Global warming is a grave threat [Archives:2006/1002/Health]

November 27 2006

Imran Khan
[email protected]

Kenya recently hosted the Nov. 6-17, 2006 United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC), wherein the main issue was global warming, its impacts on the world and how to battle it.

“Global warming” is a term used to describe climate change caused by human influences, which results in raising the earth's average temperature. Global warming not only is associated with warming the earth, but also is a climate change that could cause it to be hotter or colder than normal. Global warming is caused partly by greenhouse gas emissions produced by deforestation and burning fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, hydro fluorocarbons, per fluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

Today's atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are the highest in 650,000 years, as the earth's temperature has climbed 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) over the past century. Thus, global warming is leading toward serious destruction of the earth.

Finally realizing this, world leaders agreed to reduce greenhouse gas affects while meeting in Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, in 1997. Named the “Kyoto Protocol,” the deal pledged industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent by 2012, with each country having its own target according to pollution.

However, the treaty could come into force only if ratified by countries accounting for at least 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. It took seven years to fulfill the requirement as Russia finally ratified it in 2004.

The world's largest polluting nations for carbon dioxide emissions are: the United States – 24 percent, Europe – 14 percent, China – 13 percent, Russia – 6.2 percent, Japan – 5 percent and India – 3.2 percent.

The biggest problem is that the U.S. – by far the world's most polluting country – pulled out of the treaty in 2001 saying that implementing the Kyoto Protocol would damage its economy severely. Because China and India are developing countries, they aren't bound by any targets, which means three of the six largest polluting countries are out of the treaty. Australia is the only other industrialized nation that also hasn't ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

A few scientists still don't believe that humans have caused global warming, saying it's a natural phenomenon. However, in examining the hottest years in history, 10 have been recorded since 1983 and seven after 1990. A summer 2003 heat wave in Europe killed more than 25,000 people, while 2005 was the second warmest year on record behind 1998.

Malaria, which kills more than a million people annually, is spreading to higher altitudes due to higher temperatures. The Sahara Desert is expanding, thus turning farmland into deserts. There are regular droughts, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, reductions in the ozone layer and the list goes on.

Such events must serve as an eye-opener to all. Whether one believes in global warming or not, it's absolutely clear that something very bad is happening on the earth. Scientists say that if we don't reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years, the world will be damaged very badly, which hasn't happened in millions of years. While not affecting any single country, the whole world will face very dangerous consequences.

Thousands of environmental experts (including government officials and activist groups) gather annually for a conference on how to fight global warming. The 2005 meeting was in Montreal, Canada. Such meetings are useful and provide a good platform to discuss issues in more depth as delegates from 189 countries present new and better ideas.

The outcome of these meetings so far isn't what the United Nations had hoped, as Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed in an address: “While the Kyoto Protocol is a crucial step forward, that step is far too small. As we consider how to go further still, there remains a frightening lack of leadership.” He added, “Climate change also is a threat to peace and security.”

If global warming is such a big threat to the world and someone at such a top level in an organization – which represents the whole world – can say something like that, then it clearly shows lack of action. The reason could be that either nations don't take the global warming threat very seriously or they remain far from thinking that global protection is their first priority.

Another thing is that, unfortunately, countries like the U.S., which don't consider the Kyoto Protocol the best solution, in as many years still haven't produced any alternative or better solution. Therefore, it makes sense to follow the Kyoto Protocol because it's the best possible solution at hand.

The world still has time to heal the earth's wounds but swift action is required. While the economy of any nation is very important, the world's future is even more so. Some risks must be taken for the betterment of all humanity; it certainly requires thinking big and outside the boundaries.