Next week is seen as crunch time in the fight against global warming. Representatives from some 130 nations will gather in Bali, Indonesia, beginning a two-year effort to agree on a new pact to cut greenhouse-gas emissions – one that goes well beyond the goals of the current Kyoto Protocol.
Though it's a complex task, there is some sense of optimism.
"There is an unprecedented awareness among the public and leaders now," Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the AFP news service. "My information is that some of the delegations who have been obstructionist in the past will be much more cooperative this time," said Mr. Pachauri, citing "developments in Australia" and rising interest in climate change in the US.
Still, no one expects this to be easy.
"The risks inherent in failing to act decisively are simply too great," write William J. Antholis and Todd Stern of the Center for American Progress in The Washington Quarterly. They continue:
"As many as 1–2 billion people will face increased water scarcity; thawing permafrost will destabilize building foundations and other structures; declining crop yields will lead to increased hunger in the dry tropics, including vast regions of Africa; and 20–30 percent of global plant and animal life will face extinction."
Poorer nations are especially vulnerable, the United Nations warned in its 2007 Human Development Report. The Associated Press summarized:
"Floods, droughts and other climate disasters will rob millions of children of the decent meals and schools they need unless rich nations provide $86 billion by 2015 to help the poor adapt to global warming.... Without the money, the panel found, a warmer world 'could stall and then reverse human development' in the countries where 2.6 billion people live on $2 a day or less.' "
"We could be on the verge of seeing human development reverse for the first time in 30 years," Kevin Watkins, lead author of the report, told Reuters. Asked whether the report might be too alarmist, Dr. Watkins, a senior research fellow at Britain's Oxford University, replied:
"The message for Bali is the world cannot afford to wait. It has less than a decade to change course.... I defy anybody to speak to the victims of droughts and floods, like we did, and challenge our conclusions on the long-term impact of climate disasters."
Meanwhile, a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) indicates that the levels of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, continue to increase.
"In 2006, globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached their highest levels ever recorded," the WMO told Reuters.
Much of the focus at Bali will be on the United States. The Bush administration rejects Kyoto's international mandates for greenhouse-gas reductions in favor of more voluntary, country-specific efforts. According to an analysis piece in the IPS-Inter Press Service:
"The US is considering proposals to build over 150 coal-fired power plants, with a planned investment of $145 billion over the next two decades. The current US strategy on mitigating the impact of climate change is based on reducing greenhouse gas 'intensity,' not the level of emissions, a unilateralist approach that many experts see as deeply flawed."
Over the weekend, President Bush lost a key ally when Australia's Prime Minister John Howard was defeated in his bid for reelection. The New York Times reported that the new prime minister, Labor Party candidate and former diplomat Kevin Rudd, stated "unequivocally" in his victory speech that:
"Australia would ratify the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. That will further isolate the United States, leaving it as the only industrialized country not to have done so."
• This weekly feature appears with links at csmonitor.com