Cubans Call for a Global Response to Climate Change

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From Granma (newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba), July 6, 2007

By a group of authors from the Cuban Ministry of Science and Technology (CITMA) and the Council of State

Before the beginning of the recent meeting of the Group of 8, President Bush announced his strategy to deal with the severe problem of climate change and convoked the main countries that produce the lion’s share of the emissions of greenhouse effect gases to discuss how to face the problem. This way of acting, brushing aside the multilateral approach within the framework of the United Nations, is typical of the way the US government acts.
Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General, declared afterwards… “I firmly believe that initiatives taken individually by nations should be integrated within the framework of the UN Convention on Climate Change. This is the only inter-government framework that exists at this moment.”

What has been that framework of international cooperation to deal with the climate change?

Despite the concern about the possible occurrence of a change in the world climate was already present before the 1970s, it wasn’t until the Second World Climate Conference took place in 1990 that it was recommend that negotiations begin to create an international treaty that would regulate the cooperation between nations and deal with a global problem caused by the increased emissions of the so called greenhouse gases, that are the product of human activities. As a response, the United Nations Assembly General established an inter-governmental negotiating committee to draft it.

The text of the document was already finished by May 1992, and it was given the name United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was opened for signatures of the Heads of State and Government during the Earth Summit that took place that same year in Rio de Janeiro. It finally came into effect on March 21 1994, after the required 50 ratifications by the same number of nations. Cuba was the 52nd nation to ratify the Convention.

A long journey began in search of replies to climate change, called the greatest global environmental challenge. Humanity had a framework of reference under which the governments would be cooperating to apply new policies and programs that would have a wide reaching effect on the way that human beings live and work.

Main Guidelines of the Convention

According to the Convention, the signatory nations aim to stabilize concentrations of gases that cause the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere at a level that blocks the dangerous human interferences upon the climate system. That should be achieved within a time span that that allows the ecosystems adapt naturally to the climate change

The Convention states that the main gases that cause the greenhouse effect are: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

The objective of acting before it is too late, in agreement with one of the principles that govern the Convention, the precautionary principle, came from the need to allow the ecosystems to adapt to the climate change, while at the same time maintaining food production and sustainable economic development.

Another of the guidelines on which the Convention is based, recognizes the common but differentiated responsibilities facing the problem. This meant that since climate change is a global challenge that concerns everyone on the planet, the industrialized nations, as the main emitters of greenhouse effect gases, should go ahead with the first steps to face this problem. Consistent with this principle, the commitments of the industrialized nations and underdeveloped countries are differentiated in the Convention.

It is timely to recall what was stated by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro during the Earth Summit in June 1992, when during a historic speech that lasted just seven minutes he stated:

“consumer societies are fundamentally responsible for the brutal destruction of the environment. They arose from the old colonial powers and from imperialist policies which in turn engendered the backwardness and poverty which today afflicts the vast majority of mankind. With only 20 percent of the world’s population, these societies consume two-thirds of the metals and three-fourths of the energy produced in the world. They have poisoned the seas and rivers, polluted the air, weakened and punctured the ozone layer, saturated the atmosphere with gases which are changing weather conditions with a catastrophic effect we are already beginning to experience.”

Fifteen years after this speech was delivered, the situation hasn’t changed. In 2004, the developed nations with 20 percent of the world’s population produce 57 percent of the gross domestic product and generated 46 percent of the global emissions of greenhouse effect gases.

In reality, the response strategies to climate change in the regulatory aspects have properly considered the criteria of equality, development and sustainability, and the link that exists between this phenomenon and other global environmental problems such as the depletion of the ozone layer, the loss of biodiversity, desertification and deforestation, to contribute to more integrated and sustainable solutions.

In the conceptual framework, these fundamental responses in the struggle facing climate change are mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation refers basically to the reduction of the emissions of the greenhouse effect gases and the absorption of those emissions by way of biological or geological capture. Adaptation implies actions to reduce the vulnerability facing the impacts of climate change. The greater and faster the reduction of emissions is, the less and slower would be the projected warming. If in the long range climate change is not mitigated, it is probable that it will exceed the capacity of adaptation of natural, managed and human systems.

