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COP-15: Summit of Differences, Disagreement and Dissatisfaction

"When the temperature around the earth is rising, arctic ice and the glaciers are melting faster, sea level is rising at an alarming rate to submerge many island nations and whole of the earth is undergoing a terrible geographical change, how can the developed nations see the poor and developing countries as only vulnerable and count themselves as safe from the consequences of climate change?"

Basudev Mahapatra : December 25, 2009

‘I am afraid to go out to sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe in the air now because I don’t know what chemicals are in it’ said Severn Suzuki in 1992 at Rio expressing her concern over the issue of climate change across the globe. ‘Now we hear of animals and plants going extinct every day, vanishing forever. Now, in my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and main forests full of birds and butterflies. But now I wonder if they were even exist for my children to see’, said Severn Suzuki asking delegations from across the globe, ‘Did you have to worry of these things when you were of my age?’ This was the concern of Severn Suzuki when she was 12-13 years old.

There was a request and an appeal also when Severn said, ‘you don’t how to fix the holes in our ozone layer; you don’t know how to bring the salmon back upon a dead stream. You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can’t bring back the forests that once grew where there is now a desert. If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it’.

It’s already 17 years and the speech of the little girl is still a hit for climate change activists, environmentalists, scientists and leaders who work in the field of climate change. But the appeals made by Severn have still not received a sympathetic consideration of the global leadership except a few applaud. With this the appeal of billions of people, who have been suffering terribly due to climate change, went almost unheard or unconsidered even if heard by the leaders and participants.

Somehow, at the end, US President Obama helped broker a climate deal but without setting any global target for cutting greenhouse gases, and no deadline for reaching a formal international climate treaty. The deal considered to be the outcome of the much hyped summit falls far short of the expectations of many countries and thousands of communities living at risk due to change of climatic pattern and rise of sea level thereof.

It’s not only Seven Suzuki who represented the children and young generation across the globe, but the global leaders and delegation were well aware of the fact of climate change and the imminent dangers it pose to communities, nature and wildlife. Scientists have warned the leaders about the dangers and consequences if the carbon and GHG emission continues to grow at the current rate.

Few sensitive findings of Climate Change Research: What more could make the leaders move!

According to the report released on December 9, 2009 in the climate change summit at Copenhagen, most part of earth is becoming highly vulnerable to disasters as an effect of climate change. The Global Climate Risk Index featured in the report says, Bangladesh is the most vulnerable nation to extreme weather events which, many scientists say, are being exacerbated by climate change. As per statistics given in the report, from 1990 to 2008, Bangladesh has lost 8,241 lives on an average every year due to natural disasters. Rising sea level further threatens millions of Bangladeshis living along the coasts.

After Bangladesh—among the top ten vulnerable—come Myanmar, Honduras, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Haiti, India, Dominican Republic, Philippines and China. Even though, no developed or industrialized nations are in the top ten, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United States appear in the top twenty vulnerable countries.

However, the report is made on the basis of disaster casualties and property damaged due to climate change. As per experts like Dr. Saleemul Haq, chief of the climate change cell of the International Institute of Environment and Development, ‘Millions of people, who survived extreme weather events and who are suffering across the globe, were not taken into the account’, claiming that ‘African nations would certainly appear in the list of most vulnerable if survivors were included in the study’.

A study by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program recently brought before world policy makers reveal that the sea would rise by 0.5 to 1.5 meters by 2100, threatening coastal cities and flooding island nations. This is double the predicted rise estimated by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change (IPCC) in 2007, which did not incorporate sea level rise due to the melting of Greenland and Antarctica's ice sheets.

Again, the study found that discharge from Greenland had increased by 30 percent over the last decade jumping from 330 billion giga-tons in 1995 to 430 billion in 2005.

Maldives – the island nation – has already been highly vulnerable to the disastrous impacts of climate change and sea level rise. Made up of twenty-six atolls, it is estimated that a one meter rise in the world's sea levels could swamp the country, forcing the exodus of over 300,000 people.

‘Global warming and environmental issues are issues of major concern to the Maldivian people. We are just about three feet above sea level’, Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, Mr Nasheed's spokesman, told the BBC's World Today program almost a year back banging the alarm that, ‘any further sea level rise could have a devastating effect on the people of the Maldives and their very survival’.

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Situation in the Island nation is well understood as Maldivian government is planning to acquire land outside for alternate shelter. Disgusted with the differences between global leaders in mitigating climate change impact, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed told The Guardian that, ‘We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere. It's an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome’.

Even US is experiencing imminent danger from the trend of global climate change. A new study shows that sea levels along the United States' north-eastern coast will rise nearly twice as fast during this century than previous predictions. By 2100 the waters around New York City could rise as much as 18 inches, leaving Manhattan particularly vulnerable to flooding from hurricanes and winter storm surges.

Using 10 climate models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) researchers including Jianjun Yin from the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) at Florida State University calculated that there was a 90 percent chance that sea levels along the north-eastern coast of the United States would exceed global sea levels by the end of the century.

Apart from the above facts, global leaders are also aware that the green cover over the earth is vanishing rapidly; large scale industrialisation, concrete cover and deforestation have grouped together and pushed many parts of the earth towards desertification. And, the reasons are very clear – uncontrolled CO2 and GHG emissions across the globe! It’s not only the developing or under-developed nations, but the developed nations have a great share in carbon and GHG emission.

Developed Versus Developing Nations: Nature and the Earth divided

The statistics presented in the report entitled ‘America's Share of the Climate Crisis’ hold US responsible for emitting huge carbon and other GHG. As per the report, ‘in the past 150 years, the United States has emitted more greenhouse gas emissions than any other nation in the world, according to data by the World Resources Institute. In fact, US emissions account for 29 percent of the world’s total since the mid-1800s. The US emitted 328,264 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) in the past 150 years, which is over 3 times the amount emitted by China in the same century-and-a-half.

