Climate Change An Introduction
Climate change impacts are already affecting people and the planet. And the science shows it will get far, far worse. The biggest impacts will be on the lives and livelihoods of the poor and developing countries, especially small island states. The biggest culprits are the rich and the developed countries.
Progress has been made: we have international agreements; more resources for scientific research, leading to stronger evidence; some policy advances; a change in industry rhetoric; and a certain increase in public awareness. But all this falls far short of what is needed. At the heart of the problem is the production and use of fossil fuel – particularly the emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Developed countries have now accepted legally-binding emissions targets in the Kyoto Protocol, but these are widely recognised to be seriously inadequate, and the US has opted out.
As Klaus Töpfer says, there are laws in place now that can address this. For example, it is illegal under international law for one State to cause harm to another State. It is illegal under domestic law in many countries for polluters to cause nuisances to the public and to market defective products, and damages must be paid. International and domestic laws prohibit human rights violations. Domestic laws impose duties on directors of bodies, such as insurance companies or pension funds, to act in the best interests of shareholders who may suffer financial harm as a result of climate impacts. If these, and other laws are enforced now, all over the world, they can help combat climate change and ensure that the necessary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are made. This is the aim of the international and collaborative Climate Justice Programme
US climate victims file suit
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“We’re nervous about climate change” “if we have no maples, we have no farm income and the value of our land will be devastated.” Vermont maple sugar farmers Arthur and Anne Berndt
A lawsuit has been filed against US government agencies that fund destructive projects abroad that contribute to climate change
In 2002, Friends of the Earth United States, Greenpeace and the cities of Boulder , Colorado and Oakland , California filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in San Francisco on behalf of their members and citizens who are victims of global warming. The suit was filed against two US government agencies � the Export Import Bank (Ex-Im) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Ex-Im and OPIC are taxpayer-funded agencies that provide financing and loans to US corporations for overseas projects that commercial banks deem too risky.
This legal action � the first of its kind � alleges that OPIC and Ex-Im illegally provided over US$32 billion in financing and insurance for oil fields, pipelines and coal-fired power plants over the past ten years without assessing their contribution to global warming and their impact on the US environment as required under key provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requires all federal agencies to conduct an environmental assessment of programs and project-specific decisions having a significant effect on the human environment; however, according to the complaint, OPIC and Ex-Im have refused to review the contribution of their programs and fossil fuel projects to global warming.
Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace members involved in the suit include a North Carolina couple who fear their retirement property will be lost to storm surges, erosion and the rising sea level; maple syrup producers in Vermont who believe their business will be ruined as maple trees disappear from the area; and a marine biologist whose life’s work is in jeopardy because the coral reefs he has spent a lifetime studying and enjoying are disappearing at an alarming rate due to bleaching from rising ocean temperatures.
Impacts of Climate Change – Part 1
BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany
The Pacific � Flight from Paradise
Leo Falcam, the former president of Micronesia, made the issue very clear when he said: “Climate change is the biggest security threat we face”. He was speaking in the year 2000 as a representative of around seven million people who live in the small island states in the Pacific Ocean. Falcam wondered how much longer human life could be sustained on Tonga, Fiji or Samoa.
The inhabitants of the Pacific Islands are not responsible for global warming � they account for only 0.06 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But they are the first victims because most of the islands are small, flat and extremely vulnerable.
Experts assume that sea levels will rise in the next few decades. The only question is whether they will rise by 30 centimetres, one metre or perhaps even several metres. Storm tides already flood the islands more frequently these days and whole stretches of coastline are being eaten up by the sea. Some small atolls in Fiji have already lost 30 metres. At the same time, the salt water is seeping into the ground, destroying fertile land and contaminating the groundwater. Climate change is also having an increasing effect on rainfall. In the past years the Marshall Islands, Fiji and Micronesia have experienced the most severe droughts to date. Elsewhere, heavy rainfall has destroyed the harvest.
Droughts Here, Floods There
These weather extremes are in turn accelerating the spread of illnesses like malaria as well as skin and lung infections. A rise in the sea temperature will eventually also threaten the coral reefs that surround the islands. A rise of one degree in the water temperature has already led to the destruction of some coral, destroying in turn many fish habitats. Consequently, the island inhabitants lose an important food source as well as a tourist attraction.
