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Greenpeace constructed an arc as a warning in Buenos AiresImage: AP

Planting the Seed to Stop Global Warming

Jennifer Macey (jdk)
December 17, 2004

As the UN climate change talks conclude in Buenos Aires, debate has been gathering pace on two main issues: what happens after Kyoto and how to help developing countries best cope with global warming.


Delegates to the conference have largely agreed on funding to help developing countries cope with an onset of natural disasters and extreme weather events brought about by climate change. But this agreement is being held hostage to disagreement over what happens next. The United States and Saudi Arabia are opposed to an EU proposal to hold seminars to talk about the second commitment period.

Now that the Kyoto Protocol has been ratified, countries are required to reduce their CO2 output by an average of 5 percent by 2012, and the question remains what sort of measures are needed past that period. But without the participation of the United States, there is hardly any chance to make great progress.

Umwelt Klimaschutz Emissionshandel
Factories around the world increase greenhouse gas emissions.Image: AP

"The first phase of the protocol ends in 2012; after that it is unthinkable to go ahead without the United States, China and India," Italian Environment Minister Altero Matteoli told reporters in Buenos Aires.

Matteoli also caused a stir by calling for the treaty's end in 2012 if those countries do not sign on. The statement moved away from the EU's stance of having a legally binding agreement on greenhouse gas control.

Standards for developing world

When 2012 rolls around, the emerging economies must be included. It's critical that those countries be pulled into the fold of the second round of Kyoto commitments, stressed Kilaparti Ramakrishna, a climate change expert from the Woods Hole Research Center in the US. "If we still leave the developing countries out of it, we are not going to be making any progress even if the industrialized countries increase their commitment by another five percent," he said.

But representatives from the developing countries point to the current circumstances today. "There's a discrepancy of about 300 to 400 percent between what a person in the US or Europe spends on carbon vis-à-vis what somebody in India or Pakistan does," Pakistani Environment Minister Malik Amin Aslam Khan said.

With growth come catastrophes

Flutkatastrophe in Assam und Bangladesch
Environmentalists say floods are increasing due to climate change caused by humansImage: AP

The treaty recognizes that poorer nations do not pollute as heavily as industrialized ones. But as they advance economically, emission outputs will rise.

Nevertheless, it's unlikely that China, India and Brazil will be given mandatory reduction targets. German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin said these countries will be forced to reduce their emissions through other sector specific measures like renewable energy targets and energy efficiency standards.

If they choose not to pursue cleaner energy sources, the welfare of the people may be hit in other ways, such as weather-related catastrophes. In floods and landslides in developing countries, thousands are killed annually and existences washed away.

"They should stop the pollution for which the weather is changing and their life is at stake," said Anil Kirshna, a minister from West Bengal in India, who argued that lives are on the line.

The Buenos Aries conference will not stop the pollution, but the seeds of change may be planted.

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