The 12th Conference of Parties to the UN climate convention saw the setting up of an adaptation fund to help poor countries. Ritu Gupta reports from Nairobi
Climate change conference- World leaders fail to act again
Little headway was made at the un climate change conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, from November 6 to 17, 2006. The most important issue, mandating commitments to cutting carbon emissions, was stonewalled, with the us refusing to budge from its stated positions, as expected, and the European Union pushing for emission cuts across the board. The developing world, especially China, India and Brazil, refused to countenance proposals that could jeopardise their growth push, given the North's reluctance to make the drastic cuts necessary to meet the climate change challenge. The only major area in which there was some progress was in setting up a fund to help developing countries adapt to climate change. But even then only a beginning was made, with negotiations getting mired in North-South differences.
What did emerge, incontestably, was that the international community still refuses to address the problems of climate change and global warming despite the fact that scientific evidence is piling up (see graphs High on growth). It is becoming increasingly clear, virtually by the day, that now is the time to deal with greenhouse gases. And it is not just the scientific evidence. Economists, too, have been weighing in with studies that show that if dealt with now, the costs will be far lower than previously estimated and that arguments counterposing economic growth and profitability of big industrial enterprise with emission control are fallacious.
For our in-depth analysis on climate change impacts click here.
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The climate change conference, attended by 189 countries, had two components the 12th Conference of Parties (cop-12) to the un Framework Convention on Climate Change (unfccc) and the second conference of the parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol (cop/mop-2). Australia and the us are the most prominent countries that have not ratified the protocol and neither made any concessions in their positions -- that set the tenor of the deliberations.
|"We are ready to take up another commitment period but action has to
be there from all countries"
Humberto D Rosa secretary of state of the environment, Portugal
cop-12 was supposed to be the 'Africa cop', with most participants from the developed world talking about Africa and the most vulnerable countries. The outcomes were, however, disappointing. "Nothing significant was achieved.All that was important was men and women wearing expensive suits and blabbing. When I go back to my area and I am asked what was discussed, I would say nothing, as nothing of relevance to us was seriously taken up," said Sharon Loormetta, a Kenya-based activist. This view was echoed by members from the North. "This time most of the delegates are from Africa, but even they seem to be missing. I think the charm of an African safari is greater than deciding the world's future," said Thomas Micholitsch, an official of the federal ministry of finance, Austria. "This cop is quite different from the others because the volume of contact groups is not that many. Also, the agenda itself is not that heavy," he added.
"Lack of urgency from the ministers forestalled the process of constructive debate. There was very little collective spirit despite the fact that in numerous events during the conference it was underlined that future delay would just increase the cost of mitigation and adaptation measures. What we would have liked to see at the end of cop were strong deadlines on Article 3.9 (emissions control), which relates to future commitments of the developed countries. But this was never done. Unless a clear timetable emerges, there will not be enough time to get new targets into place before 2012, when those agreed at Kyoto expire," said Catherine Pearce, international climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth, the uk.
But delegates from the developed world had a different opinion. "We came here to drive progress on adaptation issues and pave the way for further strong action to cut emissions, and that is what we have done. Now we need to ensure that action follows urgently," said Jan-Erik Enestam, the Finnish environment minister who led the eu.
"We came here to drive progress on adaptation issues and pave the way for strong further action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and that is what we have done. Now we need to ensure that action follows urgently"
Jan-Erik Enestam the Finnish environment minister
The nitty-gritty of negotiations dominated, making this cop a bit of a sedate affair. Things were livened up a little by a small protest. Halfway through the conference, thousands of demonstrators marched in Nairobi to protest what they called was a failure by industrialised countries to curb global warming. About 2,500 people marched through the streets of Nairobi, indicting us president George Bush "for crimes against the planet". Many blamed the us for holding up progress after rejecting the Kyoto agreement.
The conference did not seize the opportunity to take decisions needed for deeper emission cuts beyond 2012. The delegates did acknowledge that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced 50 per cent by 2050, but the negotiations did not augur well for the deadline."Our leaders must recognise that scientific evidence and public opinion demands much stronger action than what was agreed in Nairobi," stressed Hans Verolme, director of wwf's global climate change programme.
But that wasn't about to happen. The us did not change its position, preferring to showcase minor initiatives to fight climate change. During a press conference, Paula Dobriansky, the under-secretary of state for democracy and global affairs, said, "We think the us has been leading in its ground-breaking initiatives." She then listed several measures, including financial incentives for businesses to reduce pollution and domestic rules. Dobriansky, the top us official at the conference, also argued that the best way to battle global warming was a mix of voluntary partnerships between developing and wealthy countries that foster economic growth while limiting pollution. "The most effective strategies on climate change are those that are integrated with economic growth, with energy security, and with reducing air pollution," she said.
