CLIMATE CHANGE: PRUDENCE or VENTURE?
By: Ernesto Zedillo
Former President of Mexico
THE QUESTION OF WHETHER OR NOT GLOBAL WARMING IS TAKING PLACE HAS BEEN SETTLED BY SCIENCE: It is happening?
The discussion is now about how far the warming could go if present trends continue; the degree to which human activities, through the generation of greenhouse gases (GHG), have worsened and will continue to accelerate the warming; the possible consequences on human habitat; and, of course, the way to go about approaching climate change. Positions range from one extreme, which dismisses the seriousness of the phenomenon and says the problem deserves little, if any, attention in public policy; to another, which claims that unless drastic action is taken locally, nationally and internationally the world will beheading irremediably toward climate-caused catastrophic events of unprecedented proportion. From the latter perspective, no effort or economic cost should be spared to mitigate global warming.
Opinions on this issue are sharply divided within and among countries. The consen-sus that once seemed to exist vanished in 2001, when the U.S. withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, the protocol—thanks to Russian ratification a year ago—accumulated the necessary endorsements and became an international treaty in February. Kyoto commits a group of industrialized countries to comply with specific targets for GHG emissions during the 2008—12 period, achieving an average 5% reduction from their 1990 levels.
Even the most enthusiastic supporters of Kyoto, however, would admit that this is far from being a fully satisfactory response. After all, the treaty tries to address what is conceivably a long-term problem with only short-term emissions targets too modest to make a difference in solving the problem at hand. The biggest GHG emitter, the U.S., is not part of the emissions-reduction process, and neither are some large developing countries that, by virtue of their increasing consumption of fossil fuels resulting from their economic growth, already are or soon will be significant GHG emitters
Furthermore, the jury is still out on whether the countries committed by Kyoto to reduce GHG emissions are really on track to do so.
Without demeaning the value of what’s being done either through Kyoto or unilaterally by local governments, social organizations and individual business firms, it’s clear that much more must be done. Two steps need to be taken: The international community must pursue anew a consensus on the real dimensions of the problem; and, if warranted by the scientific evidence on climate change and by serious economic and social analysis, the required strategies to counteract global warming must be adopted—the sooner, the better.
Throughout the last year (2004) research teams across the globe have presented ever more comprehensive and reliable evidence on the causes of global warming and its expected impact on the planet, including those we’re experiencing today. They have found evidence of the effect of human activity in the global warming of the world’s oceans, documented the rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic sea ice and confirmed feedback phenomena, which could further accelerate the greenhouse effect. Although not caused by climate change, tragic events such as last December’s tsunami, this season’s hurricanes and last month’s earthquake in Pakistan have perhaps made the public more risk-averse toward natural disasters and more open to the hard choices a serious approach to climate change will entail.
The record-high price of oil in recent months is also a factor. The global economy has shown a remarkable resilience to huge increases in the price of fossil fuels, unlike during previous episodes, suggesting that past estimates of the cost of adapting to a less-carbon-dependent economy might have been exaggerated. Moreover, it should be expected that if higher oil prices are here to stay, then the shift toward other sources of energy and increased energy efficiency will be accelerated by market forces alone. Some global firms have provided remarkable examples of
energy-efficiency improvements that have reduced costs while impressively abating carbon emissions.
LOOKING BEYOND KYOTO
It’s clear, however, that if a more precautionary view toward climate-change risks, based on scientific evidence, finally becomes the consensus, spontaneous action on the part of individuals, businesses and local governments and communities driven by market incentives and social conscience will not suffice. It is intrinsic to the nature of the problem—it’s a global issue that calls for global action, yet each person, community and country is or will be tempted to free ride on the efforts of others—that more decisive coordinated government action, nationally and multilaterally, will be warranted. It’s also clear that the U.S. will have to be a key player in any significant undertaking . Its sheer contribution to accumulated GHG, its successful experience in controlling other atmospheric pollutants and its influence on other potential key players make its participation and leadership indispensable in any viable international enterprise to confront the challenges posed by climate change.
The U.S. government shouldn’t wait to be pushed by the forces of public opinion to engage more actively and constructively in addressing this problem. Rational prudence is the way to go.
November 14, 2005. (Pg. 41)
Read more about Science
Return to the words of wisdom, Pot Luck index..
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993