The pathways of change

The understanding that the emission of greenhouse effect gases is responsible for global warming is already hegemonic. Now countries are preparing themselves to confront scenarios until recently considered catastrophic. The COP 12 Meeting, in Nairobi, approved the creation of a fund to finance the adaptation of more vulnerable countries. In Brazil, the first regional climatic model indicates that the country will be subject to more severe droughts and floods over the next few decades. Pesquisa FAPESP shows in the following article how countries are mobilizing in order to confront the changes and the results of the first Brazilian climatic model.

eduardo cesarThe Andes mountains, Peru: global warming will bring about the accelerated thawing of glacierseduardo cesar

The 12th session of the United Nations Parties to the Climate Change Convention (COP 12), which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, between the 6th and the 17th of November, approved the creation of a fund to finance the adaptation of poor countries to the effects of climate changes. “Some nations of Africa and the Pacific, such as Samoa, for example, run the risk of having their economic activities seriously damaged”, says Luis Fernandes, the executive secretary at the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT) who headed the Brazilian delegation in Nairobi.

The Adaptation Fund will be formed from a part of the resources generated under the environment of Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM), forecast in the Kyoto Protocol, which allows the developed countries, under the promise of a reduction goal of 5% of their emissions between 2008 and 2012, to compensate deficits by way of the acquisition of carbon credits generated in clean technology projects implemented by developing countries. The CDM came into existence in 2005 and, already last year, moved something in the region of US$ 11 billion. This year the expectation is that this market will reach the level of US$ 30 billion. “The fund will be a type of CPMF (tax upon Brazilian financial movements) of these transactions”, summarizes Luiz Gylvan Meira, from the Advances Studies Institute of the University São Paulo, one of the sculptors of this mechanism.

The mode of functioning of the Adaptation Fund will be defined in 2007 at the COP 13 meeting in Indonesia. “The adaptation reveals the more perverse dimension of global warming, since the countries that are less responsible for greenhouse gas emissions are the most affected” comments Fernandes.

Carbon market
 The COP 12 meeting ended with the idea that there is still skepticism in relation to the success of the Clean Development Mechanism as a tool for the reduction of emissions: with a little more than a year in operation, there are 1,293 CDM projects ongoing throughout the world, the vast majority of them concentrated in India (460), Brazil (193) and China (175). So much so that during the Nairobi meeting, the UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, announced the disposition of six UN organs to help the developing countries, in particular Africa, to become part of the market of carbon credits.

The tendency, in the opinion of Fernandes, is that, over the next few years, India and China will assume the leadership of the CDM, since these countries, different from Brazil, have energy matrices considered “dirty” and will look to implement the use of renewable energies.

“The major Brazilian problem is deforestation”, analyzes Fernandes. “We’re responsible for 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Of this total some 3% come from deforestation.” The country has already achieved positive results with the widening of fiscal actions and with the creation of conservation units, the confirmation of indigenous lands and projects for sustainable settlements, among others.  “Last year we registered a reduction of 32% in deforestation”, guarantees Fernandes. This percentage, nevertheless, is a long way short of being satisfactory and much less sustainable.

Action against deforestation
At the meeting of ministers in Nairobi, the minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, presented a proposal for the creation of positive incentive mechanisms for the developing countries that effectively reduces their greenhouse gas emissions by way of combating deforestation.

The Brazilian proposal suggested that these nations receive international technology resources in order to improve their combat against deforestation. The idea is that a reduction of emissions would be accounted for starting from a referential average level of  deforestation and of defined parameters of tons of carbon per biomass or by type of vegetation, over a determined period of time. In the Brazilian case, the breadth of the goals would be monitored by the Deforestation Detection System in Real Time (Deter), based on satellite imagery. The adhesion of the developing countries to the program of goals would be voluntary, as well as the investments of the developed nations. The difference registered between the goals and the fall in emissions would be converted into financial incentives, or that is to say, credits to receive. If the opposite were to happen, the deforestation emissions were to increase, the country would have a debt to be discounted in the future.

For some observers present at the meeting, the Brazilian proposal was coldly received. But, in the view of  Fernandes, the idea should be taken ahead. “The major challenge will be to include it on the agenda for the next meeting in Indonesia”, he said.

