Torrid Climate

Analysing three reports on the health of our planet

, by Roberto Palea

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Torrid Climate

Public opinion worldwide has been deeply shaken by the publication of three influential reports on the health of our planet. Their conclusions, high-lighted in the world media, are a matter of concern for the governments of many countries.

The three reports

The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report (on the consequences of natural Resources Consumption) asserts that if the current trend of world consumption continues, the demand for natural resources will be double that of the Earth’s extraction and production capacity, and we shall need a second planet by 2050;

The report of the Stern Commission, presided over by the former senior economist of the World Bank Sir Nicolas Stern, and drafted on behalf of the British Government, claims that if we fail to undertake appropriate measures, the ongoing climate change “may lead to economic and social crises on a scale comparable to the crises generated by the two World Wars or by the Great Depression in the 1930s”;

And the report issued in several parts by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) involving 2,500 scientists from 160 countries, outlines climate evolution in the past century, forecasts the likely evolution in the present century, and suggests measures to reduce the impact of human activities on climate changes.

This last exhaustive and well-constructed report is particularly impressive, not only for the reliability of its sources but also for its in-depth analysis, its courageous assertions and its attempt to show the world ways to avoid a situation developing which would have a dramatic impact on the survival of the human race.

Findings of the reports and its implications

First, it should be noted that this report claims that global warming is “unequivocal” and that it is “highly probable” that human activities are responsible. This probability, which it assesses at 90% as against 66% in the previous 2001 report, is evidence that climate scientists no longer have appreciable doubts on the subject. To support its statistics and probable outcome, the IPCC has analysed the results of many possible scenarios.

global warming is “unequivocal” and it is “highly probable” that human activities are responsible

Its bleakest scenario, based on the hypothesis of an excessive use of fossil fuels between now and the end of the century, foresees an increase in the average global temperature of up to 6.4 °C with a consequent rise in the sea level of up to 59 centimetres.

A less dramatic scenario, based on the hypothesis of a massive introduction of clean energy sources, describes at best an increase of 1.1 °C (as against 0,76°C during the 20th century) and a rise in sea level of up to 18 centimetres.

But one important detail should be stressed. Most of these forecasts imply an increase in average temperature of 0.2 degrees per decade. Even if we assume that the concentration of all greenhouse gases remains at the level of the year 2000, we could still expect an average temperature increase of 0.1 degrees per decade, in particular because of the slow reaction of the oceans.

It should be born in mind that all these examples refer to average increases in the world temperature. In the Arctic Circle, subject to the risk of the polar ice caps melting, temperature rises are estimated at twice as high as the global average.

On the measures suggested to reduce average global warming to within the limits of at least the less dramatic scenarios, the IPCC urges the countries of the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible in order not to exceed the determined concentration thresholds of these gases in the atmosphere.

Detailed measures are recommended and analysed in the last part of the Report. They cover the choice of building materials, energy saving criteria in the building industry, an improvement in energy efficiency in all sectors, the use of renewable sources for energy production, changes in transport systems and in the powering of car engines, etc. Yet these IPCC suggestions are not in any way binding on the world’s sovereign states. They remain merely recommendations, not unlike those in the 2001 report, which were widely disregarded.

In fact, the publication of this Report was actually greeted by criticism and fiercely negative reactions from states such as the USA, China and Saudi Arabia, which clearly intend to continue their current energy-consuming development.

EU accepted the validity and relevance of choosing energy produced from renewable sources

European Union leading the way

In contrast, the European Union has, through negotiations and intergovernmental discussions, been able to move on to agreeing resolutions which are binding on all 27 Member States. For example, on March 8th, 2007, the EU European Council decided to:
-  reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, in particular CO2, by 20% of the 1990 level, while at the same time declaring that, should its commitment be shared by the other major international actors, it was willing to aim at a 30% reduction together with a long-term target of 60-80% reduction on the 1990 level by 2050.

By reaching this decision, the EU has on its own undertaken to significantly exceed the prescriptions of the Kyoto Protocol, namely
-  to increase the share of electric energy generated by renewable energy sources by at least 20% before 2020, thus officially acknowledging the validity of environment-friendly energy solutions;
-  to reduce total energy consumption by 20%, before 2020, while improving energy efficiency and the rational use of energy in the building, industrial and transport sectors;
-  to use biofuels in transport at a level not lower than 10% of the petrol and gas oil consumption.

Comparing these decisions with the proposals made long ago by most environmentalist organisations reveals that the European Council has essentially accepted their demands. It has accepted the validity and relevance of choosing energy produced from renewable sources and, in implicitly and correctly recognising that nuclear power no longer has a strategic value, has not planned to extend its use.

Such strategic decisions are of fundamental importance. Taken together, they constitute a firm starting point for the implementation of an energy revolution based on renewable sources which could serve as a model for the whole world.

Solutions needed on the global level

In my opinion, it is now necessary to move on at the international level from discussions, debates and negotiations between sovereign states to the next stage: namely, cooperation through the creation of common (supranational) institutions.

It is significant to note that following the presentation of the IPCC Report some forty countries, among them France and Italy, signed an appeal which, while calling for a better environmental governance, identifies the creation of a true UN agency as the essential tool for effective action when confronted with environmental emergencies at a global level.

Now is the time for the World Federalist Movement to propose the establishment within the UN of a World Environment Agency endowed with real powers and its own funds, and for the WFM to support this proposal with appropriate political actions.

A World Environment Agency should be entrusted with the task of substantially changing the sustainable growth pattern that currently characterises the world economy. Its funds could be provided by a world tax similar to the carbon tax or the stamp duty on speculative financial transactions between currency areas, and paid by developed countries. I am aware that this environmental emergency tax does not involve any correlation between the taxable basis and the purpose for which the organisation is to be financed. Nevertheless, it is clear that such a tax would be very efficient, producing a high yield at very low unit rates, and it would always originate in international activities. All things considered, I believe this is the most appropriate method of financing, even partially, a world-level governance.

This article was originally published in the July 2007 edition of The Federalist Debate, Papers for Federalists in Europe and the World.

Image: Climate Change - Global Warming - Global Warning by SorbyRock, taken from Flickr

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