Sunday, 1 November 2009


Spectrum | - Sri Lanka
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Global Climate Action Day:

Climate racism

Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Patali Champika Ranawaka waters a plant

October 24th had been declared as the Global Climate Action Day, by many environmentalists and some climate action groups. One such action group “Beyond Borders” invited me to participate in a campaign launched by them to clean the beach at Wellawatte. Their slogan was “350 and 1.50”. To coincide with that worthy event, a tree planting event too had been included in its agenda and as a result, arrangements were made by our Ministry to distribute 350 plants among those present at the venue. Representatives of the British High Commission and the US Embassy in Sri Lanka and many young activists were the participants in the programme.

The enthusiasm with which the young activists carried their affairs at the beach that day made me to identify them as our cyberspace children. When I saw the eminent judge Weeramanthri too being present there, I recalled my privilege of being able to address the august gathering at the recent launch of his book “Tread Lightly On Earth” which discusses the connectivity and the importance between religions, environment and human future.

During the informal conversation I have had with those present, I realized that many did not know much about the climate change and specially what this 350 and 1.50 meant to them.

350 means the total number of carbon particles per million particles of atmosphere (ppm) and 1.50C means the mean global temperature rise during the 21st century.

The climate change is a result of the global warming and the global warming in turn is caused mainly by excessive absorption of solar energy by carbon particles. Carbon particles are there because of the burning of fossil fuel as 86% of our energy needs are being supplied by the fossil fuel and as a result, we are confronted with two problems. One is the scarcity of fossil fuel. The world will experience, within the next five decades that oil will not be an energy source any more. We are now experiencing the oil peak (up to 2015) and oil deposits will simply be exhausted by the year 2059.

On the other hand, burning of oil causes more serious problems such as heat pollution and in turn it creates global warming.

During the pre industrial era when oil or coal was not used as a main energy source, carbon concentration in the atmosphere was 260ppm. Now it has risen to 390ppm. During the last century the mean temperature has risen by 0.730C. It is now predicted that the temperature would rise to a point between 1.50 - 60 Celsius, during the 21st century.

Therefore, scientists introduced a carbon budget to avoid catastrophic environmental disaster which may end the humanity on the planet.

According to their calculations, if we could be able to go back to the 350ppm and limit the temperature rise to 1.50C relative the pre industrial era, there would be an over 90% probability to avert an environmental calamity that could devastate this planet. Those who gathered at the Wellawatte beach and other 3559 plus events all over the world wanted the world leaders to achieve this target. But the reality is that the world leaders and their development targets have already polluted the atmosphere by 390ppm. Then the scientists gave them another target - 450ppm and 20C increase in temperature. But what would be the probability. It would be 50: 50. That means with that target we could save this planet from an environmental calamity by a 50 : 50 chance. On the same Global Climate Action Day (24th October), when we were at the plot of land adjacent to that of our Ministry, to convert it into a bio diversity park, a Ministry Official posed me a question. He asked me, ‘Sir, what is 50 : 50 probability?’. To reply him, I too had to pose him a question. ‘When you proceed to the airport to get on your scheduled flight, assume that you are informed by its pilot, that it was his experience, that one out of two flights do crash due to some unavoidable reason and he is not sure about the fate of your scheduled flight. It is a 50 : 50 probability.

Under these circumstance what would you do? Will you cancel your journey or not?’ ‘I will certainly cancel my journey and return home, sir,’ was the reply. I told him as an individual he could certainly do it, but as human beings it was not possible since there was no safe planet for the human beings to return to. ‘Sir, ‘does that mean our children are in danger and is it not another form of terrorism?’ ‘yes, it is. It is global climate terrorism, perpetrated by the so-called developed countries’, I replied. “Their climate racism is an act of genocide to which our children are subjected to. Those who talk about axis of evils are the real axis of climate evils. Those who talk about racism and genocide are the real climate racists and perpetrators of genocide of the entire human kind. They are committing a crime against humanity”, I explained to him.

The official who questioned me was completely convinced and I am sure he is now determined to fight against this criminality and environmental injustice, in his own way. When I express my views like this at international forums, some of our friendly ministers used to tell me that although they are completely in agreement with my argument, they are not able to raise their voice as they are badly in need of dollars from these polluters, who are the developed countries.In reply, with pride, I used to tell them that we had not compromised our sovereignty to those global powers when we fought against our terrorists and as such there is no need for us to compromise with the future of our children for a few dollars from those so-called super powers.

