The durban conference: Understanding Global Warming, kyoto and it’s impact on Bangladesh

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THE DURBAN CONFERENCE: Understanding Global Warming, KYOTO and it’s impact on Bangladesh

RUMANA LIZA ANAM explores the issue of climate change in the backdrop of the Durban Conference.

Climate change has been all over the news recently. Either people have been pointing out the signs that indicate global warming is indeed happening or there have been questions raised about the validity of the findings of global warming. A conference is currently taking place in the city of Durban in South Africa. This article serves to give a background into the often unclear issues up for discussion in Durban.

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. It ranked fifth most vulnerable country to climate change and hunger in an ActionAid research report published on October 10, 2011 (according to Daily Star report, published on October 28, 2011). Dhaka, one of the most rapidly growing megacities in Asia and Africa faces the highest risks from rising sea levels, floods and other climate change impacts in the upcoming years. The study, by risk analysis and mapping firm Maplecroft, says “Dhaka is the megacity most at risk with an extreme ranking.” Other megacities at extreme or high risk include Manila, Kolkata, Delhi and Jakarta.

Accelerating sea-level rise due to global warming is likely to submerge the Sundarbans. This would eliminate the protection they provide against the region’s increasingly intense tropical storms. Climate hot map (, set up by a group of scientists based in the US who call themselves Union of Concerned Scientists, is dedicated to educating people about the consequences of global warming. They maintain “By absorbing some of the force of wind and waves and serving as a flood barrier, mangroves can lessen the damage caused by cyclones and other storms. The following list of current and future dangers is compiled by Climatehotmap scientists:

* “In early 2010, a disputed Sundarbans island disappeared under the rising waters of the Bay of Bengal. Scientists project that under a high emissions scenario, relative sea-level rise is likely to inundate most of the Sundarbans by mid-century, and could wipe them out by the end of the century.

* Without the mangroves of the Sundarbans to serve as a buffer, more frequent and intense storms are likely to pose a growing danger to the residents of Ganges basin.

* Unless deep and swift cuts are made in heat-trapping emissions, most of the Sundarbans may disappear underwater, and those that remain could be threatened by saltwater incursion.

* If high heat-trapping emissions continue along a high trajectory, global sea level is projected to increase as much as 23 inches (59 centimeters) over recent average levels by the end of this century. If, on the other hand, significant efforts are made to reduce emissions, sea level rise between now and the end of the century could be limited to around 15 inches.

* Bangladesh, the world’s seventh-most-populous country is highly vulnerable to the effects of sea-level rise — including increased salinity of ground and surface waters. The Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta in Bangladesh and India is home to more than 100 million people. Accelerated sea-level rise caused by global warming is putting added stress on land, water, and food in this already at-risk region.

* Local sea-level rise of as much as 1 inch per year has been recorded in parts of the delta.

* By 2050, scientists estimate that sea-level rise in the delta could directly affect more than 3 million people. Bangladesh could lose nearly one-quarter of the land area it had in 1989 by the end of this century, in a worst-case scenario.”

Thus, Bangladesh is definitely under a lot of physical threat from global warming.

And what about the global scenario? According to scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA — one of the three main institutions in the world keeping records of mean global temperatures), 2010 ranks in a statistical tie with 2005 as the warmest year on record for the globe. Dan Shapley, writing for The Daily Green, a blog dedicated to environmental issues, compiled a list of signs of global warming which include heavy rainfall, heat-waves, wildfires, hurricane, tornadoes and less ice cover and these are mentioned below.

Every year since the mid-70s has ranked above the 20th century average temperature, and all of the Top 10 warmest years on record, since 1888, have been measured since 1998.

There was more rainfall in 2010 than any other year recorded. Though precipitation was variable from region to region, there was overall more of it. Scientists have predicted that there would be both more rain and less due to climate change — that is, more rain in shorter bursts in some regions of the world, while other regions are chronically starved.

In Russia, a record heat wave led to catastrophic wildfires. Interestingly, the stagnant position of the jet stream set the stage for both the Pakistan flooding and the Russian wildfires. In the US, 12 states and several cities, mainly in the Southeast into New England, experienced a record-hot summer temperatures in 2010.

The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season was especially active, with 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes. Fortunately, though these tallies approached record levels, relatively few hit land to cause loss of life and property. The Pacific hurricane season, meanwhile, had just seven named storms, three of them hurricanes the fewest on record since the 1960s. How global warming influences hurricane frequency or intensity is still actively debated by reputable scientists. In the U.S. alone, there were 1,300 tornadoes ranking it among the top 10 years for tornado activity since 1950.

While the annual freeze in the Arctic lasted a record-long time, extending to the latest-ever-recorded date (March 31, 2010), the summer melt managed to reverse any notion that the Arctic is regaining its ice cover. The Arctic was left with the third-lowest ice extent ever recorded. While the Arctic seems clearly influenced by global warming, the influences on Antarctica are more nuanced, in part because of the effect of the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer, which sits over Antarctica.

