SPECIAL CLIMATE CHANGE ISSUE: To protect succeeding generations...

Vol. XLVI No. 3 & 4 2009

This special double issue focuses on the impact of climate change, and includes essays on the ecology of recycling; financial innovations and carbon markets; biotechnology; global warming; and the true costs of conventional energy.

While not on the front line of climate solutions, recycling of waste materials, wastewater, and wasted energy is a locally available and highly desirable means of reducing greenhouse gases. One potent greenhouse gas, the methane emitted from landfills and wastewater, accounts for about 90 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from the entire waste sector

About 99 per cent of climate change casualties take place in the developing world. While economic growth and development are priorities in all countries, the needs in developing and least developed countries are on a different scale altogether. Developing countries are constrained by their particular vulnerability to the impacts of fickle weather and climate. The poor in these countries are at a higher risk to future climate change, given their heavy dependence on agriculture, strong reliance on ecosystem services, rapid growth and concentration of population and relatively poor health services.

I saw at one time a leaflet that asked people to come together in stopping climate change. It seems that many are not aware that the climate changes all the time and that the change is not stoppable. Climate changes, however, differ in their timing and magnitude and are a result of many factors, such as the distance between the sun and the equator, which contributes to the heat budget of the Earth, and the difference in the temperature of the equator from that of the cooler poles due to deviations in Earth's orbit, or variations in solar radiation.

The headlines generated by the carbon trading mechanisms at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol, most notably the Clean Development Mechanism, tell a story of a scheme in trouble. But why has it caused such controversy?

The formation of the Antarctic ozone hole is a graphic demonstration of how rapidly we can change the atmosphere of our planet. There are many other environmental issues facing us today and we must link them together to understand and debate the underlying causes, rather than treat each issue in isolation.

Romuald Sciora collaborates with the United Nations on audiovisual, literary and educational projects. His most recent project is a television series on the UN's history as told by its Secretaries-General, which has been broadcast in more than 20 countries. The series grew into a documentary called "Planet UN" and a book of the same name. Below is an excerpt from Mr Sciora's introduction in the book.

A Modest Extension of the Kyoto Protocol Can End the Impasse Between Industrial and Developing Nations

"Renewable energy is expensive -- we cannot afford it." I have heard this argument many times over. But those who bring it up are wrong. The costs of renewable energy are not higher than those for conventional energy. Instead people confuse costs with prices and need to be better aware that the market price of conventional energy does not tell the truth.

World hunger and food insecurity is a recurring problem in most parts of the developing world. Among the many potential biotechnologies that are available, and the different ways in which they can be applied, genetic modification (GM) of crops demands particular attention. Genetically modified crops possessing genes from different species, could possibly relieve global food shortages.

When it comes to the subject of energy in the Middle East, we instinctively think of oil -- the black gold that has been the source of stable and healthy economies in the region. Nevertheless, this is about to change. With the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Governments are realizing the imminent threat of climate change, and that there is no choice but to act fast.

During global warming, solutions to surging glaciers and their unpredictable behavior are still far from being found and demand organized national and international research.

Loss of habitat is the greatest threat to biological diversity, and 85 per cent of the species on the 2006 Norwegian red list are threatened by changes in habitat. Highly-specialized species appear to be the most vulnerable. The polar bear is one such species, and the extent and sustainability of sea ice is essential for its survival. The global population of polar bears consists of roughly 20,000-25,000 individuals spread between 19 sub-populations.

For centuries, rural communities in the high plateaus of the Andes have utilized water from melting glaciers that typify this amazing mountain range. But the retreat of these glaciers is forcing the communities to reconsider their livelihoods and ways to adapt. From a wider perspective, the melting of glaciers is an iconic warning to the larger cities in the Andes that rely on glaciers for potable water.

How does Africa intend to deal with climate change and how can it help shape a better future for itself in the face of the coming environmental catastrophe? As concerns grow, the continent will for the first time negotiate under one umbrella in Copenhagen.

The challenge of striking a deal in Copenhagen is not underestimated by the representatives of the world of work -- employers, workers and governments -- who come together at the International Labour Organization (ILO). They are aware of the profound changes in production and consumption patterns that a meaningful climate agreement will have. But their message to world leaders and to the negotiators is that they are ready for the challenges of the transformation of enterprises, jobs and employment patterns.

Almost three decades into the HIV/AIDS pandemic, there is still widespread stigma, denial and government inaction. There are reports of rising rates of infection in the Western industrialized nations and concerns about the possibility of explosive epidemics in the Asian block; yet sub-Saharan Africa, with less than 15 per cent of the world's population, remains at the epicentre of the epidemic, with over 70 per cent of the infections worldwide.

Never before in human history has the world had such a wealth of knowledge, skills and resources invested in keeping its communities well. Why, then, is global health heading into a "perfect storm"? A human rights-based approach -- framed in terms of the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and the right to the basic determinants of health such as clean water and food, shelter, education, health services and equality -- is the most promising. Through this lens, the circumstances of those most at risk can be holistically addressed.

The Impact of climate change on women and men is not the same. Women are increasingly more vulnerable, mainly because they represent the majority of the world's poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources.

The evidence for climate change is overwhelming. It has been reconfirmed by successive international studies and reports over the last two decades. Catastrophic climate change, which will threaten our entire ecosystem as we know it, is possible, though not yet probable. It is likely to happen if we do not change course and continue to ignore the evidence before our eyes: escalating temperatures will cause a big rise in sea level and the release of methane from the tundra will take us towards a tipping point where living creatures are unable to adapt to the changes fast enough.

Women are increasingly being seen as more vulnerable than men to the impacts of climate change, mainly because they represent the majority of the world's poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources. The difference between men and women can also be seen in their differential roles, responsibilities, decision making, access to land and natural resources, opportunities and needs, which are held by both sexes.

Inuit hunters in northern Greenland are treading carefully on increasingly thinning ice, while at the same time the key marine species they depend on -- seals, walrus, narwhals and polar bears -- are moving away from the areas in which they are traditionally hunted, as they in turn respond to changes in local ecosystems. In the high ranges of the Himalaya, Sherpa, Tamang, Kiranti, Dolpali and other indigenous groups are witnessing the melting of glaciers; the same is true in other mountain regions of the world such as the Peruvian Andes, where the indigenous Quechua report that they are worried when they look at the receding glaciers on their mountain peaks.

The threat posed by rising sea levels has been the centrepiece of climate change negotiations, the main issue emphasized by Small Island Developing States, also known as the SIDS. The poorer countries flanked by large bodies of water -- who have contributed the least to global warming, including rapid sea-level rise -- now find themselves at the precarious mercy of the historical polluters.

Despite the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest freshwater resources per capita, a third of the region's population is cut off from sustained access to drinking water. Up until a few years ago, freshwater problems had been generally characterized as a result of inequitable natural distribution, lack of adequate financing for water infrastructure, poor freshwater governance, or a combination of the three.

While some countries are historically responsible for climate change, should the global community take up responsibility for climate migrants, even if they do not cross international borders? Should there be immigration concessions for climate migrants when they need to or have to cross borders? These are important questions that arise at a time of 
global climate change.