The Politics of Climate Change

Updated On: Jun 08, 2007

Climate change will be one of the hottest issues to be discussed at the G-8 summit which is being held in Germany from Wednesday (5 June) to Friday (7 June). Other divisive topics include aid to AfricaandUSmissile shield.

Climate change proposals from Bush last week had sowed fears in Europe that Washington would go outside the well-established United Nations treaty negotiating framework. Bush had proposed that the 15 biggest emitters of greenhouse gases hold meetings and set an emissions goal, but he would let each country - including the U.S.ChinaIndia and the major European countries - decide individually how to implement it.

The US proposal has received various reactions. Germany stressed the need to work with the United Nations climate change programme, which produced the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Blair supported that position, saying "it is good that the U.S. has made these commitments. We need to make sure that we keep these targets within the UN agreement." He is convinced that he can persuade President George W. Bush to sign up for the first time to a "substantial cut" in greenhouse gas emissions, in line with U.N.-backed targets.

The European Union favors specific, deep cuts in emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which are believed to cause global warming. Bush has favored investing in cleaner technology and in biofuel substitutes for gasoline, though his latest proposal showed a willingness to discuss specific emissions levels. Despite the differences, Merkel said even a small amount of agreement would be valuable. 

Brazil's leader has rejected U.S. President George W. Bush's proposal for an alternative global initiative to tackle climate change, a British newspaper reported Monday. The U.S.should work through the United Nations rather than setting up a parallel group, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in an interview published in The Guardian.  

With the seemingly widespread opposition to US proposal, President George Bush struck a conciliatory note at the G8 Summit yesterday (7 Jun) by agreeing to the goal of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, this was already a compromised deal as the agreement was non-binding, and no specific targeted emission cuts were fixed.

China, the most rapidly growing country, believed to become the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter soon, overtaking the US, unveiled its first national strategy to combat climate change with a pledge to curb its greenhouse gas emissions, but insisted that economic growth would remain its top priority.

The plan include measures to limit greenhouse gas emissions include promoting the efficient use of energy through new energy- saving technology, as well as increasing reliance on renewable and clean energy such as nuclear, wind, solar and hydro-power.

This renews a commitment to Beijing's previously announced targets to reduce overall energy usage by 20 per cent by 2010 and boost the proportion of renewable energy in its energy mix from the current 7 per cent to 16 per cent by 2020.

However, it makes no mention of mandatory caps on greenhouse gas discharges - including carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels - among its measures to battle climate change. Chinawelcomed the US proposal to bring together the world’s 15 top polluting nations, but warned that any new agreement should be a complement instead of a substitute for the UN programme on global warming.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) said that China's plan to rein in global warming by improving efficiency in its notoriously dirty energy sector is a positive move. "It really is an indication that the Chinese government sees acting on climate change as being part of a larger development agenda," he said.

Elsewhere, on the World Environment Day on June 5, The Global Outlook for Ice and Snow report was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme. This report warns that the melting of Earth's ice and snow could trigger wider-ranging impacts on people, economies and wildlife. It argued that an estimated 40 percent of the world's population could be affected by the loss of snow and glaciers on the mountains of Asia. Many Asian rivers begin in the Himalayas and less ice and snow would mean less water for drinking and agriculture. In addition, rising sea levels would affect low-lying coasts and islands hitting hard countries such as Bangladesh or Indonesia.

UN emergency relief coordinator John Homes also warned that world rapid urban growth combined with the effects of climate change will cause more and bigger disasters unless the world better prepares itself for them. According to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, mega-cities such as Mexico City, and New Delhi and Calcutta, are prone to severe earthquakes, while New York is at risk of dangerous flooding and tsunamis. JakartaTokyoShanghaiDhaka, and Mumbai, will be threatened by both quakes and floods.

In the latest country report on Climate Change, Indonesia has been criticized over its climate change response.  The report "Indonesia and Climate Change: Current Status and Policies" sponsored by World Bank and DFID and authored by Agus P. Sari said Indonesia was lagging behind other major greenhouse gas emitters in the development of alternative energy sources, despite the country's enormous potential. The report also said Indonesia was not good at enforcing regulations on forest protection. The country still suffers illegal logging and forest fires and was not yet adequately adapting to future climate events, Agus said. The report also reveals the fact that Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, behind the United States and China.

According to the same report, Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change as global warming threatens to raise sea levels and flood coastal farming areas, thus threatening food security.

Partly as a response to the findings in the report, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla was quoted by Koran Tempo daily last week as saying: 'The environmental problem in the archipelago is not onlyIndonesia's business, but also the responsibility of the world. 'We should let the world know that if you do not want to help in the greening of Indonesia, we will just clear the forests so that you will feel it.' And he added that United StatesJapan and South Korea had contributed to his country's massive deforestation, which is driven by the world's demand for cheap wood.

Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar also said last week that Indonesia and other developing nations will demand money from rich countries to preserve their forests as part of any new deal to replace theKyoto protocol, when an international meeting on climate change is held in Bali in December.

So one can expect more politicking and bargaining in the global arena as the world continues to “burn” in its greenhouse gas emissions. (8 June 2007)


G8 agrees on climate deal (Today, 8 June 2007)

Climate change, urban growth threaten to worsen disasters (Jakarta Post, 6 June 2007)

Top UN official welcomes China's plan to combat global warming (Jakarta Post, 6 June 2007)

Brazilian President rejects Bush's climate change proposal (Jakarta Post, 5 June 2007)

Chinasets out climate change battle plan (Straits Times, 5 June 2007)

Melting ice accelerates global warming: UN report, Antara, June 5, 2007)

Blair says can win over Bush on climate: paper (Reuters, 5 June 2007)

Indonesiacriticized over climate change response, (Jakarta Post, 5 June 2007)

INDONESIAN VICE-PRESIDENT'S CALL TO THE WORLD:Help us save our forests, or suffer consequences (Straits Times, 5 June 2007)

Indonesiathreatened by global warming, rising sea levels (AFP, 4 June 2007)

No. 3 greenhouse gas emitter is a surprise due to logging and fires, Indonesia follows only U.S.and China  (Reuters, 5 June 2007)

Fresh warnings on climate change issued (Channel News Asia, 5 June 2007)

German Chancellor to make climate protection top priority at G-8 (Jakarta Post, 6 June 2007)

G-8 summit clouded by sensitive issues (Straits Times, 7 June 2007)