By 2085 climate change will put an estimated 3.5 billion people at risk of dengue fever, the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in March, 2007. Eliza Barclay, writing for the National Geographic News wrote: “Climate change is accelerating the spread of dengue fever throughout the Americas and in tropical regions worldwide, researchers say. More rainfall in certain areas and warmer temperatures overall are providing optimal conditions for mosquitoes — which spread the virus that causes dengue — to breed and expand into new territories.”

Among the nay-sayers who have been questioning whether global warming is really happening is Rick Perry, the US Republican governor of Texas and possible future president. Those in this group claim that global warming is a hoax by grant hungry scientists. In 2009, revelation of emails from scientists at CRU (Britain’s Met office and University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit are collaborating in one of the three main compilations of mean global temperatures) suggested they had sometimes taken steps to disguise their adjustments of inconvenient palaeodata. This came to be colloquially known as “Climate-Gate”.

However, an article published in the Economist, “The Heat is On” in the October 22, 2011 issue, points out a project undertaken by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature group (whose members include Saul Perlmutter, winner of Nobel prize for Physics, 2011), who took into account the issues raised by “Climate Gate”, and whose paper was released on October 20, 2011. The project offers strong support to existing temperature compilations. The group estimates that over the past 50 years the land surface warmed by 0.911 Degrees Celsius, a mere 2% less than NOAA’s earlier estimate. The group arrived at its conclusion using novel methodology designed at least in part, to address concerns of legitimate sceptics. The Economist article concludes “At a time of exaggerated doubts about the instrumental temperature record, this should help promulgate its main conclusion: that the existing mean estimates are in the right ballpark. That means the world is warming fast.”

Moving on to the future, the 17th COP to the Kyoto Protocol taking place in the city of Durban in South Africa. Between November 29 and December 9, 2011, South Africa will be hosting the 17th session of the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the seventh Conference of Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997 as a follow up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (henceforth referred to as the UNFCCC). The UNFCCC was set up in 1992. The Kyoto Protocol set the specific targets and mechanisms of the UNFCCC originally signed five years earlier. Since the UNFCCC entered into force in 1995, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC have been meeting annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change. The COPs are thus, globally the most high profile events on climate change. The COP adopts decisions and resolutions, published in reports of the COP.

Some background and analyses of the Kyoto Protocol would be pertinent. At the Kyoto Protocol, initially, targets were only set for richer more developed countries (referred to as Annex 1 countries). The rest of the countries did not have targets set for them and were called Non-Annex 1 countries. Bangladesh falls into the category of Non Annex 1 countries.

The main agreements of the Kyoto Protocol were:
1. Net reduction of 5.2% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 1990 levels by 2012

2. Allowing different countries to have different targets.

3. Countries were free to adopt any method that reduced emissions within their own territories and additional mechanisms were set up that allowed countries to achieve targets based on activities involving other countries (flexible mechanisms). There were 3 main flexible mechanisms: Emissions Trading, Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Emissions Trading is where Annex 1 countries buy and sell emissions permits among themselves — an incentive to all to reduce targets and a mechanism for rewarding those that achieved theirs.

Joint Implementation is where Annex 1 countries invest in physical climate friendly projects in other members of Annex 1 countries. The aim is to encourage investment in places where it would be cheaper to reduce emissions (e.g., if USA were to invest in a East European country).

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) (Annex 1 countries invest in climate friendly activities in non Annex 1 countries/developing countries (same aim as above plus allow developing countries to have technology transfer investment they desire to allow sustainable development).

The criticisms levelled at the Kyoto Protocol were many. The following refer to criticisms of Kyoto based on writings of Axelrod et al “The Global Environment” , 2005 and T. Forsyth in “Global Environmental Problems and Politics”, 2009.

* The overall target for reducing emissions was too little — only 5.2% by 2012 and did not include some large emitting countries.

* Part of efforts to reduce emissions under the Kyoto Protocol involve controversial forest sinks which are said to sequester carbon (by storing carbon in their bio-mass) such as wood and leaves. When trees die this carbon is released. If industrial emissions continue to rise then reforestation is only a short term solution. Some countries think that sink-based approaches to climate change mitigation are simply ways for richer countries to avoid having to reduce emissions at source.

* Under the Kyoto regime, very lax targets were given to Russia and the Ukraine of 0% over 1990 levels. However both countries were estimated to be already below 30% of 1990 emission levels at the time of Kyoto because of deindustrialisation. These countries thus were able to over-achieve their targets and sell large numbers of units to other countries. This meant that the overall reductions planned under the scheme wouldn’t be achieved — the targets for these countries were actually above current levels of emissions. This is called the “hot air” problem. Some analysts have excused this as the only way to get Russia and the Ukraine to agree to join the Protocol.

* Developing countries were disappointed that the UNFCCC did not create an independent financial mechanism and that industrialised countries as the main donors to the Global Environment Facility (GEF — the financial mechanism of the convention) would use their leverage to control resources.

* The CDM set no hard targets or flexible mechanisms for technology transfer or adaptation.

