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Deadlock over climate change

An estimated 100,000 people marched on the streets of
Copenhagen on 12 Dec
IF a bridge had a 50% chance of collapsing, would you cross it? I wouldn’t. But it seems that most developed countries, except Norway, are willing to take this risk in the face of our global climate crisis, just so they can continue with business as usual.

Industrialised nations that have ratified the legally binding Kyoto Protocol are supposed to submit their carbon reduction target for the second commitment period at the 15th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP15). The conference began on 7 Dec 2009 and will conclude on 18 Dec.

Third World Network has reported that based on the UN secretariat’s estimation, the numbers that have been put on the table so far would result in an aggregate 16% to 22% cut by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. This falls seriously short of the 25% to 40% that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in their 2007 assessment report, said would give the world a 50-50 chance of limiting global warming within 2°C by 2100.

If we don’t limit global warming within 2°C by 2100, the world is likely to see catastrophic climate disasters.

It should be noted that the UN’s calculation has not taken into account various loopholes in the protocol, such as carbon offsets and other mechanisms.

Scorecard so far

The most ambitious nation thus far in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is Norway. Oslo announced in October 2009 that it would cut emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2020.

However, Russia and Japan earned the wrath of developing countries when they announced last week that the emission reduction pledges they submitted were not intended for the Kyoto Protocol, but were mere political statements.

Despite having ratified the Kyoto Protocol years ago, the truth is that most developed countries do not want it to continue as the protocol is legally binding. Both Japan and Australia have submitted proposals to replace the protocol with a new text, upsetting several developing countries including Malaysia in the process.

The Danish text that was leaked to The Guardian earlier in the week further revealed the industrialised nations’ unwillingness to commit to legally binding carbon reduction targets. The developed world also demonstrated that they were not willing to pay the climate debt they owe to the developing world.

US chief negotiator Todd Stern said on 10 Dec 2009 that he recognised the US’s “historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere … But the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations — I just categorically reject that.”

Climate refugees are people displaced by climatically
induced environmental disasters. Organisations like the
IPCC, Red Cross and The Christian Monitor estimate
that between 150 million and 1 billion climate refugees
will be displaced within the next four decades

In response, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon, said: “Admitting responsibility for the climate crisis without taking necessary actions to address it is like someone burning your house and then refusing to pay for it. Even if the fire was not started on purpose, the industrialised countries, through their inaction, have continued to add fuel to the fire.

“As a result, they have used up two thirds of the atmospheric space, depriving us of the necessary space for our development and provoking a climate crisis … a crisis created by the rich and their overconsumption.

“In Bolivia, we are facing a crisis we had no role in causing. Our glaciers dwindle, droughts become ever more common, and water supplies are drying up. Who should address this? To us, it seems only right that the polluter should pay, and not the poor.

“We are not assigning guilt, merely responsibility. As they say in the US, if you break it, you buy it.”

What can be done?

Taking into account the emission debt of developed countries, Bolivia proposed that the developed world cut their emissions by more than 49% from 1990 levels for the second commitment period in the Kyoto Protocol from 2013 to 2017. Such cuts would be viable through technology and lifestyle changes.

Additionally, there should be dedicated and assured funding for developing countries to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and to reduce their emissions within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Bolivia’s proposal was jointly endorsed by other countries, including Malaysia.

“[The developed countries] are telling us they don’t have enough funds to implement measures to change their lifestyle, [but] when there’s a financial crisis, they suddenly prove that there are enough funds to maintain their lifestyle.

“What we are asking for is so much less [compared to] what they are giving for the bailouts … It’s not a matter of ability, but a matter of choice,” one of the Malaysian negotiators, Dr Gary Theseira, told The Nut Graph.

In search of leadership

The European Union has claimed leadership in this crisis. In the meantime, American president Barack Obama also noted, when receiving his Nobel Prize on 10 Dec, that “there is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades.

“For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action — it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance,” he said.

However, we need world leaders, particularly those from industrialised nations, to pay more than lip service in this crisis. The talks are now in deadlock because of the divide between developed and developing nations.

Youth reminding negotiators they need to save the Himalayas from melting –
the water source for millions of people across Asia

But everyone at COP15, be it government negotiator or member of civil society, recognises the urgency of addressing the climate crisis. Hence the convergence of so many stakeholders in Denmark’s capital.

For the same reason, tens of thousands of people marched on the streets of Copenhagen on 12 Dec despite the cold. More than 3,000 events were also held worldwide that night to tell our leaders the world wants nothing less than a real deal, one that is ambitious, just and binding.

More than 110 heads of government are attending the high-level meeting at COP15 from 17 to 18 Dec in Copenhagen. People worldwide have made their call; now it is up to the world leaders to decide if they will listen. I hope against hope that they will decide to build a bridge that will allow us to have more than a 50% chance of preventing runaway climate change.

Gan Pei Ling’s trip to Copenhagen was made possible by sponsorships from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Selangor government, and the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsors.

For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Climate Change

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6 Responses to “Deadlock over climate change”

  1. Mary says:

    Issues concerning climate are natural issue. The best solution to it is ‘let nature take its course’, for nature is perfect. Throwing billions and trillions of US dollars into the world won’t help solve the issues. In fact it worsens it. Like Westen medicines, they have side effects and make matters worse. Only the Earth can heal climate changes. Plant any and every type of vegetation to extract Earth’s essences to heal global warming.