On the lack of us leadership, Dobriansky at the press conference responded saying that the us is a world leader as far as climate change policy is concerned. "All countries must be engaged in the effort. Post elections, in terms of a change in the Congress's stance, there are people for and against the Kyoto Protocol among the Democrats and Republicans."
Key eu members were noncommittal. When questioned by Down to Earth (DTE) on future commitments, David Miliband, uk's environment secretary, said his country was willing to take up commitments depending on future circumstances. During his speech at a high-level segment discussion, Miliband said the uk was committed to a 60 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2050, without specifying the base year.
"Nothing significant was achieved. All that was important was men and women wearing expensive suits and
Sharon Loormetta an activist from Kenya
Most developed nations DTE spoke to about the next commitment period indicated that it would only be possible if countries like India and China are a part of it. "We are ready to take up another commitment period but action has to be there from all countries," said Humberto D Rosa, secretary of state of the environment, Portugal. The country's stand is very important because it will have the eu presidency during the next cop. "We need everybody on deck, as developed countries are responsible for a less percentage of global warming now. Action taken only by the developed world would not be an answer. Even if we curb our emissions, the problem will persist," said Outi Berghall, director, International Climate Project, ministry of environment, Finland.
But developing countries were not ready to take up commitments and tried their best to defer a review of existing commitments."India is ready for a review of the protocol, as it is legally mandatory. Everybody knows why the developing countries are being pushed for it. A review may be a way to make developing countries take up commitments. What India is asking is that a review process should be started and finished here at Nairobi, as it is stated in the Kyoto text. We are neither supporting nor opposing a review. But Article 9 also states that there are connected reviews (of the present commitments of the developed world) which should be undertaken while reviewing the protocol. It is yet to be seen how the developed world undertakes this entire task," said Prodipto Ghosh, secretary, Union ministry of environment and forests.
The issue of a review remained unresolved. Article 9 of the Kyoto Protocol says, "The cop serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Protocol shall periodically review this Protocol in the light of the best available scientific information and assessments... the first review shall take place at the second session of the cop serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Protocol. Further reviews shall take place at regular intervals and in a timely manner."
"Rapid cuts in carbon emissions are essential. It is very clear from the climate change impacts we are seeing in places like Kenya. We need the negotiations for post-2012 commitment period to start next year and finish by 2008"
Andrew Pendleton Climate analyst, Christian Aid.
The issue of the carbon market and cdm focused on carbon capture and storage (ccs), non-renewable and renewable biomass, and regional distribution of cdm projects. While some parties, including eu, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Canada, Norway and South Africa, expressed a clear interest in accessing ccs technology under the cdm, others opposed it for various reasons. Brazil expressed fears that such technology could massively impact the current cdm portfolio. "ccs would crowd out other cdm projects.Like us, the Alliance of Small Island States is equally concerned about the technical uncertainties surrounding ccs, such as seepage, storage, boundaries and long-term liability," said Fernando Antonio Lyrio Silva, adviser for international affairs, ministry of environment, Brazil.
"Carbon capture and storage technologies will reduce the need for increasing international expenditure on renewable energy since it will provide clean and environmentally sound oil supplies," countered Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali Ibrahim Naimi. But Yvo de Boer, one of unfccc's top officials, warned that it was unknown how permanently carbon can be buried. "Who would be responsible if it escapes?" he asked while talking to DTE.
Afforestation and reforestation issues were raised by Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia and a number of other Latin American countries, who objected to what they regarded as a restrictive interpretation by the cdm executive board of procedures for defining land eligibility for cdm projects. The debate was about the methodologies to demonstrate that land proposed for a cdm project was not a forest when a project started. An agreement was reached when eu conceded that parties should invite the cdm executive board to revisit the issue, and deal with relevant project proposals on a case-by-case basis in the interim.
Equitable distribution of cdm projects, which are now bagged mostly by India and China, was also an important concern. "Very strong concerns were expressed by the African countries not getting access to cdm projects. The only way out is capacity building," said Boer. The eu conceded on an African group proposal to "insert language" that encourages Annex I countries to engage in initiatives, including financial support, for cdm projects in least developed countries. "But the eu just spoke about inserting language; nothing in this world happens without funding. So we have to wait and watch what happens," said Sawyer.