With floods, illness and a shortage of food, it is no wonder that island inhabitants can only see one solution: leave their homes and emigrate. The small island state of Tuvalu , which measures 400 metres at its widest, and whose highest point above sea level is just three metres, has already started the process of emigration. In the year 2000 the inhabitants, numbering more than 11,000, had already realised that their island would be uninhabitable in the long-term and they applied for asylum in Australia . But to no avail. Australia � the one large industrial country who, along with the USA , did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change � refused to grant asylum. The Australian government did not recognise environmental refugees in international law as proper refugees because they were not being persecuted by a State. In contrast, Australia ‘s neighbour, New Zealand , was willing to accept the Tuvaluese. In cooperation with the governments of Tuvalu and other island states, the New Zealand government developed an evacuation plan for the Pacific area. Under this plan, 75 people will emigrate annually from Tuvalu and Kiribati to New Zealand as well as 250 people each from Fiji and Tonga.
Things will happen at an even faster rate on the island of Carteret , which belongs to Papua New Guinea . In two year’s time, the inhabitants – who amount to just under 1,000 – will have resettled in nearby Bougainville . They have to abandon their six small islands and leave them to the sea. A new Atlantis � engulfed by environmental politics.
The Pacific Islands are the first victims. But scientists reckon that in the next few decades hundreds of millions of people worldwide will become environmental refugees, fleeing from coastal regions where periods of drought or floods have made their countries uninhabitable. When Leo Falkam spoke of a �security threat� to the Pacific island states, he was only anticipating what will soon become a reality for other states.
BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany
Malaria � the big winner
The dangers of malaria are well known from ancient times. When the Romans conquered northern Africa, they easily defeated the indigenous tribes, but had to flee to the cool of the mountains when the disease blighted them in summer.
Today malaria is the world’s 2nd biggest killer. Every year, 500 million people are infected and approximately 2.7 million die as a result, the majority of these in Africa. More than 90% of the victims are under five.
Climate change will worsen the situation. During the 20th century the average temperature in Africa rose by around 0.7 °C while annual rainfall declined in some regions. So far the experts agree, but, it is hard to make predictions about future climate change, not least because the network of research centres in Africa is underdeveloped.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the highest international authority for climate researchers, is expecting temperatures in Africa to rise by around 2-5 °C during the course of the 21st century. There will be extensive regional differences – whilst the Sahel region will probably become even hotter, there may be higher rainfall Central Africa. However, several researchers are predicting that the climate will also become very disordered in Africa.
For the anopheles mosquito, the transmitter of malaria, the conditions could not be better. Even just slightly higher temperatures and appropriate larvae hatcheries can result in explosive reproduction rates. What this can entail was shown in Rwanda and Mozambique, where a hot summer in 1987 and a few heavy showers caused a 300% increase in malaria cases in just one year.
This was also the first time that the mosquito was able to reach higher climes. Generally it can only survive in lower regions where the climate is tropical. Yet now the disease also occurs in mountainous areas, which were previously considered as malaria-free.
The situation has been particularly well researched in South Africa. Scientists estimate that climate change bolsters the spread of malaria so much, that at the Cape of Good Hope alone the mosquito’s habitat will double. The number of potential human victims would thereby rise from 2- 7 million.
Effective drugs against malaria have long been available, and in many parts of the world the disease has been beaten. However, particularly in rural African regions, medical provision is poor. Malaria claims so many victims here that it destroys social structures of entire villages. Families lose their providers, children become orphans, and villages lack teachers, workers, and even tribal leaders.
The UN is acting on the assumption that the consequences of malaria will reduce economic growth in Africa by 1.3 % every year. And most African countries are ill-prepared to face up to these realities . In order to combat malaria large amounts of money would be needed for drugs, hospitals and to destroy mosquito hatcheries. Unfortunately, financial means for this are rarelly available.
Climate Change in Central America
Losses and harms caused by climate change in Central America are becoming more evident every day. In El Salvador, rivers that before were permanent are now seasonal, and rivers that are normally dry from November to April are now completely dry. Forecasts suggest a possible increase in the intensity and duration of droughts. This impacts food production and the livelihoods of many Salvadorans.
