A UN Climate Change Conference is underway in Paris. Since 1992, the UN has met every year to work out a global climate change control treaty. The current conference involves almost 150 countries. It is the UN’s 21st such meeting. In 1992, researchers realized that climate change was becoming a global problem and required a global approach. Twice since then the UN was close to adopting a comprehensive pollution control treaty. As a result, in 1997 it approved a Kyoto Protocol, a document committing developed countries to cut greenhouse gases emissions. But the problem of Kyoto was that it set no targets for China and India – two developing nations that emit almost as much as developed countries do.
And another big problem was that the same year the US Senate adopted a bill cancelling any international treaty that might cause damage to the U.S. economy. That meant that though being the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, the U.S. refused to join the Kyoto Protocol. As a result, the protocol was signed by just 83 out of 193 UN members and ratified by just 55 members. Now the protocol controls no more than 63% of all emissions in the world – this is much but not enough for the problem to be solved.
The climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009 was also fruitless as the Americans confirmed their reluctance to join the Kyoto Protocol.
By the Paris Conference the world community realized that its biggest problem is its division into a center and a periphery. The center (the West) has the biggest share in emissions but some nations from the periphery (China and India) are beginning to emit as much. And the problem here is that most of peripheral industries belong to central (western) corporations and serve their interest. So, it turns out that the center is responsible for the greater part of the emissions produced in the periphery. One more factor causing growth in emissions is huge need for energy in developed countries. Today people in the west produce more greenhouse gases by just driving cars and using domestic appliances than manufacturing companies do.
So, here we see a contradiction. The center cannot cut emissions at home because of its social needs and nor can it agree not to transfer its industry to the periphery because of its economic interests. This is a kind of a vicious circle.
So, the key task for the world community today is to ensure fair consumption of mineral resources. One of the solutions is to set emission quotas. But developing nations like China and India say that quotas will curb their progress.
In 2014, the global economy registered a growth but emitted almost as much as a year before. Some experts hurried to say that the efforts to cut emissions were giving results. But 2015 with its temperature records cut them short. In India, emissions are expected to triple by 2030. Local cities are considered the dirtiest in the world. Experts say that each fifth death in India is caused by polluted air. And in the decades to come millions of Indians living on the seashore may suffer from rising sea level. But the local authorities do not seem to be doing anything to this end and just keep saying that if the world wants them to cut their emissions, it must give them necessary technologies for free.
Before the Paris Conference, some UN members announced national programs to cut emissions. In Mar 2015 28 EU members (who produce almost 10% of all emissions in the world) promised to cut their emissions by 40% by 2030 and by 80-95% by 2050. The same month Russia said that by 2030 it will cut its emission by 20%. The U.S. and China are going to cut their emissions by 26-28% by 2025. In June 2015, South Korea said it will cut its emissions by 37% by 2030. Japan is planning a 25.4% cut by the same deadline. But all this is just plans. The key problem is that the UN members are unable to reach a consensus and prefer just making unilateral promises with no guarantees of keeping them. Just one example, shortly before the Paris Conference it became known that this year China burned 17% more coal that it officially reported.
This does not however mean that the Chinese are not aware of the problem. Before the conference, their authorities published a 900-page report by 550 researchers saying that temperature in China is growing faster than worldwide and this tendency will continue throughout the century. Since 1909, the average temperature in China has grown by 0.9-1.5 degrees. So, the Chinese are committed to keep the growth within 2 degrees this century. Rising temperature is causing problems like floods and droughts. Since 1980, the sea level in China has risen by 2.9 mm. In the next 30 years, the sea level near Shanghai may rise by 7.5-14.5 cm. One cm means 10 meters of land going under water. So, the local authorities will have to spend huge money to stop the sea.
As a result, the 170 nations producing over 90% of global emissions appeared in Paris with national plans on how to cut them. Those plans are expected to be used as a basis for a new UN treaty.
One of the good news here is that in early 2015 the United States and China reached an agreement on emissions. So, perhaps, the economic rivalry of those two nations will push them to rival in emissions cuts as well.
The success of the COP21 depends on the Americans. Here too we have some hopes. Some experts expect the Paris Conference to become a turning point. Before the meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama said that it has become an economic imperative for his country to solve the problem of climate change. In Paris, he admitted that the U.S. is partly responsible for this problem. So, it is for the United States to show if the Paris Conference will become a turning point or not.
The last years’ economic recession overshadowed environmental concerns in the U.S. society. But now that the U.S. economy is recovering the Americans are beginning to realize the need to solve environmental problems. More than half of them believe that their authorities must cut drilling, woodcutting and mining activities but only one of five Americans approves a rise in electricity tax as a method to fight global warming. But if not taxes, then what?
The last poll by New York Times/CBS News has shown that 63% of the Americans want their country to join the Kyoto Protocol. Most of the Republicans think likewise but the selfsame Republicans object to Obama’s initiative to oblige U.S. power plants to cut their emissions. Today the Senate is controlled by the Republicans. So, the need to join the Kyoto Protocol may well be included in the election program of the Republican presidential hopeful in late 2016. The Democrats also admit that global warming is caused by human activities. So, here much depends on who will be the first to appear with this issue.
The Paris Conference has also become a pretext for some business leaders and philanthropists to donate money for cutting emissions, developing alternative fuels and helping poor countries out of their environmental crises. For example, Bill Gates has founded a Breakthrough Energy Coalition, involving global corporations with a total capital of $350bn. The key goal of the coalition is to promote environmentally friendly energy technologies.
In its turn, the Democrats-controlled U.S. State department has promised to give poor countries as much as $248mn so they can develop alternative fuels.
Global warming is degrading lands and is curbing progress in farming. But not only – environmental problems often cause social violence. For example, the current civil war in Syria was preceded by a drought, which ruined local agriculture and forced lots of villages to move to cities. In their turn, social conflicts cause deindustrialization and depopulation and consequently lead to a cut in emissions. We can see such processes in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Under the guise of pro-European and anti-Russian slogans, the regime ruling in Ukraine is destroying its industry. As a result, the country is cutting its gas imports from Russia. This will certainly result in a cut in emissions. So, this is also a way to solve the problem of climate change. But the true goal of this artificial method is to let one territory to depopulate another territory and to appropriate its natural resources.
As far as the Paris Conference is concerned, we must understand that the offered solutions are not a panacea. The key problem of the Earth is that its “market economy” is ruining its environment. Since industry first appeared, the average temperature on the Earth has grown by 1.7 degrees. So, one of the key goals of the Paris Conference will be to keep temperature growth below 2 degrees this century. So, we can see that the world community is not solving the problem of climate change but is just trying to control it.