Another result of the cdm debate was to defer a decision on the controversial issue of whether or not to include new hfc-23 projects into the carbon trading regime. Companies manufacturing hcfc-22, a gas used in refrigeration, generate a by-product called hfc-23. The global warming potential of carbon dioxide is 1; hfc-23's potential is 11,700 it is that potent. Companies now earn cdm benefits if they capture and destroy hfc-23 before it goes into the atmosphere.
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The principles and modalities of a five-year programme to generate information on climate change and its impacts was the first issue to be resolved and adopted. It was hailed as a major step forward for developing nations. Under this programme, steps will be taken to assist all parties, in particular developing countries, to improve their understanding of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, and to make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions and measures.
Monkeys and peanuts The saga of developing countries fighting among themselves continued, with the operational entity of the adaptation fund
The second, and more important, issue that was resolved was about the principles and modalities of an adaptation fund, funded by a two per cent levy on the cdm transactions. After much wrangling, it was decided that the fund, which has only us $3 million at present, will be managed by cop/mop. Developed and developing countries originally only agreed to the principles and modalities of the fund, and not its management. Developed countries like Norway, Switzerland and Japan wanted the global environment facility (gef) to manage the fund, but developing countries did not want that, given gef's past record, and wanted its management by an executive body, with equitable regional representation. "Where the adaptation fund is concerned, I think we should be very careful about taking a decision on the operational entity. It is a very important issue, and I would rather have the decision delayed than taking one in haste that the developing world may regret later on," said Ghosh. "There was friction among the developing countries even where the fund is concerned. China is not against the gef being the operational entity. Why should it be, as it gets 50 per cent of the gef funding," said Mohamad Reazuddin, chair of the ldc group. Finally, the views of the developing countries prevailed.
But this victory will have to be followed by strong domestic policies if adaptation is to become a meaningful frame of action. This will mean much greater emphasis on generating research and data on climate change. That will mean, in the first place, acknowledging the reality of climate change, its deleterious effects and the enormity of the problem. Unfortunately, if the Indian case is any indication, there does not seem to be any movement in that direction. The Indian establishment has buried its head in the sand and far from proceeding with coordinated research as a basis of policy formulation, tends to ignore the evidence that is being amassed elsewhere.
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The conference of parties to the un climate convention in Nairobi went along predictable lines. In the 12 years of the convention, political rhetoric may not have changed much -- the us and its cronies continue to shun accountability, the eu goes on playing its nefarious game of politically correct non-action, and developing countries continue fighting over peanuts, getting divided into ever smaller groups.
But the status quo is not as pervasive as made out to be. Climate behaviour, for instance, has gotten increasingly unpredictable in these 12 years. The most obvious manifestation of this is the increase in the average atmospheric temperature -- earlier, it was believed that only the maximum temperatures are increasing, but now even the minimum temperatures have recorded increases across the world.In India, average surface temperature has risen by half a degree Celsius in the past 105 years, says the India Metrological Department. Natural calamities are becoming more frequent. Most climate scientists agree on the term 'global warming'.
What is not agreed upon is the cause of these changes. Are these due to natural processes? Or because of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide from industrial growth? This is one of the -- if not the most -- crucial questions facing humankind. The answers depend on our scientific understanding of the complexities of climate behaviour. A notoriously nebulous discipline, there are too many variables in climate science. Hence the margins of error are uncommonly large.
But is it impossible to know whether the climate changes happening in India and the rest of the world are a result of the greenhouse effect? Or is this only the the result of overheated imaginings of doomsday-mongers? Down To Earth grapples with the known and the unknown of climate science in India.
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Climate change a market failure
In 2003, when he was appointed permanent secretary to the uk government's treasury, Nicholas Stern was the World Bank's chief economist.In July 2005, the uk government gave him the job of studying climate change from an economics perspective. The resultant Stern Review was released on October 30, 2006 -- just before the 12th conference of parties to the un climate convention, where it was a hot topic of conversation. It is an examination of the evidence of the economic impacts of climate change. But Stern's brief wasn't restricted to studying the problem. He was also to economically assess the options of stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The review makes for some sobering politico-economic reading; doesn't matter if the uk government refuses to use it in domestic policies, but only to leverage developing countries.
"The scientific evidence is now overwhelming climate change presents very serious global risks, and it demands an urgent global response," is how the review opens. "Climate change presents a unique challenge for economics it is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen. The economic analysis must therefore be global, deal with long time horizons, have the economics of risk and uncertainty at centre stage, and examine the possibility of major, non-marginal change," the review states. While a lot of economists have dismissed Stern's economics as flawed, the larger point is not lost. Climate change has now entered mainstream economics.