Perhaps even more worrisome, recent research has linked climate change to the increased intensity of severe weather events like hurricanes. In October 2005, Hurricane Stan struck Mexico and Central America. The storm caused pervasive flooding, the overflow of rivers and gorges, and landslides that buried houses and people. The countries most affected in Central America were Guatemala and El Salvador, where the governments declared a national state of emergency.
The people most affected by the storm, as always, were the families who live in extreme poverty. In Guatemala, at least 1,500 people were killed and up to 3,000 were confirmed missing. Panabaj, an impoverished Mayan village near Lake Atitlan in the department of Solola, was wiped out by a mudslide that killed every member of the community. In El Salvador, 65 people died, 300 communities were affected, and more than 54,000 people more forced to leave their homes.
According to the Salvadoran Committee of National Emergencies, �the emergency exceeded the capacity of the aid organizations. There were floods everywhere, bridges on the verge of collapse, landslides, and dozens of roads blocked by mud.�
This storm is evidence of the social, economic, ecological, and political vulnerability of Central American nations to the impacts of climate change.
In Central America, people are beginning to understand that these catastrophes are occurring with increasing intensity because of climate change. These countries contribute very little to the problems compared to industrialized countries, but Central Americans and other people from poor nations will bear the brunt of the impacts.
Why Large Dams Are Not the Answer
One of the technologies proposed by the World Bank in the, �Clean Energy and Development: Towards an Investment Framework’ is large hydropower. Large dams have caused numerous problems in communities in Central America, and there is substantial public sentiment against the building of dams.
The areas where dams are built are often located in indigenous and farming communities, which are rich in natural and cultural resources. When the dams are built and areas are flooded, it destroys peoples’ security and livelihoods. Dams can also displace large numbers of people. According to the World Commission on Dams, 40 to 80 million people have been displaced during the construction of 45,000 dams.
Dams cause serious environmental and social impacts. And often, these large hydroelectric projects do not supply electricity to towns and communities. Instead, the electricity goes to multi-national corporations and industries for operations that do not benefit the people.
Many demonstrations and protests have occurred in Central America over the construction of large dams. Instead of building more dams, Central America must explore other possibilities and technologies for producing clean energy that will benefit communities
Climate Change in Africa
Climate change is already affecting many places and communities in Africa. The continent is experiencing more droughts in already dry areas and increased rainfall and flooding in areas that are usually wetter.
The impacts of climate change in Nigeria serve as an example of what will happen in many other parts Africa. From mangroves and rainforests on the Atlantic coast in the south to the savannah in the north bordering the Sahara, Nigeria has a variety of ecosystems. While excessive flooding during the past decade has impacted negatively on farming in coastal communities, desertification is ravaging the Sahel.
Traditionally, desertification in the Sahel has been blamed on overgrazing practices of the local population. But it has been discovered that the real problem is climate change. Rainfall in the Sahel has been declining steadily since the 1960s. The result has been the loss of farmlands and the conflicts between farmers and herdsmen over ever decreasing land. This loss of land is considered the root of the conflict in Dafur in Sudan.
Many different communities, including fishermen, farmers and herdsmen are now confronted with difficulties arising from climatic changes. Peoples’ livelihoods are being harmed, and already poor people are becoming even more impoverished. Climate refugees are being created, as climate change makes some land unliveable and impacts water supplies.
Oil and Gas in Nigeria
While Nigeria is not a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions when compared with industrialized countries, it is a major supplier of oil and gas to countries with high greenhouse gas emissions. The exploitation of gas and oil for export from the Niger Delta both contributes to global warming and it also destroys the environment and harms communities living near these projects.
Oil fields in the Niger Delta of Nigeria contain crude oil mixed with very large amounts of gas. Major oil companies operating in Nigeria separate the oil from its associated gas at flow stations, where the gas is simply burned off, serving no useful purpose and contaminating the air and lands for local communities.
