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Climate changes

Discord in Copenhagen

The hope of achieving a global agreement to face warming was postponed until December, at the conference in Mexico City

NasaCarbon particles that envelope the Earth: no mandatory reduction targetsNasa

Whoever was expecting an agreement capable of orchestrating the commitments of poor countries, emerging countries and rich countries in the struggle against the effects of the increasing temperature on Earth at the 15th Conference on Climate Change (COP-15), held in Copenhagen, was thoroughly frustrated. After two weeks of much debate and negotiations, the meeting called by the United Nations came to a dramatic close on December 18, with heads of state vainly attempting to round off the rough edges, even after the conference had officially ended. The outcome was a generic political document, signed only by the United States, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, which predicts targets for greenhouse gases emission cuts only for 2050, and even so without establishing mandatory commitments capable of keeping the temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius, the target Copenhagen was meant to achieve. Aid to poor countries of US$30 billion over the next three years was also proposed, although no parameters were set as to who might qualify to get these funds and what tools would be used to distribute it. The document, put together at the last minute, could not even be converted into an agreement, as it lacked the approval of the delegates of several countries, such as Sudan, Tuvalu, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela, which could not get over the fact that they were put on a backburner during the final talks. “What we must achieve in Mexico is everything that we were meant to have achieved here,”  stated Yvo de Boer, the conference’s executive secretary, transferring hopes to COP-16, to be held in Mexico City from November 29 to December 10 of 2010.

The chief aim of COP-15 was to reach a deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, whose signatories (37 industrialized countries) undertook to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% up to 2012 in relation to their 1990 emissions level. The idea behind Copenhagen was to take one more step and try to get to a sum of wealthy countries’ targets capable of cutting the emissions of greenhouse gases, also relative to 1990, by at least 25%. With this, according to the assessments, it would be possible to limit global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. The main impasse centered on the problem of passing the buck when it came to the responsibilities of both the wealthy and the poor nations. The developed countries wanted the emerging countries to have mandatory targets, which China, the country that emits the largest amount of carbon into the atmosphere at present, refused.  Furthermore, the United States, which abstained from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and was trying to recover from the greatest economic crisis since 1929, was not even willing to meet the 1997 target – the country proposed to merely cut 4% of its emissions relative to the 1990 level. The negotiations came to a grinding halt in connection with the discussion of new, post-Kyoto targets. The so-called Bali Action Plan, agreed to at a conference in 2007, provided for discussions on two fronts, seeking, on one hand, a broad and encompassing agreement and, on the other, the extension and expansion of the Kyoto targets. However, a preliminary text drawn up by the Danish government was heavily criticized for abandoning Kyoto and bowing to American interests.

On November 14, delegations from African countries actually abandoned the negotiations for five hours, dissatisfied with the proposal to concentrate only on a new agreement, instead of working in parallel toward extending the 1997 Protocol. The impasse led Denmark’s minister of the Environment, Connie Hedegaard, to resign the chair of COP-15 almost at the end of the conference, the day before the heads of state were due to arrive.

Yet another fundamental issue at the Denmark conference was the financing of emission mitigation policies for poor countries. The developed countries demanded that the emerging nations help to finance the less developed nations. The notion was rejected by the emerging countries, which had expected to get foreign aid for their anti-warming policies – even though president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in a speech on the last day of negotiations, admitted to being willing to put some money into the global fund proposed by the USA.

On the eve of the close of the conference, the United States’ secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announced in Copenhagen her country’s willingness to join other rich counties in raising US$100 billion a year and in helping developing countries, but she set certain conditions, such as the requirement that all the countries should act transparently in fulfilling their targets, accepting international monitoring. China promptly turned down the idea. The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, stated in the Danish capital that China would not submit its voluntary actions regarding climate change to international inspection, for “reasons of sovereignty.”

Brazil played a major role in the final negotiations, when President Lula, along with his French colleague Nicholas Sarkozy, attempted to push through new negotiations. The Brazilian government had presented a plan to cut the 2020 emissions estimate by 39%, spending US$166 billion (R$282.2 billion) over the next 10 years. Of these funds, some US$110 billion to US$ 113 billion should go toward building hydroelectric power stations while another R$ 32 billion should be earmarked for agriculture, in particular for direct planting and the recovery of degraded areas. Containing the Amazon Region’s deforestation, which accounts for half of Brazil’s emissions, would cost US$21 billion. Brazil is in a privileged position, since it has a lot of clean energy, with 46% of its power coming from renewable sources, whereas the global pattern is 13%. The country’s weak point, however, is lack of control over deforestation, especially in the Amazon Region. This is a predatory economic activity, which does not account for more than 1% of the country’s GDP. “We should avoid the deforestation of the Amazon Region, because this is in our interest,”  said the minister of foreign affairs, Celso Amorim.

