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Responses to the new climate change report: NIMBY manifestations and the search for alternative energy

Updated On: Feb 06, 2007

The IPCC report on climate change affirms the widespread, albeit contested belief that humans and human activities “caused” global warming. 

However, the responses from the states present have been far from united on the course of action, but instead myraid manifestations of the ‘Not-In-My-Backyard’ (NIMBY) mentality.

2,500 scientists from more than 130 nations toughened their stance in the 2007 report on the likelihood of human-induced global warming in the past 50 years, from “likely” (66 per cent probability) in the previous 2001 report to “very likely” (90 per cent probability).

The report predicts a 'best estimate' that temperatures would rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 Celsius in the 21st century, within a likely range from 1.1 to 6.4 Celsius. It also projected a rise in sea levels of between 18 and 59 centimetres in the 21st century, adding that bigger gains could not be ruled out if ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland melt.  

Corresponding to the report’s findings are reports of places that are already experiencing the devastating effects of global warming. With Alaska's coastline receding at a rate of 2.4m per year for example, the village of Kivalina is near extinction. Similar fate is experienced by Kiribati, a group of 33 Pacific coral atolls straddling the equator on the other side of the globe. The term 'climate refugees,’ coined a decade or so ago, may soon become a reality at a more massive scale.

One of the report’s main aims calls for greater accountability from governments – to be led by the US as the top emitter – and companies to reduce greenhouse gases, released mainly by burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars.

France has taken the lead with the two-day 'Citizens of the Earth' meeting that was scheduled to coincide with the release of the IPCC report. Speaking to 500 delegates, President Jacques Chirac made a strong call for the US to sign both the Kyoto Protocol and a future post-2012 Kyoto agreement. He warned that a Europe-wide carbon tax would be imposed to force compliance should the US not accede to Kyoto. 'A carbon tax is inevitable,' he said. 'If it is European, and I believe it will be European, then it will...have a certain influence because it means that all the countries that do not accept the minimum obligations will be obliged to pay.'

President Chirac also proposed for the transformation of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to a “genuine international organisation to which all countries belong, along the lines of the World Health Organisation,” and for a new 'universal declaration of environmental rights and obligations' in order to guarantee 'a new human right - the right to a safe and protected environment.’

Skepticism was however, expressed by some governments and NGOs that question the viability of such options to answer present problems.

Australia, a staunch resistor of Kyoto alongside the US, has dismissed the report as "nothing new," and used the opportunity to bolster its push for adopting nuclear energy as an alternative fuel source.

In India, a senior ecology official pointed out that the climate change panel is 'a network of scientists' that cannot set policy. Local environmentalists even berated the report to have favoured the wealthy Western nations and underplayed the threats of climate change to South Asia. According to Dr Pradeep Dadhich, an expert on energy systems modelling at New Delhi's The Energy Research Institute, 'you just cannot put pressure on a developing economy. You have to look at common but differentiated responsibilities and the people who caused climate change are the ones who need to address it first.'

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Singapore has defended against the scathing report by investment firm Lehman Brothersm which showed the country’s second highest ranking on per capita energy consumption at 11 tonnes per year, behind Qatar. The National Environment Agency (NEA) cited another statistics by the International Energy Agency in 2003, showing that Singapore's carbon dioxide emission per person was 8.98 tonnes, lower than the US' 19.68 tonnes and Australia's 17.35 tonnes. Furthermore, the country has undertaken significant efforts to reduce carbon emissions, said the NEA.

The efforts included alternative energy options, which have preoccupied the broader regional policy agenda in recent years, such as in the areas of biofuels and nuclear energy. Fresh from the ASEAN and East Asia Summits, Southeast Asian governments appear raring to go with new claims to go nuclear and intensify biofuel production at the regional level, despite observations from critics that the commitments lack concrete targets, and national interests may prevail in the end.

Thai Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand declared last week that the government is considering building a nuclear power plant within the next 15 years, to add to the tally of several Southeast Asian countries that have openly declared their intention to consider the nuclear option . With similar gusto, Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar also reiterated the country’s nuclear power ambitions last week.

Another hope lies in biofuel, which has been hailed as the ultimate alternative energy source for the future, as expressed by the Philippines, Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Thailand at the East Asia Summit. Yet, caution remains especially when the life-cycle view of biofuel production is considered.

For example, consumers/importers of Southeast Asian palm oil in the Netherlands to support its green projects may come at the expense of large-scale deforestation and land-clearing practices that result in massive carbon emissions, especially from burning peatland. As one of the world’s largest producer of palm oil, Indonesia’s biofuel production, increasingly on peatland, will emit enough carbon to render its world carbon ranking to third, after the US and China, according to a 2006 study conducted by Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics.

While governments disagree over the appropriate policy responses to the IPCCC findings, a heartening development has come from the major multinationals such as Wal-Mart and Nike. The former has introduced 'Global Innovation Projects' aimed at finding ways to encourage suppliers, employees and customers to take non-renewable energy off shelves and out of people's lives. The latter also pledged to remove greenhouse gas emissions from all its products (5/2/07). 

Sources:

Sea level rising more quickly than predicted: Scientists (TODAY, 2 February 2007)

UN panel blames people for warming in strongest warning (Reuters/The Straits Times, 2 February 2007)

Chirac to US: Sign key climate accords (New York Times/ The Straits Times, 2 February 2007)

Carbon offsetting becoming good business (AFP/ The Straits Times, 2 February 2007)

Govt considering a nuclear plant (The Nation, 2 February 2007)

Indonesia to push ahead with nuclear plans (Channel News Asia, 3 February 2007)

Australian PM uses UN climate report to push for nuclear power (Channel News Asia, 3 February 2007)

Climate change already affects lives (AFP/ The Straits Times, 3 February 2007)

Big businesses go green (AFP/ The Straits Times, 3 February 2007)

Singapore disputes 'energy guzzler' label (The Straits Times, 3 February 2007)

Environmentalists in India cry foul (The Straits Times, 3 February 2007)

Palm oil: Dream biofuel or eco nightmare? (New York Times/ The Straits Times, 3 February 2007)

Chirac calls for new UN environment body (AFP/ The Straits Times, 4 February 2007)

ASIAN ENERGY PACT: Just hot air? (The Straits Times, 4 February 2007)