Climate change is real, it is here and it threatens all of us. That is the inconvenient truth (to borrow the title from the award-winning 2006 documentary featuring the environmental crusader Al Gore) confronting 125 world leaders, including President Benigno Aquino 3rd, attending the UN Climate Change summit in New York today.
There is a grim urgency to drawing a global blueprint for climate change. Unless the international community acts now, the damage from rising temperatures, warming oceans and melting icecaps will become irreversible.
“It’s not too late to prevent dangerous climate change and preserve the planet for future generations, but it may soon be,” the World Meteorological Organization warned ahead of the summit.
Yet it is appalling to note that there are still deniers, among them so-called climate experts, who ignore the warning signs. These skeptics cling to the line that the temperature swings are cyclical and not caused by humans, and insist that the warnings are overblown.
Today’s UN summit must once and for all erase doubts about the dangers climate change poses, and impress on the world leaders that the time to act is now.
The UN hopes the summit can produce a comprehensive emission-reduction plan that will provide the framework for an agreement that limits the rise in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius. That agreement, to be signed in December next year, will be the new benchmark for global warming initiatives.
Approving the accord is the easy part. Getting everyone to abide by it is the real challenge for the UN. The international agency knows all too well the Herculean task that lies ahead.
The UN had convinced 55 nations, the Philippines included, to sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a treaty whose target is to reduce emissions to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. By 2005, when the treaty officially took effect, most industrialized nations had signed up. The biggest holdout was the United States, who is also one of the world’s leading polluters.
Almost a decade on, the Kyoto Protocol is not even close to its target. By all indications, the planet is still warming. Many scientists predict the average global temperature rising by 1.4 degrees, to 5.8 degrees Celsius, by 2100.
Today’s summit provides the UN a chance to draw from the lessons of the Kyoto Protocol in fine-tuning its future strategy for global warming.
This early, the UN needs to address two key issues. One is sustainable funding for its climate change program. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is expected to ask the summit participants between $10 billion and $15 billion in pledges for the climate change initiative. Germany has promised $1 billion, but other countries are taking their time to respond. The US, particularly, appears not too keen on contributing to the climate change fund.
The second is involving more countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The success of the global effort hinges on localized action, bringing it down to the community level. Without a grassroots component, the treaty is doomed to fail.
Industrialized nations, notably the United States and China, are the worst polluters. But it is the poor countries that suffer most from rising seas, warmer temperatures, and more vicious storms that are the fallout of climate change. The UN summit must not lose track of this fact.
Last Sunday, environment activists marched in New York to press the UN summit participants to do more. One of the marches carried a placard that read: “There is no Planet B.”
The Earth is our only planet. We should take care of it.