Key words :
It's not just about Climate Change
21 Dec, 2009 07:46 pm
This past week delegates from 192 countries descended upon historic Copenhagen to tackle the one of the most divisive issue of our times: how to limit the potentially disastrous impacts of Climate Change. The major stumbling bloc of course was the fact that, while the consequences of global warming are global in nature, the problem of greenhouse gas emissions is not. Canada's emissions equal those of the entire continent of Africa. Although China has surpassed the United States in terms of total emissions, when we look at emissions per capita, China pales in comparison to the United States. It is clear that the problem of greenhouse gas emissions is the problem of a few industrialized countries that produce the vast majority of these greenhouse gases.
While the urgency for change is perhaps subdued in the industrialized countries due to their economic capacity to deal with potential disasters, time is of the essence for the impoverished “innocent bystanders” found in parts of the world such as Africa, small island nations, most of South America etcetera. Obvious repercussions such as flooding, drought and rising water levels threaten the livelihood of billions of people. Somewhat less obvious are the loss of biodiversity depriving these people from their primary source of medical treatment, environmental refugees whose habitat is no longer capable of supporting them and a loss of culture and way of life due to environmental change. These less talked about consequences are equally disconcerting but just as difficult to resolve.
The case of the Inuit in Canada’s arctic is the perfect example of how interrelated the global human community really is. The Inuit were one of the first people to raise the alarm of Climate Change decades ago. No one can really argue that these people are significant contributors to Climate Change yet their livelihoods, homes, culture and way of life are severely threatened by Climate Change as well as the amount of heavy metals and other toxic substances found in their bodies transported there by wind and water currents from other parts of the words where these substances are produced.
It is this “do on to others as you would have them do on to you” philosophy, present in virtually all the various spiritual beliefs around the world, that was noticeably absent in Copenhagen. This type of short-sightedness can also be observed in the fact that reduction targets for greenhouse gases are almost university connected to Climate Change when in reality that are plenty of other reasons to reduce these gases such as their impact on human health. Dr. Mark Jacobson from the Stanford Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering recently published a study that shows the impact of some of these gases on human respiratory health, the United States Supreme Court has found the carbon dioxide meets the broad definition of an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act and Kansas rejected a coal plant solely on the potential health risks of carbon dioxide.
To be fair it is rare that concrete legal obligations on the international arena are produced under the lens of the global mass media and various activist groups. These public negotiations are often highly politicised and more about posturing between the various parties than finding true solutions to the problem at hand. The real negotiations take place in back rooms, far away for the watchful eye of the media and the global citizenry. This of course is understandable and hence the real impact of the Copenhagen negotiations will be seen in the next few months as negotiators continue their work in private. The hope is that by the time the next meeting takes place in Mexico, these private negotiations will lead to concrete, binding public obligations on the part of the world’s greatest polluters.