It estimates the overall costs and risks of climate change in the region of at least 5 per cent of the global gdp each year if no action is taken. The damage estimate increases to 20 per cent of the global gdp if a wider range of risks is accounted for. Stern has warned of risks on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century.
"Warming will have many severe impacts, often mediated through water Melting glaciers will initially increase flood risk and then strongly reduce water supplies, eventually threatening one-sixth of the world's population, predominantly in the Indian sub-continent, parts of China, and the Andes in South America," the review projects.
It talks of decreasing crop yields in Africa, leaving hundreds of millions without the ability to produce or purchase sufficient food. "Ecosystems will be particularly vulnerable to climate change, with around 15-40 per cent of species potentially facing extinction after only 2c of warming. And ocean acidification, a direct result of rising carbon dioxide levels, will have major effects on marine ecosystems, with possible adverse consequences on fish stocks."
His conclusion is quite unambiguous "The benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs."
The Stern Review estimates an increase of 20 per cent in India's average summer rainfall and its intensity; this will most likely affect agriculture and, therefore, its economy. It estimates India's economic losses due to climate change in the region of 0.67 per cent of the gdp each year. It also details the regional variations. Northern India will be warmer. All states will experience increased rainfall, except Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, where it will decrease. Incidents of extreme rainfall will increase, particularly along the western coast and west central India, affecting agriculture in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Given that India has long been marked out as one of the countries likely to be badly hit -- and the fact that signs of climate change are already becoming apparent -- it is imperative that substantial investments are made in understanding its science. Besides increasing temperatures (which is acknowledged universally), there are two crucial indicators of this a change in monsoon rainfall and melting of Himalayan glaciers. Both are critical to availability of freshwater. There is evidence from within the scientific establishment that both these things are happening. The monsoon and glaciers hold the key to what we know about climate change in India.
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Ice on a slide
The shrine of Amarnath in Jammu and Kashmir hit the headlines for a strange reason this summer. The shiva ling, a naturally-formed ice stalagmite in the Amarnath cave, melted. Public attention was suddenly called to global warming. Himalayan glaciers cover an area of about 23,000 sq km in India -- one of the largest concentrations of freshwater stored in glaciers outside the poles. Glacial melt makes about 30-50 per cent of the water in major northern rivers. Glaciers grew during the last glacial period known as Little Ice Age -- a cool period from 1550 to 1850. Since then, glaciers have retreated worldwide. Only, the rate of retreat has increased sharply in recent years.
The total surface area of glaciers worldwide has decreased 50 per cent since the end of the 19th century. The retreat has been stark in the Himalaya.The first warning came in 1999 from the Working Group on Himalayan Glaciology at the International Commission for Snow and Ice (icsi). It said Himalayan glaciers are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, and that they were likely to disappear by 2035.
The next major warning came in 2004 from the Sagarmatha project of the uk's Department for International Development (dfid). It gave a decade-by-decade analysis for Indian rivers over the next 100 years. A model developed under the project showed increasing river discharge at the source and flooding in the adjacent areas. It also stated that glaciers feeding the Ganga, Yamuna, Indus and the Brahmaputra rivers may be wiped out in 40 years. "In today's times, the rivers have shown 3-4 per cent surplus due to the 10 per cent increase in the melting of the glaciers of the western Himalaya, and the 30 per cent increase in the eastern Himalayan glaciers. In about 40 years, most of these glaciers will be wiped out and then we will have severe water problems," says Syed Iqbal Hasnain, vice-chancellor of Calicut University, who had led the study.
Indian scientists are divided over global warming's effect on glaciers. "Although these glaciers are the most sensitive parameters of temperature change, both positive and negative, I do not consider that global warming is a reason for this retreat. I believe that it is a simple cyclic episode," says Milap Chand Sharma, associate professor at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (jnu), New Delhi. The data shows that the average melting under natural cyclic period is too insignificant post-1970; only about 10 metres a year.
wwf-Nepal has estimated that between 1971 and 1996, the Gangotri glacier retreated about 850 metres, that is, about 34 metres per year. According to the Geological Survey of India (gsi), Lucknow, the glacier retreated by two km in the two centuries prior to 1971, at an average of 10 metres per year. But the retreat was 870 metres between 1971 and 2001, with an annual average of of a shopping 30 metres (see table Breaking the ice ).
