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Climate Change: Expectations for the New Protocol

Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 05:33 AM EDT

In the first part we pointed the issues concerning the new Copenhagen protocol -to replace Kyoto- once it will expire in 2012.

Regarding the new negotiating text in the Danish capital, however, the question is: Will be the results of the Copenhagen meeting next December as much impact as expected?

Everything depends on confirmation of the aspirations of the EU and what the ultimately commitments that the U.S. and the large emerging economies assume. Equally critical will be what happens with the planned protocol on Reducing Emissions by Deforestation and Forest Degradation. This protocol is intended to finance a number of countries to prevent logging and burning of tropical rain forests. Both for what it implies loss of biodiversity and natural resources, and the fact that the fires are so extensive that cause 20 percent of emissions of total greenhouse gases on the planet.

As mentioned above, US and China have make a move on the Copenhagen chessboard, as they are responsible for more than half of the problem. And that requires from both governments -even if they come with some delay- a conciliation of their interests with the general interests of the world -bearing in mind that without their contribution, nothing is possible.

Regarding to the environment in which the Copenhagen conference has to fit, Anthony Giddens [1] points in his recent book, The Politics of Climate Change, the new green development will require innovative approaches in policies. This will be easier if you come to understand that people change their spendthrift consumer habits more easily if a better future is offered to them -rather than exhibiting an alarmist, Dantesque panorama, as oftenly many old and young greeners, seem to take delight when they reveal their apocalyptic predictions.

In other words -according to the so-called Giddens paradox-, abstract and distant considerations about a large crisis -even if this one is dramatic- do not lead to bring on real changes in attitudes and behaviors. Unlike what happened with the optimistic slogan “Yes we can!” during the former Barak Obama’s campaign, that inspired the change to a better way of life, far more effective evocations of awful cataclysms.

Another specialist of that question, David MacKay, seems much concerned by the new protocol because of the excessive enthusiasm on alternative energies in view of the decarbonization of the economy. Taking the example of the United Kingdom, MacKay suggests that if one intends to supply alternative energies in excess, the entire country would be covered with wind turbines, although the wind does not blow everywhere! And finally one could not get more than 10 percent of the total energy demand. And if you seed the entire useful British farmland in order to obtain energy, not much would be achieved: the resulting bio fuels would not even cover 12 percent of energy needs. Preaching for nuclear energy from these premises is therefore, a step that some want to overcome cheerfully.

Faced to a so huge challenge, the key issue is to transform the current energy system in order to make it sustainable. With a significant increase in renewable energy, but at the same time improving efficiency in the generation and consumption, and without demonizing the nuclear -whose waste and stockings are obviously harmful- it is mandatory to establish a long term plan for its gradual but definitive revocation. The latter, contrary to what so often is done from official positions -as it happened in the greener times of Germany, Sweden, Spain and Italy.

In all these respects, the EU Commissioner for Environment Stavros Dimas, said in Bonn on 4 April, the Copenhagen summit will be the “last chance to fight climate change and while preventing to reach extremely hazardous levels, virtually irreversible.” And, in order to face up these difficulties with some time in advance, the Council of Environment Ministers of the EU adopted a directive in April 2009 stating a package of measures summarized in the 20-20-20 percent plan. That is, reaching 20 percent of energy consumption through renewable energies, improving by 20 per cent energy efficiency and cut another 20 in CO2 emissions.

The target of 20 on renewable energy could be achieved by setting binding targets (from 10 per cent for Malta to 49 per cent for Sweden) and with the fulfillment that at least 10 percent of transport fuel should be of bio fuel’s, hydrogen, green electricity, etc. In terms of efficiency and energy savings, the possibilities are immense, and that could be achieved with the current electricity supply to reach a GDP 30 percent lower than now. Just eradicating the abuses and misuses in public and private lighting, requiring better building insulation -in older as in recent buildings- and replace the most outdated equipment that run on electricity today. For that purpose, an ad hoc “trialogue” should be developed with the power generating companies and consumers.

Furthermore, in line of reducting the impact of fossil fuels, we must promote the use of technologies of capture and geological storage of carbon, in order to withdraw from the atmosphere most of the emissions from industry and the electricity generation. Additionally, the industrial CO2 emissions auctions are urged to become more expensive, with a gradual appreciation of them.

The EU directive above mentioned, should be enforced as national law in all EU countries, within the next 18 months following the adoption. And the final decisions will be set depending on what ultimately happens in Copenhagen, where it is expected that all countries assume heir obligations -avoiding the unscrupulous opportunism and other fallacious arguments used so far.

To put it briefly, it is necessary to recognize once again that we all live in one world and that the atmosphere has no boundaries.

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[1] Sir Anthony Giddens is the former director of the London School of Economics, and an eminent sociologist, famous for having stated the Third Way -a bit old fashioned concept now.