  2. Harry says:

    No news is good news. The climate issue is nature’s issue and should not be questioned by human beings.

  3. Sean says:


    No species alive today has been alive since living things first appeared on Earth. Nature is sex and death. From a single species’ short-term point of view it’s about 50-50 sex and death. Long-term, it’s 100% death. Of all the species that have ever lived the vast majority (I imagine well over 99%) are now DEAD.

    When you go to the museum – those marvellous repositories of things that were once alive but are now DEAD – you see dinosaurs, funny sea creatures, giant ferns, strange insects. When they were alive they were surrounded by millions of living things just like them, all thriving and reproducing in an environment that appeared to them to have been there forever and would be the same forever. The environment changed, as it does on scales of millions of years (if left to itself) and THEY ALL DIED.

    Unfortunately for us humans, we have the ability to cause large-scale environmental change over centuries or even decades. Rather than the blissful experience of all those creatures that are now in museums, we are now becoming acutely aware of the end of our species.

    When you hear people say “we will find a way”, consider this: despite enormously expensive projects such as BioSphere 2 and BIOS-3, nobody has EVER managed to demonstrate a long-term, self-supporting, human-habitable capsule. Every attempt to seal people into a self-sustaining has ended up being called off so that the sick humans could be rescued. Given the efforts to ‘find a way’ and the appalling results, we appear to have exactly one way – and that is to adopt a more conservative attitude towards our planet.

    The best thing about Nature on a global scale is that it’s a very slowly-changing (it looks like stability on a human scale) system. The problem with Nature is that humans have sufficient numbers and sufficient technology to push Nature into instability (rapid climate change, more extreme weather, drying up of lakes and rivers, mass extinctions, migrations of diseases to populations not adapted to them). DEATH is the result of these instabilities.

    When the scientists talk about ‘reversible’ change, they’re talking about the possibility of ‘calming down’ the instability and helping Nature recover to the long-term (millions of years, not forever) stability that humans are adapted to. Irreversible change would mean Nature would go through its instability (viewed on a human scale – geological scale) and enter into a new stability. This new stability would feature conditions we are not well adapted to. This is how all those lovely animals – from species which are not alive any more – entered museums. We may be able to adapt (there’s no guarantee – see museums) to change over thousands or millions of generations, but if change comes in a handful of generations, we DIE.

    Go to a museum of natural history while you’re on your end-of-year break and have a look at all the things that once lived in a world that appeared to them to be the same forever. Their world was only slightly different from ours, but it was a vital difference. The difference for the animals and plants in the museum is that their existence became untenable on the scale of thousands of generations. That’s Nature.

    There are natural examples that parallel what is happening with human-caused climate change. Sometimes when land becomes habitable because of some catastrophic event such as tsunami or earthquake or fire that strips the previous occupants (ours would be the advent of agriculture or industry – we are our own catastrophe), a species quickly colonises the land and enjoys rapid growth due to an abundance of nutrients. If those nutrients are not replaced, the newly arrived species eventually depletes them and then dies. Another species replaces them in a process that might feature many such replacements – it’s called ‘succession’ by ecologists.

    We could see this as a test. Are we really the pinnacle of evolution, a species that moderated its activities so that it never died? Or are we going to continue to have sex, eat, exude waste products and all those other great things that the other museum exhibits did while they were blissfully unaware of their impending demise? Are Humans really so different, or are we soon to be just DEAD ANIMALS like all the other museum exhibits?

  4. Scott Thong says:

    Is the world really under threat from anthropogenic global warming?

    If so, then why has there been no warming since 1998 (BBC and Climategate files confirm this), the Arctic ice at the same 1979 levels (polar bears falling from sky, ya rite), Antarctic ice at record highest levels, record cold in China/Mumbai/Takijistan in 2008, snowfall in Saudi/UAE/Iraq in 2008…

    See especially Worldwide Weather for more.

  5. bother says:

    If the so called “Developed Countries” do not bother at all, we can fast forward our self destruction. Hooray to the Developed Countries for their selfish dedication on enriching themselves.

  6. Hwa Shi-Hsia says:

    I would like to point out that much of the climate change denier/”sceptic” propaganda is being exported from northern countries that, economically, have little to lose such as the USA and UK. The USA is a huge country, so the government can provide subsidies and farmers can move to other places if regional climates become adverse. In addition it is much more politically right-wing than other developed countries such as northern Europe so naturally people are resistant to the idea that society needs to change.

    Whereas I would bet that the numbers of so-called “sceptics” in countries like the Maldives are miniscule – because the problem to them is immediate, visible, and severe.

    Malaysia is somewhere in the middle – not as vulnerable as small Pacific island nations, but we are definitely still dependent on agriculture and may be adversely affected by either drought or floods if the amount of rainfall changes. Not to mention that as a small country with many less-well-off neighbours, if things go badly for them we may also have to deal with a big influx of migrants. Just because we have a lot of cheap petrol doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to burn it suka hati. And palm oil as a “biofuel” is a red herring because of the environmental damage caused by forest clearing. Sometimes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The best solutions would be upgrading public transport in KL, Penang, etc., and cleaner power plants.

    Please read here for some Q&A on the issue of evidence for climate change.

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