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11 Dec, 2014

Climate Change: Oh, when will they ever learn?

By O P Rana

Beijing, (China Daily) 2014-12-06 – Oh, when will they ever learn?The annual ritual of UN climate change conference is on in the Peruvian capital of Lima in a year which is almost certainly going to be the hottest on record. Twenty-two years have passed since the first international climate conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the world has undergone drastic climate changes in these years.

Associated Press has conducted a study into databases to determine how severe the changes have been since that fateful year. An example: Carbon dioxide emissions are up 60 percent, average global temperature is up six-tenths of a degree, world population has increased by 1.7 billion, sea level has risen by 3 inches, US extreme weather is up 30 percent, and 4.9 trillion tons of ice sheets have melted in Greenland and Antarctica. The planet has got hotter, more polluted with heat-trapping gases and more vulnerable to natural disasters.

On paper, there is still hope, as the 195 countries attending the Lima conference have promised to reach a new climate deal in Paris next year. Though the enthusiasm for a climate deal today is nowhere near the level seen before the 2009 Copenhagen Summit thanks to the urgency generated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of 2007 before the Bali Climate Summit, the process seems to have got a boost because of the climate deal signed between China and the United States on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing in November.

While the developments over the 22 years since Rio 1992 have a different story to tell, the rising temperatures over land and the oceans seem to have spilled over to the climate conference in Lima, as participating countries and environmental experts appear to understand the urgency to finalize the negotiating texts leading to a comprehensive deal in Paris. The heat at the UN conference, as usual, is concentrated on the old division between the rich and poor countries, especially because the advanced world has not even attempted to honor its promise of donating $10 billion each year for 10 years up to 2020 to the UN Green Climate Fund to help poor countries to fight and adapt to climate change.

Days after millions of people took to the streets in cities across the world in September to demand concrete action against climate change, 125 world leaders attended a meeting called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and re-affirmed their commitments to deal with the global problem through a new global agreement. At the Berlin climate finance conference two months later, the GCF secured $9 billion in commitments from the advanced countries. But the amount is just a fraction of the $50 billion they should have donated by now.

And therein lies the problem. The fight against climate change has been lost in calculations, calculations of money, calculations of which country or organization can make how much from the climate crisis. Promises are made only to be broken. The world, especially the advanced world, vowed to not let the Kyoto Protocol expire without a representative successive treaty in 2012. Lest it be forgotten, the Kyoto Protocol was the only binding climate deal the world has seen. Going by past records, the $100 billion promised by the advanced countries to the GCF by 2020 is unlikely to become reality.

If the big players are only interested (or disinterested) in the deals because of the money saved or to be earned, here’s some news for them: more than 6,000 major climate and water disasters since 1992 have caused a loss of $1.6 trillion (even if they may not interested in the more than 600,000 lives lost). The figures come from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters in Belgium, an advanced economy, which has also revealed that from 1983 to 1992 the world averaged 147 climate and water disasters each year, and in the past 10 years that number has increased to an average of 306 a year.

As long as the world does not realize the fight against climate change is not (and should not be) only about money but about saving the planet, the only inhabitable planet we know, conferences like the one in Lima will not be the beginning of a concerted international effort to take the bull by the horns.

We will have to wait until Dec 12 to see whether the truth has sunk in.

The author is a senior editor with China Daily. oprana@hotmail.com