US dawdling over climate change

Even as Europe reels under an unprecedented heat wave, US President George Bush remains unconvinced about the harsh reality of climate change. On July 24 he launched a 10-year research programme, which will study long-term global climate variability and change

By Neelam Singh
Published: Sunday 31 August 2003

even as Europe reels under an unprecedented heat wave, us President George Bush remains unconvinced about the harsh reality of climate change. On July 24 he launched a 10-year research programme, which will study long-term global climate variability and change. Environmental groups have termed it as a delaying tactic and a fresh us attempt to undermine the Kyoto Protocol -- the global pact to tackle climate change.

Devised by the Committee on Climate Change Science and Technology Integration, the plan will find answers "about why our climate continually changes; how much the climate is expected to change during the next year, the next decade and the next 100 years; and how much of climate change is predictable, including abrupt (variations)", revealed John Marburger, the White House science adviser.

"Research into global warming is a fine thing, but what happens if the White House doesn't like the results? They are using this as a tool to distract two decades of science which has gone before. It's time to start fixing the problem of global warming, not pondering further over it," emphasised Dan Lashof, climate change expert, green group Natural Resources Defense Council.

Kalipada Chatterjee, head of climate change centre, Development Alternatives, a New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, concurred with Lashof: "On the pretext of bringing down uncertainty, they are buying more time." Chatterjee further pointed out: "The us has agreed on the precautionary principle under the un Framework Convention on Climate Change. It should, therefore, take action now. Ten years is a very long period."

In a related development, us secretary of state Colin Powell held a day-long ministerial meeting in Washington to set up a global observation system. Government officials and scientists from more than 30 countries and bodies like the World Meteorological Organisation agreed to develop an integrated system to keep tabs on climate change and other environmental trends. It will link thousands of individual land, sea and space-based climate observation technologies to predict environmental changes and natural disasters, and limit their impact.

An intergovernmental ad hoc working group was established, which will make a conceptual 10-year framework to pool monitoring data by early 2004. The new arrangement will be put into place at a ministerial conference in the last quarter of 2004. The fact that the us has been able to convince other countries to be a part of such moves is an indication of how successfully it has weakened the Kyoto Protocol. "Eighty nations have entered into some or the other pact with the us but such efforts remain out of the existing framework of the protocol," said Chatterjee.

Another instance of such a pact is the deal the us negotiated with India and 12 other countries in July to design and develop the first coal power plant with no carbon dioxide emissions. "The project is an outcome of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum hosted recently by the us. This is a futuristic research and development venture and more details will emerge as we go along," disclosed Ajay Shankar, joint secretary in India's Union ministry of power.

Captured carbon dioxide from the plant will be permanently stored in underground formations such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs, out-of-use coal seams and deep saline aquifers. Studying the safety and permanence of sequestration will also be a part of the initiative. Those on board include China, Russia, Brazil, Colombia and the eu. "Coal is India's own resource and the country should use it. But it should have the domestic capacity to replicate such efforts," felt Chatterjee.

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