Indeed, São Paulo, a state whose sources of energy are even cleaner than the national average and boasts 56% of energy from renewable resources, was also present in Copenhagen, showing its strategies. The São Paulo State governor, José Serra, took part in an event on December 14 at which he advocated the potential of  Brazilian ethanol as a source of clean energy, capable of helping to mitigate a global warming and to aid adaptation to it. When he presented the environmental actions of the state administration, Serra stressed the role of scientific research, particularly of the FAPESP programs that center on climate change, bioenergy and biodiversity. The event Agriculture – Planted Forests – Bioenergy, held by Aliança Brasileira pelo Clima (the Brazilian Alliance for Climate) brought together some 30 NGOs that are active in Brazil, besides businesspeople and authorities such as the minister for the Environment, Carlos Minc, the São Paulo State secretary for the Environment, Francisco Graziano, and FAPESP’s scientific director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz.  Serra was critical of the views of some of the international leaders about Brazilian ethanol and classified as a “myth”  the notion that ethanol production might invade the Amazon Region or result in a scarcity of  food in the world. “This fantasy about ethanol as a factor in the destruction of the Amazon Region and the cause of a food crisis is a confused notion based on the disregard of technological progress, which, however, is a crucial variable. Sugarcane productivity in São Paulo State has risen by 40% since the 1970’s only as a result of innovations provided by private and state-run research institutions,”  he said.

For the governor, the irrational exploitation of timber and the expansion of  livestock farming and soy plantations are the true environmental problems in the Amazon region, rather than ethanol. “The sugarcane production centers are 2,000 km away from the Amazon Region. I just don’t see ethanol as being dangerous for the forest,”  he stated.

JEWEL SAMAD/AFPDelegates at Copenhagen’s Bella Centre: disagreementsJEWEL SAMAD/AFP

According to Serra, with investment in scientific research, it will be possible to considerably increase the production of ethanol without expanding the farmed area. “The promotion and coordination of scientific research in this field are being conducted by FAPESP,”  he said. The governor highlighted three programs that aid the fight against global warming: PFPMCG (the FAPESP Program of Research into Global Climate Change ), Bioen (the FAPESP Program of Research into Bioenergy) and the Biota-FAPESP Program. “PFPMCG, among other things, is connected to the federal government, which provides half of its funding; overall, the program has a R$64 million grant. Bioen has partnering arrangements with private business and focuses on research ranging from plant physiology to the chemistry of alcohol. And Biota-FAPESP, which produces studies on biodiversity, is one of the world’s largest research programs,”  he pointed out.

“Science and technology are at the heart of the global debate on climate change and the environment, and FAPESP’s programs can help Brazil’s strategies to be based on knowledge, if the government wants them to be so, and as the São Paulo State government has shown, by passing resolutions and decrees based on Biota-FAPESP results,”  stressed Brito Cruz. Another environmental policy of the São Paulo state government that Serra mentioned was the Climate Change Law. “This São Paulo State law provides for a reduction of emissions in absolute terms. In other words, it is not based on cuts per unit of GDP, nor on a slowdown. This is not an easy task, among other reasons because the energy used in São Paulo is cleaner than that in other industrial centers,”  he stated.

Doubts of the skeptics
Scientific investigations are used by politicians who try to deny climate change

As the models used to estimate the results of climate change involve a certain degree of uncertainty, some serious scientists believe that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) forecasts are too categorical, including Joanne Simpson, an American and the first woman to get a PhD in meteorology. When she retired in 2008, she stated that she was relieved to be able to talk frankly about her doubts –  she still feels that the evidence that human action is causing the rise of carbon emissions in the atmosphere and hence global warming is tenuous. “This correlation is based only on climate models and we know that they are still fragile,” she stated. Along the same lines, Kiminori Itoh, a chemistry professor at the University of  Tokyo, states that the IPCC neglected other causes of warming, such as solar activity changes. The Norwegian physicist Ivar Giaever, a 1973 Nobel Prize laureate, is also unconvinced that carbon is the key to understand the warming. Classified as “skeptics” ever since the Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg used this adjective in the title of his famous book, The skeptical environmentalist, such researchers form a minority group within the scientific community, but they play the role of the devil’s advocate, spurring improvement through their doubts. Their arguments are often employed by the representatives of countries or companies that are affected by the actions required to face climate change. At the Copenhagen Conference, Mohammed Al-Sabban, the delegate from Saudi Arabia, an oil exporting country, said that he doubted global warming and that it is necessary to control the work of climatologists. One of the members of the EU environmental commissions, the extreme-right UK politician Nick Griffin, from the British National Party, shared the Saudi’s views. “In Great Britain, more than 50% of the population refutes global warming. I am happy to be here to represent them,” he stated.

A controversial issue involving e-mails of scientists that were released by hackers spiced up the Copenhagen Conference behind the scenes and fueled the skepticism of disbelieving politicians. In November, hackers divulged e-mails from the servers of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, in the UK. These insinuated the manipulation of data to uphold the notion that global warming will have a dramatic impact. The most embarrassing message, dated 1999, was written by meteorologist Phil Jones. He talked about a stratagy to “mask temperature drops.”  Although it is impossible to deny the temperature’s rising trend, the e-mails gave rise to confusion. “Many people are skeptical and become even more concerned when they assume that scientists are manipulating information in a given direction,” says Yvo de Boer, the conference’s executive secretary. “However, the evidence about climate change is solid and was not damaged by the e-mails.”