* Even though the US insisted on making Kyoto targets more lax (e.g., differentiation in targets and higher levels of offsets allowed in land based sinks), eventually, USA pulled out of Kyoto. Later, ironically USA joined other international partnerships such as Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development, which some argued would weaken the Kyoto Protocol. However, this alliance was praised for focusing on technology transfer to countries that used large quantities of coal and also for including the larger developing and emitting countries (such as China and India).

* Later in the Marrakesh Accords in 2001, some Kyoto problems were taken into account and some amendments were tried. For example, the controversial forest sinks/land use activities were capped at 1% of each country’s 1990 emissions multiplied by 5. 90% of total targets also had to be kept within own countries. Also a fund was created for long-term adaptation projects in poor countries by taxing CDM projects. This fund was criticised for dis-incentivising investment in projects with high development dividend because they are taxed. The board of CDM has also been criticised for being too bureaucratic.

* Critics of Kyoto pointed to a large industry of advisers and consultants which would gain from emissions trading schemes (which arguably were not effective enough), while more important areas like enforcing technological change, reducing emissions at source, or reducing vulnerability to climate change in poor countries were not addressed sufficiently. In particular, there is a need to consider how to address the pollution occurring from coal, especially in East Asia where it is plentiful and cheap. Another area needing attention is what to do about nuclear power — a source of low emission energy but with other hazards involved.

Despite these criticisms, the Kyoto Protocol was a success according to some because it was proof that a global agreement could be reached despite odds, which would be a starting point and gradually targets for members would increase.

According to Axelrod et al in their book “The Global Environment”, 2005, though the direct positive effects of the Kyoto Protocol were limited, “the indirect effects have prompted a shift in the governance of climate change beyond nation-states, opening up greater possibilities for meaningful action in the future to address the problem.

Some evidence of the possible side effects of Kyoto as pointed out by Axelrod et al are the fact that over the past decade, all industrialised countries have institutionalised responsibility for addressing climate change within their countries and adopted policies for controlling emissions. This is true even for some oil producing countries and the USA. Even some developing countries are taking steps to control emissions even though they are not required to by Kyoto. Some members of the GCC (Global Climate Coalition, a lobby group opposed to US joining Kyoto Protocol) which opposed international regulation of GHG emissions have now started working towards finding economically viable ways of controlling GHG emissions (e.g., Dupont).

Ironically, some of the failures of Kyoto have led to success elsewhere. E.g., the previously mentioned Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and also within USA’s own borders. Also a voluntary carbon market has developed which allows investors to undertake projects not accredited by the Kyoto Protocol. Community based adaptation has been gaining ground which allows greater participation by poorer people at the local level in making forms of adaptation that assist in local development and also other non-state actors like NGOs.

The above was a general analysis of Kyoto Protocol. It has already been established that Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to global warming. But what about where it stands on Kyoto?

Bangladesh is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and does not have any targets. However, it has acceded to the treaty (meaning that it has joined the treaty as a party but didn’t take part in its negotiations). Given the repercussions of global warming on its populace and land, it is definitely in Bangladesh’s interest for Kyoto to work as only then can climate change impact be minimised. Thus in last year’s COP held in Cancun, Mexico, in December 2010, Dr. Hasan Mahmud, then State Minister for Environment and Forests, and the leader of the Bangladeshi delegation, once again stated Bangladesh’s position for continuation of the Kyoto Protocol for the second commitment period. According to an article in News Today, published on December 9, 2010, he said “a comprehensive adaptation framework as well as adaptation committee and decision for delivering first start finance as decided in Copenhagen must be finalised, along with provisions for quick and internationally agreed mechanism for loss and damage assessment and subsequent financial flow in agreed form.”

Bangladesh is slowly realising the importance of climate change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s three-day tour of Bangladesh during which he attended a climate change conference was evidence of that. On November 14, the UN secretary-general attended as special guest the inauguration of the two-day Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Ministerial Meeting at Sonargaon Hotel.Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the function as chief guest. The CVF is a group representing the most vulnerable countries to climate change in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. An editorial of the Daily Star published on 17 November, 2011, sums it up “The UN secretary General’s joining the CVF meeting in Dhaka brought the event under global spotlight. And Bangladesh’s taking over as the chair of the climate forum has also provided us with the opportunity of not only leading it, but also projecting our situation as the most climate vulnerable nation before the international community into a sharper focus.”

For the sake of Bangladesh and stability in climate for the future that affects the whole world, what happens at Durban is extremely key. It remains to be seen whether the original aims of the Kyoto Protocol can be saved in this city. It can only be hoped that Bangladesh and other similarly vulnerable countries have the right strategies to tackle the severity of expected future problems related to climate change.

· The Global Environment: Axelrod, Downie and Vig, 2005
· Global Environmental Problems and Politics: T.Forsyth, LSE, 2009
· Economist, “The Heat is On” in the October 22, 2011
Newspapers and Websites :
· The Daily Star:
· News Today:
· Meena Raman for The Third world Network at:
· Climate hot map:
· Action
· Maplecroft :
· COP 17:
· Dan Shapley for The Daily Green:
· Eliza Barclay for National Geographic News:

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