Business | Analysis

Climate change debate goes on

Coverage of the environmental debate and climate change has continued to slide

  • Saadallah Al Fathi; Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 12:58 January 20, 2013
  • Gulf News

A few days ago the New York Times dismantled its environment desk which was established back in 2009 as a sign of the importance of covering environmental news and analysis not only in the US but worldwide.

While the paper said “We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter” “prompted by the shifting interdisciplinary landscape of news reporting”, the Society of Environmental Journalists, said that the decision is “worrying” as “dedicated teams bring strength and consistency to the task of covering environment-related issues.”

In fact the Time’s decision come at a time when worldwide coverage of major environmental debate and climate change has continued to slide in the last few years as reported by The Daily Climate recently. The world seems to be tired of the action or inaction on this issue and the persistence of differences in opinion or policies weather among specialists or governments.

Yet the Eighteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ended on December 8 in Doha, Qatar after a one day delay and long night session. But publicly COP 18 was not much in the news because its results were expected from the days of COP 17 in Durban in December 2011. The countries party to the Climate Convention agreed to adopt a formal decision to implement a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol to 2020 as an interim solution until another protocol is agreed.

Developing countries

The other achievement of COP 18 is that the industrial countries, especially the US, have finally won their battle of drawing the developing countries into agreeing to carbon emission targets by the next protocol which is supposedly to be finalised by 2015 for triggering implementation by 2020. However, COP 18 left the door open as to the size of carbon emission reduction that will be demanded from the developing countries with respect to those of the developed countries, a battle delayed but will be fought over the next three years during the preparation for the would be “big deal” protocol of 2015.

Connie Hedegaard in the Guardian, 14 December 2012 considered COP 18 a success from the European viewpoint as the old separation between developed and developing countries would be no more though the responsibilities may still be different in 2015. She said that “this is not a small achievement. Today, the average emission per capita in China is already 7.2 tonnes and increasing. Europe’s is 7.5 tonnes and decreasing.” She should have added that some developed countries never committed to any reduction such as the US and others withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol such as Canada. It is true that China’s emissions are increasing, but their per capita emission is still 36 per cent of the per capita emission of the US and 51 per cent of Russia’s and 63 per cent of Japan’s. Similar trends may be found with numbers regarding India, the other developing country that is so much under pressure to accept binding commitments.

Criticism

The good thing is that the world is much more realistic than when the climate change debate started in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Europe and other countries now want to limit long tern global warming to two degrees centigrade while environmentalists of early days never accepted such realism.

Yet the Doha climate gateway as it was called was criticised by green groups where Asad Rehman, head of climate and energy at Friends of the Earth said it is “weak and dangerously ineffectual agreement and is nothing but a polluters charter.” He added that “Doha was a disaster zone where poor developing countries were forced to capitulate to the interests of wealthy countries, effectively condemning their own citizens to the climate crisis.”

Harvard scholar Theda Skocpol, as reported recently by the Guardian, put the blame squarely for America’s failure to act on climate change on environmental groups as they concentrated on politicians rather than create a popular movement across all sections of the community. This has reinforced reluctance to act or even opposition within large sections of the conservative population especially Republicans and their followers.

To continue living in uncertainties, the Guardian said on 10 January 2013 that the Metrological Office of the UK published a press release confirming that it had recently revised downwards by 20 per cent a decadal global temperature prediction for the period up to 2017. Very pleasing to the climate sceptics who were already arguing that global warming had “stopped”.

By 2011 the world carbon emissions have increased by 51 per cent from the 1990 level while environmentalists were demanding at least stabilisation at the 1990 level by the year 2000. Such unrealistic targets are enough reasons for failure and the times to 2015 looks to be interesting.

The writer is former head of the Energy Studies Department at the Opec Secretariat in Vienna.

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