minister Ramesh notes that there is broad agreement on finance for adaptation to climate change, a deal to combat deforestation and promote forestation, and technology sharing and urges that governments can still leave Copenhagen in December on a high note with a deal that includes these three elements. However, if talks are allowed to stall given the clear lack of political will to move on emissions cuts then the world will be worse off than it was in 2005 and when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 with nothing to go forward on, it will be forced back to the drawing board since climate change can no longer be ignored or shrugged off as scientific mumbo jumbo. The physical signs of its manifestation are all around us.

If there is no deal on financing for adaptation to climate change, a deal to combat deforestation and promote forestation, and technology sharing even Guyana’s LCDS stands to suffer never mind the proposed bilateral with Norway. Several countries, like Norway, Denmark and Germany have taken tremendous steps towards going green in their energy use. But if the rest of the world fails to act to mitigate it, climate change will eventually devastate the entire universe. Healing the earth must be done internationally and cooperatively or all will be consumed.

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