For the communities, the effects of gas flaring has been dramatic: continuous noise, rise in temperature in communities close to flare sites, acid rain and retarded crop yield, corroded roofs, respiratory diseases. And the loss of darkness as with the unnatural illumination from gas flares at night. Gas flared in Nigeria, containing high amounts of methane and carbon dioxide-major greenhouse gasses, is also a major contributor to global warming, as it produces emissions that is more than the combined emissions of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
These oil and gas projects do not provide energy to the people who live in the region. They only pollute their air and lands from the gas flaring by Shell and other major transnational corporations.
False Solutions to Climate Change
Climate change should be addressed by reducing emissions and adopting better and appropriate energy technologies. But market mechanisms that are designed to reduce carbon emissions can encourage or subsidize corporate abuses. Under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) framework of the Kyoto Protocol, oil companies in Nigeria could be given carbon credits to stop gas flaring, rewarding companies for stopping an illegal process.
The Nigerian courts have declared gas flaring illegal and a gross violation of human rights, and oil companies and the government have already made commitments to end the criminal practice by 2008. Gas flaring reduction projects in Nigeria cannot and should not qualify for CDM credits as such projects fail on the additionality and sustainable development criteria.
The only reason why gas is flared in Nigeria is because the Nigerian government fails to abide by its own laws while the companies continue the practice to make excess profits. Oil companies in Nigeria can end gas flaring profitably without CDM credits. Gas flaring projects can only be suggested for CDM for the benefit of carbon market profiteers. This is a sad commentary for the CDM as a mechanism for global greenhouse gas reduction.
Climate Change in Nepal
Nepal’s vast changes in altitude over a comparatively small area make the country particularly susceptible to climate change. The lowest point in Nepal is 60 meters, while the highest is 8848 meters, and the climate varies dramatically from tropical to alpine.Nepal’s annual average temperature has risen by 0.06 degrees Celsius, and three snow-fed rivers have already shown signs of reduced flows. But the temperature in the Himalayas is increasing twice as fast, which is having serious impact on glaciers and glacial lakes.
The rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers is increasing the volume of water in glacial lakes. When these lakes become too full, they threaten to burst in torrential floods, called glacial lake outburst floods. These events cause extensive damage to roads, bridges, trekking trails, and villages, and people have also been killed by these events. At least 12 of these glacial lake outburst flows have been reported to date, and with continued regional warming, these events are likely become more common.
Twenty of Nepal’s 2,300 glacial lakes are identified as potentially dangerous for glacial lake outburst floods. But among these lakes, only one has mitigation measures in place.
In a few decades, when the glaciers have melted, water level in rivers will decline, meaning massive economic and environmental problems for people in Western China, Nepal, and Northern India.
Sagarmatha National Park
Sagarmatha National Park is dominated by Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. The park is an area of exceptional natural beauty with dramatic mountains, glaciers and deep valleys, and it has been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. But climate change seriously threatens the park’s glaciers and its ecosystems.
Currently in the Himalayas, 67 percent of glaciers are rapidly retreating. The Rika Samba in the Dhaulagiri region is retreating at a rate of 10 meters per year. This is very unusual as glacial movement is usually measured in millimeters.
This glacial melting will eventually leave Sagarmatha National Park snowless, and will destroy the habitats of the endangered species in the park, such as the Snow Leopard and the Lesser Panda.
Friends of the Earth-Nepal has filed a claim at the United Nations to request the inclusion of Sagarmatha National Park in the list of world heritage in danger as a result of climate change and to ask for protective measures and action.
Nepal’s share in the global emission of greenhouse gases is almost nothing, but the consequences of global warming and climate change threaten to wash away vast areas of the country, including the region that is home to Mount Everest.
The Need for Action
It is imperative that actions are taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions around the world so that there is some chance of limiting the most severe impacts of global warming, like the loss of sacred places like Mount Everest.
Action must be taken by the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, such as the Group of 8 (G8) countries. These countries represent just 13 per cent of the world’s population, but account for 45 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
It is also important to get developing countries like Nepal on clean, renewable energy paths. There are clean alternatives to fossil fuels for power generation and energy, such as wind power, solar power, small hydropower, and biofuels, which should be fully explored as options for developing countries.
There is also a need to prepare people for the impacts of climate change that are already occurring. In Nepal, climate change is going to seriously impact the country’s water resources. Action is needed to help people understand what climate change means and to protect the poorest people from its effects