Himalayan glaciers are sensitive indices of climate change due to their peculiar vulnerability snow accumulation and melting on these depends on monsoonal precipitation as well as summer temperatures; winter precipitation has little impact. "As atmospheric temperature increases, more of the precipitation on glaciers will be in the form of rain and less of snow," says Hasnain.This would mean faster melting as the glacial ice would be more exposed in the absence of snow.
"gsi's studies in the 1970s established a direct relation between snowfall and glacier health. But since then, we have little data on snowfall and temperature in the Himalaya," says V K Raina, chair of the expert committee on Himlayan glaciology at dst. "Whatever little data is available shows a constant decrease in the annual snow precipitation in the Himalaya since 2000, with the year 2002 being an exception," says Raina. But occasional higher snow precipitation would hardly reverse the glacial retreat or make up for the lost ice, he adds.
Even the ipcc finds that atmospheric temperature has a greater impact on glacial retreat as compared to snowfall. Typically, for glaciers that are halfway between the equator and the poles (called mid-latitude glaciers), a 30 per cent decrease in cloud cover or a 25 per cent decrease in precipitation has an effect eqaul to that of a temperature increase of 1c. Moreover, even if snow precipitation is higher, a 1c rise in temperature would lead to 50 per cent increase in snow melting. Researchers at jnu analysed air temperatures across the Himalayas at an altitude of 4,000 metre above sea level. They observed an increase in average air temperature both in summer and winter months. They also noted a decline of 14 per cent in the average monthly snow cover in the western Himalaya; in the eastern Himalaya, the decline was 26 per cent.
The position of the snout, the lowest projection of the glacial ice, is an established indicator of its retreat. A study by jnu researchers on the Chhota Shigri glacier in Himachal Pradesh showed that temperature increase had resulted in its shrinkage by about 12 per cent in the past 14 years. An estimate by Sarfaraz Ahmad of Aligarh Muslim University revealed that the snout had retreated at the rate of 27 metre per year between between 1989 and 2000. Likewise, the Dokrani glacier -- one of the valley type glaciers of Gangotri group of glaciers in the Garhwal Himalaya -- receded by 550 metres, with an average rate of 16.6 metres per year between 1962 and 1995.
A team led by Anil Kulkarni of the Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad, recently investigated 466 glaciers in the Chenab, Parbati and Baspa basins. It noted an overall reduction in glacier area of 21 per cent--from 2,077 sq km to 1,628 sq km from 1962 to 2001. Said to be India's biggest ever programme to map and monitor Himalayan glaciers, it found greater fragmentation of glaciers, reflected in their increased numbers.
"Fragmented glaciers are more prone to melting as more surface area is exposed to heat," says Kulkarni. Since glacier response time is directly proportional to its depth, it could vary between 4 to 60 years, depending upon glacial size. This could be fundamental reason for large retreat of small glaciers. They conclude by saying that a combination of glacial fragmentation, higher retreat of small glaciers and climate change are influencing the sustainability of Himalayan glaciers.
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The 'official' Indian focus so far has been on the politics of climate change negotiations, not on the actual impacts and adaptation policy. Every agency seems to be in a state of denial over global warming. There is not enough research and empirical proof of the building crisis. In the absence on credible information, there is no political pressure on the government.
dst has three programmes on weather/climate research one, the Himalayan Glaciology Programme, which coordinates studies on glaciers; two, the Monsoon and Tropical Climate and Agrometorology Programme, aimed at understanding the weather and climate all over India, especially monsoon forecasting; and three, the Indian Climate Research Programme, which looks at climatic variability only, not climate change. The Union ministry of environment and forests (moef) has a division on climate impacts and policy.
Are these doing their job? Invariably not, as is evident from the scrubby data available on glaciers and the absence of a single study on climate change (though it is integral to climatic variability). As for moef, its adviser Subodh Sharma acknowledges that it studies only the future impacts of climate change, not the present impacts.
Climate change is a larger challenge of sustainable development that could affect India's economic growth. Therefore, sustainable development policies can be more effective when consistently embedded within broader strategies that are based on national and regional climatic variations. Changes in precipitation can affect a variety of planning issues, such as the planning and design of hydrological structures, river basin management, flood control and drought management, urban planning and industrial development.
Agricultural policy needs to be reinvented in keeping wiht the changing behaviour of the monsoon. Forest policy will need to account for erosion mitigation measures in areas where precipitation is predicted to be high. Wastewater and sewerage will need to take intense rainfall into account. For all this to happen, climate change has to be acknowledged and studied. Otherwise, developed countries might use something like the Stern Review in a bad way to force emission reduction commitments. That will be a double whammy for India.
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