Due to the differentiated nature of the commitments of the parties signing the Convention, only the industrialized nations have specific commitments, and the underdeveloped nations have general commitments that are common to all parties. In that light, it was established that the developed nations would adopt national policies limiting or reducing their emissions of greenhouse effect gases and protecting and improving the drains and deposits of these gases, without quantified commitments regarding the limiting and reduction of emissions.

During the First Conference of the Signatories, in 1995, it was recognized that those commitments to reduce emissions were insufficient to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse effect gases in the atmosphere, in order to fulfill the final objective of the Convention. Thus the Berlin Mandate was adopted, which began a process to negotiate a protocol that would establish quantified commitments of limitation and reduction of greenhouse effect gases produced by human activities in the industrialized nations belonging to the Convention starting the year 2000.

Kyoto was the venue in 1997, where the text of the Protocol that carries the Japanese city in its name was approved. The document established legally binding commitments for the industrialized nations. Its objective was the collective reduction of the levels of greenhouse effect gas emissions by 5.2 percent with respect to the levels existing in 1990, during a period of five years, between 2008 and 2012.

The Kyoto Protocol covers six greenhouse effect gases: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N20), Hidrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perflourocarbons (PFCs) and Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6).

The commitments to reduce the emissions with respect to the levels that those nations had in 1990 are differentiated. They span from eight percent for Switzerland and the majority of the nations of Central and Eastern Europe and the European Union in its totality (with different percentages among its members) passing to Canada, Hungary , Japan and Poland that should reduce emissions by six percent, and the United States of America by seven percent. Russia, the Ukraine and New Zealand would stabilize their emissions to the level they had in 1990. Norway could increase its emissions by one percent, Australia by eight percent and Iceland by ten percent.

The Kyoto Protocol took effect on February 16, 2005, after Russia signed it together with practically the rest of the industrialized nations. For the Protocol to be enforced, it was required that at least 55 nations ratify it, and it was also stipulated that a certain number of developed nations be among them whose total emissions added up to 55 percent of the emissions of CO2, taking the year 1990 as the reference point.

As is known, the United States, the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse effect gases, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and Australia has taken the same position, despite the fact that it could actually increase its emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol is Not Enough

It must be underscored that the impact of the Kyoto Protocol about global warming would be of little significance, even if all the industrialized nations complied with their commitments. The estimates indicate that it would only contribute to reduce the average global increase of temperature between 0.02 and 0.28 degrees Centigrade. Nevertheless, if the modest commitments to reduce emissions in the Convention would become effective, this would constitute a relevant event, because it would produce a deceleration in the tendency to increase atmospheric concentration, which has prevailed since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

A negotiation process has begun within the framework of the Convention to establish the commitments of the industrialized nations in a period after 2008-2012, known as the post-Kyoto era. Together with that process, the Montreal 2005 Conference approved to start up a wide reaching multilateral dialogue aimed at exploring and analyzing strategic objectives and long range cooperation actions, confronting the climate change within the areas of sustainable development, adaptation, technology and market based mechanisms.

Reality indicates that instead of being on track towards a solution, the problem is actually worsening.

Lets take a look at some of the statistical data provided by the fourth report of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts about Climate Change, better known by the acronym IPCC in English, issued last May:

Between 1974 and 2004 the global emission of the six greenhouse effect gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol increased by 70 percent, with its increase between 1990 and 2004 reaching 24 percent. Of those emissions, the ones with the highest increases where in the energy producing sector (145%) transportation (120%) and industry (65%). With the present policies of mitigation of climate change, and the associated practices of sustainable development, the global emissions of greenhouse effect gases will continue growing during the coming decades, with a projected increase between 25% and 90% in the emission of those gases between the years 2000 and 2030.

The figures indicate the urgency to act. The legal framework within the United Nations for multilateral negotiations exist, furthermore, it is in progress. There is no need to resort to dialogues on the sidelines, far from contributing to the solution of the problem; they generate a lack of confidence.

Any initiative should start by recognizing the responsibility of the highly industrialized nations for their historic emissions of greenhouse effect gases- an important component in the ecological debt of the North. The same goes for the different levels of development between the North and the South. To the contrary, the relationship of subordination of the South to the North will be augmented and the economic, environmental and social imbalance that today are already reaching alarming proportions will become even more critical.