A climate of uncertainty

The Kyoto Protocol comes into force some eight years behind schedule

uclaOn the 16th of February the Kyoto Protocol came into force. But even before the start of the validity of this agreement, which forecasts global measures to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, the countries who signed up have already begun to analyze ways and means of confronting the adversities of climatic changes. The adaptation to a probable scenario of global warming was the main theme under discussion at the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Climatic Changes Convention in Buenos Aires, during December of last year.

There is not  “scientific certainty” that phenomena such as the tropical cyclone Catarina, which punished southern Brazil last year, or the rigorous winter and flooding that, during this year, devastated countries in the northern hemisphere, are the result of the warming of the planet, underlines Newton Paciornik, an adviser to the General Coordination of Global Climate Changes, of the Secretary of Policies and Research and Development Programs of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT). “However, at the Buenos Aires meeting, a plan of action was drawn up with the objective of evaluating vulnerable localities and defining strategies of adaptation”, he says. (See proposals at the address:

The degree of vulnerability to extreme climatic situations, nevertheless, can only be evaluated by means of the construction of climatic models that permit the observation of truly significant changes. And this is an instrument that the countries of South America still do not have. “We have to fill in this blank”, suggested adviser Paciorni. Last year the Center for Weather Forecasting and Climatic Studies (Cptec), of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), purchased a “supercomputer” with the capacity of making not only weather forecasts but as well constructing scenarios on climatic changes. “With the computer it will be possible to make simulations of up to one hundred years”, says José Marengo, responsible for weather forecasting at the Cptec. The expectation is that during this year a Brazilian climatic model will be concluded. “We need to evaluate the impact of climatic changes upon the biodiversity, the generation of electrical energy storms, among others”, explains Marengo.

The impact of changes
Some specialists consider premature, the excessive concern with the adaptation to changes, since it is anticipating the effect of the mitigating measures against the gases of the greenhouse effect forecast in the Kyoto Protocol. “It’s premature to throw in the towel before putting into practice an effort on the reduction of emissions, since this is the only real solution over the longer period”, says Carlos Nobre, a researcher at the Inpe. However, Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, the secretary of the Brazilian Forum for Climatic Changes, pondered that “we need to walk with both feet” and to consider precautionary measures at the same time that they are putting mitigating actions into place. However, in the evaluation of Roberto Kishinami, an environment and energy consultant, adaptation has to be on the agenda because during the period in which the Climate Convention was conceived, between 1988 and 1992 – that resulted in the Kyoto  protocol -, “nobody had imagined that the impact of climate changes would happen in a form that was so unjust, punishing the poor countries or those in development”.

Both . Kishinami and Pinguelli Rosa cite the example of the tsunami brought about by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean, which, in spite of having no relationship with climate changes, exposed the fragility of the coastal population of the Asiatic countries. If it had been in the Pacific, the number of victims would have been a lot less. Adaptation to a warmer planet, reminds Kishinami, may imply, for example, the displacement of the population from areas in which there would be a shortage of water or that would become inappropriate for agriculture. “It won’t be that we always lose out: Holland, for example, has been fighting with the sea for years. But in that country a first class plan exists built upon climate modeling. In Germany, in various regions, such as Bavaria, this also exists. In Europe as a whole climatic modeling is used to define the use and occupation of the soil.”

Post -Kyoto
The lateness in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol has brought about another polemic question. By the original chronogram, the signatory countries must, during 2005, evaluate the results of the measures adopted and initiate debate for the definition of strategies for post 2012. In spite of the non-existence of measurements to be evaluated, the developed countries have opened the debate for the period that is being called Post-Kyoto.

The Kyoto Protocol forecasts a reduction of 5.2% in global emissions of greenhouse gases up until 2012. The thirty-eight industrialized nations are those principally responsible for the compliance of this goal by way of actions in their own territory – such as the substitution of fossil fuels by clean energy, for example – or by way of the sponsoring of compensating measures in developing countries – consolidating the still incipient market of carbon emission credits, for example. But from 2012 on, the industrialized nations want a new agreement that attributes greater responsibility to the developing countries, such as India, China and Brazil, which over the last few years have registered high levels of growth and, in the case of the first two, have also increased their energy consumption, says Francisco Maciel, the energy and environment director at the TCBR, a consulting firm linked to the French group Altran.

At the Cop-10, in Buenos Aires, the emerging nations made it clear that they do not have the intention of committing themselves so as not to put at their risk their development and their combating of social exclusion. But in this debate with the industrialized nations Brazil’s position, in the opinion of director Maciel, is extremely vulnerable: the country is among the highest in the emission of greenhouse gases, having at least 70% of those emissions related to deforestation. “It’s not possible to defend a standard of development that no other country would desire to have”, he says.

“Deforestation depends on government policy”, comments Carlos Nobre. But there is also another factor that has contributed to Brazil rocketing up the list of major polluters: eructation, or that is to say, the belching of cattle. In this case the solution is in the development of a new standard of managing the herds of almost 200 million head of cattle, the second largest in the world. “This is a gigantic operation”, says Nobre.

Since 1999, the MST, with the financial support of FAPESP, has requested the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) to research the emission of methane gas via bovine eructation. The quantity of methane in the eructation of the cow is related to the nutritional management of the herds. For example, during the dry season, the cattle do not directly feed themselves, they lose energy via nutritional deficiency, which brings about a greater emission of methane gas, says Odo Primavesi, from the Southeast Embrapa Cattle. Tropical grass, with more fiber and less brute protein, also helps to increase eructation. Making use of a yoke equipped with a measuring devise, the researchers verified that Dutch dairy cattle, for example, produce 147 kilograms of methane gas per head per year, in the summer, and 139 kilograms in the winter, well above the European and North American standards. The researchers, up until now confined to a part of the São Paulo herds, have revealed that the use of adequate grass and a feed that combines sugarcane and grain, reduces the consumption of energy of the cattle, which gains weight and diminishes the volume of methane emission per kilogram of meat.

Available technologies
An informal meeting has been booked for May, in Bonn, Germany, at which it is intended to carry out a balance upon the contribution of the various countries in the fight against climate change. The presence of the United States, the country that is responsible for one quarter of the global emissions and which maintains itself outside of the Kyoto Protocol, is being awaited. Before this, specialists from all over the world will have a meeting in the United Kingdom, between the 1st and 3rd of February, at the invitation of the Prime Minister Tony Blair. The meeting has as its objectives: replying to the questions related to the impact of climatic changes on the planet, the levels of greenhouse gas emissions and the technologies available to reduce global warming.