Monday, January 22, 2018

The crisis of global warming

The developing world and the betrayal of leadership


Last Thursday, the Express ran the first in a series of columns submitted

by Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS). This is the second column

in the series. These articles seek to highlight not just local environmental

issues, but those which affect the

population on a global scale.

Questions and comments may be

e-mailed to admin@ffostt.com.



The emission of greenhouse gases and its impact on the warming of the world has captured the imagination of mankind for the past three decades. It has inspired scientific certainty and scientific chicanery. In 1992, the international community took a baby step in the battle against climate change by adopting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This agreement proved to be so basic and lacking in legal strength that, by 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated to provide greater legal force to the UNFCCC. The Kyoto Protocol established binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012. Thus, the impending expiration of the Kyoto Protocol and the growing body of scientific evidence pointing to the irrefutability of climate change as a result of human intervention led to the growing urgency for the international community to seek an even more forceful intervention than the Kyoto Protocol.

The international community met in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011, with heightened anxiety by small island states and Africa as to the possible apocalyptic consequences of a warmer world. Indeed, many of these countries are already of the firm belief they are facing the dire consequences of climate change.  Unfortunately, Durban exposed the divisions in the developing world and the failure of its acknowledged leadership, partly driven by selfish motives, which aligned it to the bigger developing economies such as USA and Japan. 

It is largely acknowledged that China, India and, to some extent, Brazil, as the economic juggernauts of the developing world, are often looked upon as the leaders for articulating the views and fears of the majority of developing nations whose voices are often muted by their diminutive economic status. Yet, on the issue of climate change and the need to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, these nations wax eloquent in promoting their narrow interests, at the expense of the vast majority of developing nations. The environment minister of India, Jayanthi Natarajan, with strong support by China, noted, "Am I to write a blank cheque and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians, without even knowing what the EU roadmap contains? I wonder if this is an agenda to shift the blame onto countries [which] are not responsible [for climate change]. I am told that India will be blamed... Please don't hold us hostage." These nations, imbued with their current economic success, are not prepared to show leadership in establishing an urgent and strong international legal framework for curbing GHG emissions.

Facing failure at Durban, the international community accepted a document called the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. This is contrary to what is being touted by some nations and represents a major reversal in the battle to deal with climate change. This agreement extended the life of the already weak Kyoto Protocol from the start of January 2013 to the end of 2017.

Secondly, it mandated all countries to sign a deal in 2015 that would force them to cut emissions no later than 2020. In other words, nothing will be done to cut emissions until 2020, a case of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Climate change due to man-made forces is threatening our very existence; yet, the developing world is being pulled into the direction of delaying painful emission cuts to rein in our own contribution to this environmental catastrophe by those entrusted with our leadership.

Many African and small island states sided with the European Union's desire for a universal binding agreement making strong commitments to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and the reductions that are necessary for the survival of human civilisation.

Praful Bidwai, a noted Indian journalist, political analyst and activist, observed that the "Indian position was guided by an obsession with not having to accept any climate obligations in the future. India claims to be just another developing country but that nobody is prepared to buy in the world..."

So, in the face of the failure of India and China to lead, where will we turn to for leadership? Perhaps as Trinidad and Tobago inspired the International Criminal Court, we should seek to work with the developing countries whose views are not consonant with those of India and China, to develop a voice that will allow our concerns to be heard and not be muted by our bigger brothers and sisters in the developing countries bloc.

Failure to act and to remain in sympathy with other developing nations whose agendas fail to acknowledge the very threat to the existence of many other developing nations is no longer an option we can pursue.