Pessimistic scenarios
The Nairobi meeting was marked by some tension between representatives of the developed and developing nations, notably those from the European Union, who presented the proposal for the revision of the Kyoto Protocol agenda for 2008. The agreement forecasts, in fact, a periodic review of the agreements. “The problem was that the term “review” was interpreted as “revision””, he clarifies. In 2008 there will be a new evaluation of the Protocol that, nevertheless, will not result in new obligations for any of the parties involved. Any change of agenda will only occur in 2012, when the first phase of the compromises established by the agreement is completed.

Nobody will risk any opinion about the directions of the negotiations for the second phase of Kyoto. The understanding that the emission of greenhouse gases is directly linked to global warming, is, year by year, more pre-dominant. With each new piece of research concerning the theme, new evidence comes forward. The analysis of a new section of ice extracted from Antarctica, according to the study recently published by the magazine Nature, the brisk climatic variations that have occurred over the last 150 years are strictly inter-related in both hemispheres. The results seem to demonstrate that these changes result from a reduction of thermohaline circulation, brought about by temperature differences and salinity in the waters of the seas and that the major oscillations in the temperature of Greenland is not an isolated phenomenon: the scientists point to the Atlantic ocean circulation as the linkage mechanism with the Southern Hemisphere.

Another study about the effects of climate changes on the economy, entrusted by the British government to Nicholas Stern, an economist with the World Bank, published in October, makes catastrophic forecasts: unless 1% of the world’s Gross National Product (GNP) is be invested in the reduction of emissions, global warming will devastate the world economy on a scale comparable to the two world wars and the great depression of 1929. In the accounting of economist Stern, the final cost of uncontrolled climate change will be between 5% and 20% of the world’s GNP over the next 50 years.

Research in Brazil
Evidence and scenarios contaminated the debates. Some two years ago, the Parties Convention discussed mitigating measures towards global warming. This year, as could be seen, the debates centered on concern with the adaptation of countries potentially more affected by climate change.

Brazil, like other countries, is beginning to construct more precise models for the evaluation of the effects of climate variations, such as that designed by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) (See page 30). The country is also concerning itself with the identification of the most vulnerable areas: through sponsorship by the MCT, a group of researchers from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) have created the General Vulnerability Index (IVG in the Portuguese acronym), made up a combination of 11 indicators that measure the incidence of illnesses, quality of life conditions and climate oscillations, among others, in order to evaluate the degree of vulnerability of a determined region to climatic transformations. The main conclusion of the study, coordinated by the epidemiologist Ulisses Confalonieri, from Fiocruz’s National School of Public Health, is that the Northeast, above all the state of Alagoas , has low capacity to support the effects of warming. On a scale of 0 to 1 given out by the IVG, Rio Grande do Sul is the safest state, with a score of 0.13 and Alagoas, the most threatened with 0.64 (See Pesquisa FAPESP, edition No. 121).

Research about the effects of warming, nevertheless, are still full of holes, in the evaluation of Carlos Nobre, a researcher at INPE, as there is lack of articulation and focus. “We spend a lot of time making an inventory of emissions and discussing the question of mitigation, in order to maintain Brazilian industry competitive, but we invest very little in adaptation”, he says, qualifying the Brazilian position as “third worldly”. For Nobre, the country focuses its attention on the economic advantages that arise from opportunities such as the CDM. “There’s lack of vision for the essential: our economy is based on natural resources. We depend a lot on water and on climate. We’re on the losing side of climate changes.” The MCT, he said, has invested little in this type of research. “Argentina, Uruguay and Chile are better than Brazil on impact studies”, he compares.

Paulo Artaxo, a researcher at the Physics Institute of the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and the coordinator of the Millennium Institut’s Large Scale Biosphere Experiment-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA), has a more optimistic view of the state of the art of Brazilian research. “We’re on the same footing as the majority of the European countries”, he evaluated. What is lacking, in his opinion, is a national policy that guides the scientists work. “A research line on global changes in the country doesn’t exist. There are only individual initiatives”, he suggestes. For him, it is necessary to define priority areas. “All of the models point towards a greater incidence of extreme events, such as droughts and flooding, but as yet we don’t know the mechanisms that are going to produce these changes.’