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The New and Old in Climate Change

Students from secondary schools islandwide participating in the second annual Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change (Ja REEACH) Youth Climate Change Conference at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, on Friday.

Students from secondary schools islandwide participating in the second annual Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change (Ja REEACH) Youth Climate Change Conference at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, on Friday.

Climate change has been going on from the birth of planet Earth. In recent times the pace of climate change has accelerated, with the most deleterious manifestations taking the form of global warming and the concomitant damage of sea level rise.

Small island developing states (SIDS) and low-lying areas of all countries are at risk. The SIDS of the Caribbean are vulnerable to this real existential threat. Their perilous situation is increasingly being acknowledged by the international community as the dangers of climate change have become more widely understood across the world.

Carbon dioxide (CO2), a by-product of fossil-fuel combustion, is a greenhouse gas which traps solar radiation in the atmosphere. Increased human fossil-fuel consumption over the past two centuries has increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Atmospheric CO2 recently surpassed 400 parts per million, the highest level in more than 800,000 years. As a result of increases in atmospheric CO2, global surface temperatures have increased by about one degree centigrade since 1880. The 10 warmest years ever recorded have all occurred within the last decade, and 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded.

Climate change is not a new issue on the agenda of the international community, and there are aspects which are old and aspects which are new. The first tangible step was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, later extended by the Kyoto Protocol which entered into force 2005.

What is old is that there are still those — backed by funding from huge multinational corporations — who deny the veracity of factual scientific evidence. This allows the countries mainly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions to delay and postpone corrective action, the main offenders being China, India, and the United States. The result has been the glacial rate of progress on climate change.

What is also “old” is the bleating by Caribbean governments soliciting grant aid to counter the impact of climate change in every international forum, for example, the recent 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and in bilateral diplomatic engagements, such as the visit to Jamaica of the prime minister of Japan.

The donor countries keep asking the Caribbean governments what they are doing to help themselves. A better approach to seeking aid is to regale the donors with what they have done to help themselves, in that regard, before soliciting donations.

There will be no significant change unless there is tangible action by China and the US — the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases as well as the world’s two largest economies. China, widely regarded as the biggest source of pollution and the least active in curtailment, has made a significant announcement, which is new and encouraging, that starting in 2017, it will commence the operation of a national cap-and-trade system and has committed $3.1 billion in climate finance for developing countries.

Simultaneously, the US reaffirmed its pledge of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund.

This augers well for a successful outcome from the UN climate change conference in Paris in December 2015, from which Caribbean countries seeking aid for climate change will benefit.

Credit: Jamaica Observer

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