Discuss the effectiveness of national and international efforts to tackle the problem of global climate change. Since the late nineteenth century, the view that global climate change is directly influenced by human behaviour has become increasingly accepted as scientists have provided better evidence for the relationship between the level of global carbon dioxide concentrations and global temperatures. A large number of natural phenomenon and processes are affected by climate change, and these in turn can have a negative impact on groups of people living around the world; i.e. The melting of the ice-caps is responsible for the decrease in the number of polar bears in the arctic, rising sea levels increase the risk and regularity of floods in low-lying areas like Bangladesh, and the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone failing to reach Niger, Chad and Sudan was responsible for a large prolonged famine in the 1980s. The magnitude of the number of countries affected mean that climate change is not just applicable to one nation; it is of international importance.
Therefore, as climate change has increasingly become a global issue in recent years, a number of international organisations have been formed to monitor global climate change and to reduce and possibly reverse global climate change. International efforts incorporate a greater number of people than national efforts, and therefore they can have a much larger impact on trying to tackle climate change. However, tackling climate change is expensive, and for certain less economically developed countries- (LEDC’s), it would be unreasonable to insist that they should prioritise tackling climate change over some of their national problems, such as lowering the infant mortality rate and establishing a good healthcare system. Furthermore, international efforts to tackle climate change also face problems from the disparity of natural resources, which means that different solutions have to be used in different countries. Britain has a large amount of coastline, and can therefore generate sustainable energy by using tidal barriers; a solution not available to land-locked countries such as Switzerland.
The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is a network of 59 cities ranging from Los Angeles in the U.S.A to Addis Ababa- the capital city of Ethiopia. Despite the aforementioned problems facing international efforts to tackle climate change, cities are ideally placed to influence climate change, as they consume over 2/3rds of the world’s energy and are responsible for around 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The C40 Group was formed in 2005 to give support to mayors hoping to cut greenhouse gas emissions in their own individual cities. The group is extremely effective, as increased discussions and communications between the leaders of a network of cities mean that the best and most effective ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions can be copied from city to city.
The group aims to ‘use collaboration, knowledge sharing and metrics to drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action’. So far the group have put in place a range of policies such as using more-efficient lighting and building codes, and capturing methane from landfill sites; these should cut 248 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. In addition, as these cities grow and develop, so too does their capacity to tackle climate change, with the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg claiming that they have the capacity to cut their carbon output by one gigaton (a billion tons) by 2030 in relation to the current predicted levels of carbon output for 2030. The achievements of the C40 group are in stark contrast to the results of international negotiations between countries, the majority of which have failed to reach binding targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and thus tackling global warming.
In addition to the C40 group, a number of other international organisations work with cities to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. EMBARQ (The World Resources Institutes Centre for Sustainable Transport) has worked with Rio de Janeiro (a C40 cities member) to develop a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor. This public transport system will not only reduce pollution, but is also expected to help hundreds of thousands of Rio’s residents, providing them with safer transport and shorter commutes. The first corridor became operational on June the 6th, 2012, servicing around 220,000 people. The buses themselves are energy efficient, and therefore reduce the amount of energy used for public transport, and their emissions are also regulated to ensure that harmful gas emissions are minimized. In addition, the time taken to complete a journey has been cut dramatically through the introduction of bus lanes; this means that traffic congestion in the city has been eased, and the improved buses with their shorter journey times will encourage more of the city’s residents to use public transport, thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the road and further cutting greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.
The city has plans for another 3 corridors, to further improve the public transport system, cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy consumption, thus continuing to tackle climate change. The BRT scheme in Rio de Janeiro was a local idea, completely funded by the city council, but it had international advice in how to set up and manage the system. One of the reasons why the scheme was put into place so quickly and effectively was because the international organisation it dealt with was an non-governmental organisation (N.G.O- EMBARQ) which specializes in sustainable transport, and much like the C40 cities group, EMBARQ was able to take ideas which had previously been applied in other countries and reproduce them in Rio de Janeiro. As an international co-operation between two organisations which were reasonably small, (as opposed to two countries), the target set was much more specific- reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption through improving the public transport. However, when a number of countries meet, such as at the RIO+20 conference (the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development), outcomes from discussions are vague, and whilst some ideas may start to be formed, very few actual schemes emerge from such discussions.
For example, the primary outcome from the Rio+20 was the document ‘the future we want’, in which the heads of governments attending the conference simply renewed their political commitment to sustainable development. The document re-affirms their commitment to Agenda 21 and other action plans for sustainable development, which were agreed 20 years ago in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. This lack of action and inefficiency compares poorly against the effectiveness of collaboration between EMBARQ and Rio de Janeiro’s city council. The one major exception to this trend is the Kyoto Protocol dating from 2005, when 191 member countries collectively agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% on average for the period 2008-12. Despite what may seem an initially very promising agreement, the Kyoto Protocol does fall short on some aspects; it encourages use of bio-fuels and allows member countries to use land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF activities) in meeting their targets.
Whilst bio-fuels do cut greenhouse gas emissions, huge areas of forestry (particularly in Indonesia) are being de-forested in order to make space for the production of crops to be used for bio-fuels. This practice is ultimately unsustainable, but has been encouraged by the Kyoto Protocol. Although the majority of international summits and discussions fail to result in collaboration amongst countries with regards to tackling climate change, a large number of national schemes have been formed due to Agenda 21 and other such documents. An example of this is the ‘carbon action plan’ introduced by the U.K government in December 2011. It has broken down the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions into a number of criteria, as detailed by Agenda 21, such as ‘reducing emissions from business and industry’ and ‘saving energy in homes and communities’.
From these the UK government has established steps which will help it achieve the criteria set, and achieving these in turn will then cut greenhouse gas emissions. By breaking down the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions sustainably into achievable stages, the UK government can focus on specific targets which, once achieved, will result in them achieving their end objective. In addition, rather than dramatically changing current systems, or spending lots of money on one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Carbon Plan takes into account a large range of solutions, which will be implemented gradually. This, like the step by step approach for the Bus Rapid Transit system in Rio de Janeiro, means that progress can constantly be reviewed to make sure that the carbon plan is on track, and that they are going about cutting greenhouse gas emissions the most sustainable way. Furthermore, the research done into preparing the carbon plan has also generated a number of other initiatives, such as the Green Investment Bank (GIB).
This is a funding scheme initiated by the U.K government to attract private funds ‘for the financing of the private sector’s investments related to environmental preservation and improvement’. In short, they intend to set up a fund financed by major banks which will make investments in environmental technology, such as off-shore wind farms; this will help the UK government meet its target for reducing carbon emissions, and yet will be funded not by the U.K, but by a collection of banks, who will hope to make a long-term gain in their investment in environmental technology. However, the effectiveness of this scheme has been debated, with the World Development Movement claiming the GIB would be too small to attract the kind of investment needed to generate green jobs and industry in the U.K.
In conclusion, the effectiveness of national and international efforts to tackle global climate change strongly depends on whether the solution used is realistic, well planned and appropriate to the context. Where the solution is all of the above, such as the BRT system and the Carbon Plan, they can be extremely effective; tackling global climate change and making other improvements, such as that to infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, despite incorporating a larger number of people, international programs tend to be less effective than national efforts, as the latter are normally focused on specific outcomes rather than just the goal of ‘reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% a year’- as set by the Kyoto protocol. Nevertheless, some international co-operation has been shown to produce results, and the international aspect of tackling climate change shows governments and N.G.Os that they are working alongside a larger body of people to achieve the same end goal; therefore providing a framework upon which national schemes are shaped.
Courtney from Study Moose
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