Most of the environmentalists are now talking about Kyoto Protocol (1997) USA and Canada, the worst polluters of the world have not ratified it jeopardizing its entire process. The Kyoto Protocol makes it mandatory to cut the global emission level by 5% relative to the 1990 level. Accordingly, the USA should cut their emission level by 7% over the 1990 level, Japan by 6%, European Union by 8% etc. Only 39 so-called developed countries were under obligation to cut their emission level. They could fulfill this by 2012. However by 2005 only 141 countries with 55% green house gas emission have ratified the protocol. The first problem of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) is that as to why the 1990 level is used by it as the reference level. There is no scientific basis for it other than political reasons. One reason is that countries have accepted since 1992 that global warming is happening and it is because of the excessive carbon emissions. The Rio Earth Summit data is also available for the most of the countries from 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet block was also witnessed during that year.

Although, KP envisaged the “Polluter Pay” principle, the polluters were not able to pollute anymore, because they had already polluted enough in the past. For an example the USA emission per-capita in 1990 was 19.2 tons per carbon and 7% reduction means approximately 18tons or 18,000Kg per person.

However, according to the international scientists of the IPCC, the carbon budget allowed only 2170Kg per person. So the US had polluted more according to KP and therefore it has a right to pollute more!

So developing countries naturally asked “by what right are the developed countries entitled to pollute more than we do, is it simply because they have polluted more in the past?” So this could be termed as climate racism or climate Nazism as it accepts that some super races and super nations exist - climate Nazism practised by western powers.

Our argument goes the other way. Because the US and other developed countries had polluted more in the past they should be allowed to pollute less in the future and in addition, they should be asked to pay for their past emissions - a historical responsibility of the carbon debt.

But what happened? The USA signed the UNFCC Rio Convention accepting the fact that the climate change is due to excessive emissions. But they refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The infamous US Senate (Byrd - Hagel) Resolution stated that it was the sense of the Senate that US should not be a signatory to any protocol that did not include binding targets and time tables for developing countries (like Sri Lanka) as well. A few weeks ago, the G-8 Summit reiterated this position.

Australian and Mexican proposals to Copenhagen too have suggested a similar position. In order to cut emission levels of developed countries, developing countries too should cut their emission levels.

The USA emits over 36% of carbon and “Wyoming” the least populous state with only 495,700 people emits more carbon dioxide than 74 developing countries with a combined population of nearly 396 million.

The carbon emission of Texas with a population of 22 million, exceeds the aggregate emission of 120 developing countries with a combined population of 1.1 billion people.

For the past century the US had emitted more than 50% of the total emission of all the developing countries in the world put together! So what right do they have to ask developing countries to limit their development? On the other hand, the USA economy is very inefficient with respect to the black carbon content. Each dollar contains 0.56 grams of carbon.

Whereas in Japan it is 0.26 and in Sri Lanka it is 0.16 grams.

If they simply are matching the Japan’s energy efficiency they would have to reduce their emission by more than half without signing the KP. But they ignored this under developed technological structure and simply were wasting fossil fuel deposits, causing genocide to others. When the US administration talk about human right violation, global terrorism, genocide etc., they should realize that its mirror image is much worse environmental human right violation, global climate terrorism and climate genocide over our children etc.,

Joseph Stieglitz, the ex president of the World Bank and Nobel prize winner for economics rightly pointed out that any agreement should be based on emissions per dollar of GDP and emissions per-capita.

Once the US tried to force Thailand to use turtle friendly nets to catch shrimps.

By threatening to prevent shrimps caught in the old fashioned nets from entering US and the WTO accepted the US position. The precedent set by this case should apply to US itself. Maintaining global environment is important enough that normal access to markets.

In the case of carbon debts, Western countries have to set the precedent. During early colonial years they simply invaded the countries which defaulted debts. In 1862 France invaded Mexico installing a relative of Napoleon III named Archduke Maximillian of Austria as Emperor, using the unpaid debt as an excuse.

In 1876 France and Britain jointly took charge of Egypt’s finances, six years later Britain occupied the country (making globalisation work J.E. Stieglitz) so if we apply the same principle we should occupy the entire west for not paying our environmental debts.

So in Copenhagen, developing countries will have a moral high ground and rational argument.

On the other hand, developed countries only have brute force and concepts like Climate Nazism, Climate Racism and Climate Terrorism.

The writer is the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources


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