Monday, November 15, 2010

ARDESHIR COWASJEE ARTICES : Is anyone listening?

‘We cannot come out from Copenhagen as failures. We cannot make Copenhagen a pact for suicide. We have to succeed and we have to make a deal in Copenhagen.’ He was referring to the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in December 2009 in that city (COP 15).
President Nasheed leads a predominantly Muslim nation of some 300,000 people on 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean (1,192 islets – 200 inhabited) where ecologically sustainable fisheries, and more recently tourism, have sustained the islanders’ life for thousands of years. The average ground height in the islands is a mere 1.5 metres above sea level, and now, in the 21st century, is being threatened with complete inundation by melting ice and rising ocean levels.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon agreed: ‘Failure to reach broad agreement in Copenhagen would be morally inexcusable, economically short-sighted and politically unwise’.
Over the last 250 years, human activities have added further quantities of greenhouse gases (GHG) to the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide (from burning fossil fuels; coal, oil and gas in homes, factories, power stations and vehicles; deforestation), methane (from decaying natural fertiliser; domesticated cattle; termites), nitrous oxide (from fertilisers, vehicle exhausts) and chlorofluorocarbons (from refrigerants, fire-extinguishers, aerosols). The increased levels of GHG reduce the amount of solar heat reflected back into space, raising temperatures. This is already leading to radical weather changes, dissolving ice caps and glaciers, sea-level rise, increasing pollution, water shortages, reduced agricultural outputs, food scarcity, escalating health problems, migrations in search of food, etc.
Mankind’s greatest contribution to GHG, accounting for two-thirds of the climate-change effect, is carbon dioxide (CO2.). Concentrations have risen from about 270ppm (parts per million) in 1750 at the start of the industrial revolution to 280ppm by 1850, 295ppm by 1900 and to 310ppm by 1950. The rise thereafter was more rapid: 345ppm by 1985, 360ppm by 1995, 381ppm by 2005, and today it stands at around 390ppm, the natural range being 180-300ppm. We are adding approximately 2ppm annually.
As highlighted in my column printed earlier this month, human beings have been steadily but surely ramping up two critical factors in their existence: population and per-capita impact on the planet, leading to unsustainable exploitation of the earth’s resources and an overloading of its capacity to absorb human wastes. The greatest transition in human history – the exploitation of fossil fuels and the emergence of societies dependent on high energy use – now spells a form of ecological suicide.
For those who are concerned and wish to act, the internet is replete with websites that give details of the problems and recommend steps to be taken to tackle the issues, one site being
Based on the concept that 350ppm is a scientifically defined safe upper limit for CO2 in the atmosphere, the movement is trying to immediately mobilise citizens of the planet to compel their leaders to take drastic measures for swift and bold climate action at the December UN COP15 in Copenhagen. Technical and political action must be put in place on an emergency basis to reduce and permanently maintain CO2 emissions in the atmosphere at below the 350ppm level. Registering at the site enables one to join the action as a concerned individual or as a part of an involved activists’ group this Oct 24, the ‘International Day of Climate Action’. promises that ‘There will be big rallies in big cities, and creative actions across the globe: mountain climbers on highest peaks with banners, underwater demonstrations in island nations (including the Maldives) threatened by sea level rise, churches and mosques and synagogues and ashrams engaged in symbolic action, star athletes organising mass bike rides – and hundreds of community events to raise awareness of the need for urgent action… Copenhagen may well be the pivotal moment that determines whether or not we get the planet out of the climate crisis, and your actions on Oct 24 will help our leaders realise we need a real solution that pays attention to science.’
Experts feel that there are six scenarios that could develop in Copenhagen: (1) ‘A real deal’: the US and China provide the driver for a new, ambitious and comprehensive agreement. (2) ‘Business as usual’: countries follow current national targets. (3) A limited deal: headed by, say, the G8, outside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. (4) A mere prolonging of the Kyoto Protocol. (5) A stretching of the Copenhagen conference into 2010. (6) ‘Window dressing’: a grand declaration but no real deal. What actually emerges will depend in no small measure on the kind of pressure citizens all over the world, including Pakistan, can exert on their leaders and governments.
Shehri, the environmental advocacy group, last week wrote a letter to Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani requesting him to issue a directive banning the use of suits, ties and jackets in the air-conditioned summer months in all government offices and ministries, as recently done in Bangladesh. The directive must ensure that air-conditioning temperatures are kept above 26 centigrade and heating temperatures below 18 centigrade. In the next phase, this campaign to combat climate change (plus electricity and gas loadshedding) can be extended to the private sector.
Is anyone in Pakistan really listening? Certainly not its President, who due to a ‘more important engagement of his own’ opted out of the UN Climate Change summit in New York, which was also addressed by US President Barack Obama.

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