The US also leads in per capita emissions. In 2005 the US emitted 23.5 tons of greenhouse gases per person the country, this was four times greater than China’s (5.5 tons per person) and over 13 times greater than India’s (1.7 tons per person).

The US and the developed European nations together contribute to more than half of the carbon emissions across the globe. But, ironically, the deal that was signed under pressure from Obama at Copenhagen targeted the developing nations only to take steps for cutting emissions. Why only developing nations? Why not the developed nations as well? Is nature ruled by our definition of development? Is nature divided by the political and economic measurement of developed and developing?

When the temperature around the earth is rising, arctic ice and the glaciers are melting faster, sea level is rising at an alarming rate to submerge many island nations and whole of the earth is undergoing a terrible geographical change, how can the developed nations see the poor and developing countries as only vulnerable and count themselves as safe from the consequences of climate change?

Just before a few months of the Copenhagen summit, Nasheed further warned the leaders about the future of the earth that is now experiencing a destructive climate change pattern saying that ‘if the world can’t save places such as the Maldives today, we won’t be able to save places such as London, New York, and Hong Kong tomorrow. What we need to do together is nothing short of de-carbonizing the entire world economy’.

Almost a month before the summit was held, a group of nations especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change released a declaration calling for developed countries to keep CO2 emission below 350 parts per million (ppm) and to give 1.5 percent of their gross domestic product to aid developing nations in adapting to the myriad impacts of climate change.

The declaration, supported by the member nations who attended the summit including Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam, Kiribati, Barbados, Bhutan, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania, said that ‘Anthropogenic climate change poses an existential threat to our nations, our cultures and to our way of life, and thereby undermines the internationally-protected human rights of our people," the declaration states, which is supported by nations attending the summit, including the. These countries have already been severely impacted by rising seas, extensive droughts, and melting glaciers.

Ian Fry, climate-change representative for Tuvalu, which may be submerged by rising sea in a matter of decades, appealed in the summit itself that ‘the science tells us we must act now, and urgently’.

However, all the appeals remained just appeals only for the leaders of the developed nations who didn’t even bother for the people and the total ecosystem of many island nations that are struggling to escape the wrath of climate change. What came out of the great Copenhagen summit was a deal to bring the developing nations into the umbrella of strict climate change action without any specific time frame and a few pledges and promises of unspecified action by US, European Nations and other developed nations to prevent Earth’s temperature from rising.

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Deal of disagreement and Frustration

In fact, instead of chalking out a common action plan to save the earth, save billions of people, millions of species and the total ecology, the outcome deal bears disagreement of many nations, scientists and research organisations, leaders and groups that are working with the vulnerable communities.

Media communities across the globe, who were vigilant and expecting a legally binding treaty at the end of the summit, termed the result as frustrating, though not complete failure. ‘There was almost no deal in Copenhagen at all. The contentious talks appeared to break down at several points with rich and poor countries at odds over nearly every issue. A group of developing nations staged a temporary walk out and on the last day of the summit the talks seemed on the verge of collapse’, said Washington Post adding that, ‘in the deal, spelled out in a three-page document, each country needs only to list its current domestic pledges for emissions reductions and to promise to allow monitoring of their progress’.

The differences were on promises to cut carbon emission according to the nation’s actual share, meaning an equal percentage for each nation – be it developed, developing or underdeveloped. Because if we want to save the earth, its ecology and the species for the future generations, and if we truly wish to offer them with a world where they can grow ample food and live happily then we have to work collectively.

So, if the promises made by developing countries are to be monitored, the developed countries must also be given a target to fulfil and an international body must be there to monitor the progress of every nation. Nature never goes by the differences of opinions, the difference between the rich and poor. If one part of the globe suffers from the destructive impacts of climate change, the other part is certainly going to experience its rippling effects.

Reacting to the reluctance of rich nations for giving a clear cut promise of reducing GHG emission, Mohamed Nasheed made his stand very clear that, ‘if the Maldives a small relatively poor country can achieve a big reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions, there can be no excuse from richer nations who claim that going green is too complex, too expensive, or too much bothersome’.

We do not have another year to negotiate. Nature does not negotiate’, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon after seeing the differences between the rich and poor nations in coming to a concrete, conclusive deal to control the rise in temperature and save the earth by reducing emissions. He urged the member nations to act seriously and promptly saying that, ‘Time is running out. There is no time left for posturing or blaming. Every country must do its part to seal a deal in Copenhagen. No one will get everything they want in this negotiation. But if we work together and get a deal, everyone will get what they need’.

If we really want to see the world as a global village, we must act collectively by sharing our resources to save the earth and see everybody living happily and peacefully. This is what Severn Suzuki also wanted the world leaders to decide and agree upon at Rio in 1992. She tried to awake this feeling by explaining her experience with a few street children. “You will be shocked when we spent some time with some children living on the streets. This is what one child told us – ‘I wish I were rich, and if I were, I will give all these street children food, cokes, medicines, shelter and love and affection’. If a child on a street who has nothing is willing to share, why are we who have everything still so greedy?” – told Severn Suzuki in her speech before the world delegation.

But Severn would have been frustrated with the outcomes of the COP-15 and would have been filled with anger for her emotion being disrespected since long and, may be, a bit of pity for the leaders who might have lost their heart in the complexity of politics to feel and understand her plead for the coming generations. She will have to wait for one more year to get a response to her appeal. But by then, she would have lost many more species and the damages due to climate change would have been multiplied.




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