By Nilofer Qazi
I don’t really understand what the climate change debate is all about. I thought, let me speak to a friend who does and explain it to me simply. There is a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which 194 countries have signed. Pakistan is one of them. There have been several summits where scientists and politicians have come together and discussed what climate change is about, what is causing it (human activities) and what countries can do to mitigate it. The UNFCCC was opened for signature at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and came into force in 1994.
After several years of negotiations it was decided that a treaty would be signed in Copenhagen in 2009; however that did not happen and the world gave itself a new deadline (2015) to come up with some kind of a consensus on what they would agree on to make the world safer by curbing green house emissions (which causes global warming). There had been no consensus in Copenhagen, but what everyone did agree on was that the world will not exceed an increase of 2 degrees Celsius in temperature (since the industrial revolution occurred). The world has already warmed around 1 degree so clearly the clock is ticking as scientists say that if we exceed the 2 degrees limit, we are headed towards “catastrophe”.
Climate change is today a reality; as Arnold Schwarzenegar recently put it, “it is NOT science fiction”. The tricky part is to agree on how to reduce temperature globally. The deadline to reach a consensus has now arrived and this year in November in Paris 2015 all the worlds’ leaders will meet to come up with a legally binding treaty to limit global warming. In recent years, the world has seen population exponentially increase, witnessed massive natural disasters, and at the same time added massive industrial and agricultural pollutants into our atmosphere. Extreme weather events such as violent storms, flooding, droughts and wildfires have all happened with only 1 degree of temperature increase; imagine what would happen at 2 degrees!
What will be the world’s commitments in Paris? And what will be Pakistan’s commitments? Thus far India has already stated it will not accept any cap on coal use. China has accepted coal caps. We will only find out about Pakistan’s commitments in August/September, a few months before the scheduled November Paris meeting.
Some basics about what contributes to the increase in global temperatures which in turn starts the cycle of death on Earth.
There are 4/5 ‘tipping points’ events, which scientists warn that if they occur on a large scale, their damage will be irreversible:
1) Methane emissions from Antarctica melting
2) Greenland ice sheet melting to disappearance levels
3) The gulf stream affected by warming (this keeps UK, Europe temperature moderate)
4) Amazon Forest dying out
5) Disruption to the Indian and west African monsoon
6) Loss of Perma Frost: in Siberia & Tundra (north Canada) a layer of ice that keeps the methane in the soil frozen.
When the Artic ice melts methane gas is emitted, methane is a green house gas, which also contributes to global warming along with carbon dioxide emissions. Ice deflects heat, but when the ice caps melt and expose the darker sea below, the warming is absorbed by the oceans, which then results in even more warming and ice melting.
What contributes to temperature rising
1. All industrialization activity results in some form of greenhouse gas emissions, which have led to an increase in temperatures as the emissions are trapped by the atmosphere and heat up the planet. Coal power plants particularly are the most polluting, cement factories are another and car emissions also add to polluting emissions.
2. Deforestation also contributes towards green house gas emissions; trees are ‘carbon sinks’ they store carbon dioxide and when you cut trees down and burn or process the wood, green house gas emissions increase in our atmosphere.
3. Agricultural process also contributes, to a lesser extent, towards global warming. Livestock and rice paddies produce methane gas.
What is Pakistan doing to reduce global warming and the resultant negative impact on our population and quality of life? We will shortly know when the Government of Pakistan releases their list of commitments for the Paris meeting in November. One hopes that the Government of Pakistan has adequate expertise on this critical matter.
A list of countries, which contribute towards global warming: