From Kyoto to Copenhagen Obsession or action?

Even a cursory look at the past UNFCCC negotiations suggests that it has gone through a rough road. Hesitant to reduce their GHG emission level, the parties were either reluctant to believe on the role of humans on climate change or they pointed fingers to others for the problems that has occurred. This tendency started even before the Kyoto Protocol 1997 (KP) on which USA in particular denied to sign. After a decade of the signing of KP, the desperate world wishing to bring the USA also on board and wanting concomitantly to have a bigger global GHG emission cuts, during COP13, agreed on Bali Roadmap. The two groups namely AWG-KP and AWG-LCA were constituted which were separately mandated to do necessary homework aiming mainly at a fair, adequate and binding (FAB) deal for short and log terms. Despite important headways made by the concerned groups, to the dismay of majority, they even did not get an opportunity to table their draft negotiation text to the COP15 that was held in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Copenhagen frustrated the world for having failed to bring a FAB deal for limiting world temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius as urged by developing world or even 2 degrees as thought possible by many. The developing countries were passing their resentments to the developed counterparts and urged for taking major emission reduction burden owing to their historical responsibility. The developed countries in general (USA in particular) on the other hand, were adamant, which argued that even large scale cut by developed world would be meaningless unless growing economic giants like China and India were prepared to cut their emissions on a massive scale. Big gap also lay on the finance: the developing countries were asking for adequate, predictable and additional funding support and the developed countries were simply condoning it. Only during the last hours, US President Obama brokered a closed-door deal with a few powerful countries including China and India which resulted in the so called ‘Copenhagen Accord’. Naturally enough the convention did not endorse it but simply ‘took note of’ it.

Apparently the climate skeptics had significant role to play about what happened. They were resisting all major climate moves ever since climate debate got prominence within the UNFCCC system in the 1990s. Guided often by their parochial self interests, they actively lobbied in favor of the argument that climate change is unreal and in any case it may not have anthropogenic roots. Aimed at influencing the decisions, their activities were more pronounced particularly in the wake of annual COP events. Some even assert that, inspired by an ill idea of diluting the climate issue, they did not even lag behind in discrediting the climate proponents. In a scandal what is called ‘Climate Gate’, hackers stole some raw data from the UK based station in an alleged bid to prove that climate change is merely propaganda.

The reality, however, is that constant rise in global temperature might not even require any further proof. Data available in the IPCC shows that 19th century witnessed a 0.74 degree rise in temperature as compared to the pre-industrial rise which was merely 0.13 degree Celsius. Future projection is worse which suggests that the turn of the century might witness a temperature rise as high as 4 degrees. The situation in the Nepal Himalayas could be far worse owing to its annual 0.06 degree rise, a rate eight times higher than the global average. Based on these evidences IPCC and other peer reviewed literature concluded that the world could even see a climate catastrophe beyond recovery unless acted quickly and adequately.

Lately comes the critique to the IPCC (and more particularly its Chair Dr. Pachouri), which claimed that the forecasts of the 4th IPCC report that Himalayan glaciers will be extinct by 2035 is unfounded. Here is something to ponder about. While, science provides room for skepticism, the critiques concerned must be very careful when they bring their insights into public domain. No one has ever challenged the temperature data, the very first order source that indicates how global temperature is rising at an alarming rate. Accepting the first order data and rejecting its logical derivative does not really make sense. Higher temperatures, by axiom, are associated with higher rate of de-glaciations process. So, such controversy might only delay appropriate climate intervention the Himalayan system urgently requires.

It might even be argued that the world cannot wait for getting a complete range of data from such difficult terrain of the world like Himalayas. Why not ask the local people whether they have witnessed a change in the extent of snow there? Why not, for example, ask the mountaineers like Appa Sherpa who scaled Everest for a record 19th time. Distressed by disappearing snow and swelling glacial lake in the Himalayas Appa has given the “stop climate change-let the Himalayas live” alarm. Let the world be convinced by this alarm and act to protect this world heritage and its ecological and human surroundings that actually nurture it.

Dr Baral is with the MoFSC