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United on issue of global warming, divided on solutions

Updated On: Sep 28, 2007

The inevitable has happened.

The world is united in one cause against global environmental destruction but at the same time remain more split than ever in the prescriptions for solving it. Big powers are also breaking up to form their own factions in this contestation to champion the cause of climate change.

All around the world, more than 80 world leaders have pledged their cooperation and creativity to fend off looming global warning. Leaders of more than 150 countries also attended the UN summit on the environment on the eve of the annual UN General Assembly meeting. There is now growing realization that environmentalism is becoming more complex than originally thought. "We recognize that climate change is such a complex and difficult issue because it cannot be dealt with effectively as an environmental challenge alone," said US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The complexity mixed with international politics is seeing various factions emerging on the issue.

The US is launching talks among the world’s largest greenhouse emitters in the quest to spur action against climate change.  Comprising 16 leading industrial and emerging economies (Australia, Britain, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the US), the rationale for forming this environmental forum is that a body like the UN is far too big and diverse to be as efficient as a target group of nations.  Together these 16 economies account for more than 90% of global greenhouse emissions.

The US which takes a practical view on the balance between environmentalism and development formed this group of 16 to argue that there is no “one size fits all” approach to solving the problem of global warming.  It is also against large compulsory cuts (such as those proposed by some Europeans) because of the potential impact on reducing economic growth. Reduction in economic growth is something unacceptable to both the US and developing states.

The UN and EU are however invited as observers to this forum. The UN is seen as slow-moving on the issue of environmentalism. As for the EU, its credibility is being undermined because some of its member states are failing to meet their Kyoto targets. This adds on to the frustrations of the US and Australia along with big industrializing nations like China who have kept off the Kyoto protocol. Unlike the Europeans, the Americans prefer a private sector capitalistic and technology-driven approach which is to encourage private companies to develop clean technologies for global environmental protection instead of relying solely on mandatory emissions cut.

China is also forming a bloc of developing nations against the European concept of environmentalism as it argues, along with other members of the Group of 77, that industrialized economies emit up to 70% of the world's carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere today and these industrialized nations should cut their own greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2020. China has its own way for turning green and it is doing so at its own pace and time.

Underlining the doctrine of doing the best in each individual capacity, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stressed that developing world would look at the Kyoto-negotiated principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities", thus reiterating Chinese and developing economies’ positions that each nation had to sacrifice according to their priorities or needs.

Some leaders of developing nations have argued that prescriptions by developed nations to developing countries on carbon emissions are sometimes perceived as self-serving and urged these advanced countries not to ignore developmental needs. Other pragmatic leaders in East Asia foresee great economic losses if the environmental destruction continues. Maritime nations which depend on sea-lanes would see a fundamental shift in shipping routes because of the melting polar ice caps. For example, some states have already started to open up passageways over the Northwest and Northern Passage, as a result of the melting polar ice caps over the Arctic. In the next few decades, ships moving between the Pacific and Atlantic may switch to the Arctic instead.

Such sentiments are echoed by large developing countries like Indonesia. To reverse the situation, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) said that Indonesia needs to apply the biosphere reserve concept to balance the economic and environmental conservation interests toward sustainable development by involving the community as the guards and protectors of the environment. The biosphere reserve concept could also be used as a model in Indonesia to deal with the rapid rate of ecosystem landscape degradation in this country, according to Pr. Sukara, who is concurrently the chairman of the National Man and Biosphere (MAB) program of UNESCO Indonesia.

Indonesia has a worrying environmental record, losing no less than two million hectares of forest area annually due to development activities, leading to significant loss of flora and fauna biodiversity, ecosystem and landscape on Earth. Indonesia has the world`s second largest tropical rain forests after Brazil. Along with such massive destruction of nature, Indonesia also lost opportunities to make scientific discoveries on the potentials of the biological diversity for food, medicines and other industrial and development materials. As a result, the people's welfare is threatened by the environmental degradation.  A study by a group of international scientists proved conclusively that deforestation also increases flood risks, leading to serious lost of lives and causing billions of dollars in damage each year.

The concept of biosphere reserves was derived from the first intergovernmental conference organized by UNESCO in 1968. Indonesia has six biosphere reserves, they are: Gunung Leuser NP (National Park), Siberut Island (including Siberut NP), Cibodas (including Gunung Gede-Pangrango NP), Tanjung Putting NP, Lore Lindu NP and Komodo NP; the latter is also recognized as a natural World Heritage site. Advocates of environmental protection are agitating for more spheres to protect Indonesia’s large tracts of tropical forests.

Environmentalism has gotten a boost from the top Indonesian leadership. "In fact we have been suffering from the result of climate changes," Yudhoyono said, referring to droughts, floods, landslides, and tidal waves (tsunami) which had hit several parts of the country. "Therefore, the issue of climate change is real," Yudhoyono said, adding that the objective of his participation in the UN forum on climate change was to strengthen Indonesia`s position in benefiting from global cooperation.

Indonesia has also recently mobilized nations with most of the world’s tropical rainforests – BrazilCameroonCongoCosta RicaMalaysia and Papua New Guinea – ahead of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks in Bali to get rich countries to pay the world’s tropical nations not to chop down rainforests.  (28 September 2007)

Sources:

US will take lead in climate change fight (Straits Times, 28 September 2007)

Study proves deforestation increases flood risk (Straits Times, 28 September 2007)

Major emitters gather for US-led forum (Antara, 27 September 2007)

Indonesia urges incentives for forest conservation (Antara, 26 September 2007)

World leaders agree to cooperate on climate change fight (Straits Times, 26 September 2007)

Big boys should take green lead (Today 26 September 2007)

Rinse the palate, let's refresh the world (Straits Times, 26 September 2007)

More than just hot air (Straits Times, 26 September 2007)

Melting ice caps chills MM (Today, 26 September 2007)

Malaysia Calls For New Funds To Tackle Climate Change (Bernama, 25 September 2007)

RI does not want to be trapped in dichotomy of climate change (Antara, 25 September 2007)

Cleaning Up China (NY Times, 24 September 2007)

China in Three Colors (NY Times, 23 September 2007)

Indonesia needs to apply biosphere reserve concept: LIPI (Jakarta Post, 22 September 2007)