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November-December 2010
Vol. 35, No. 6

Climate change: Taking steps to move forward

As the member states of the United Nations make final preparations for the 16th session of the Climate Change Conference in December in Cancun, Mexico, the following news came by way of email from Sister Margarita Jamias assigned to the Maryknoll Sisters Mission in Baguio, Philippines.

Sr. Jamias writes, “Typhoon Juan was the most devastating storm I’ve experienced since I came to the Philippines ten years ago. The noise was terrific; I was petrified and decided not to go downstairs to my bedroom at night and stayed upstairs. This was a lucky decision as a huge tree was uprooted and crashed directly into the house by my room. The roof caved in and everything was flooded; in the morning I saw tree limbs everywhere, inside and outside of the house. This is only a fraction of the damage we sustained here at Maryknoll. As you can imagine, all around us there is destruction; the most significant is to agriculture and infrastructure, particularly in Isabela and Cagayan.”

Typhoons are not new to the Philippines. However, there is a fury to the typhoons now that is aligned with the fury of devastating storms and other weather events all around the world. Last summer one-eighth of Russia was on fire. In Moscow the usual summer temperature would be 85º; this year, day after day saw the thermometer registering 115º. One-third of Pakistan was under water and tornados destroyed entire communities in the U.S. Recently, author and public speaker Van Jones said, “To watch the weather channel now is the same as watching scenarios in Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ a few years ago.”

It is true that natural disasters have always occurred. There is, however, a difference at the present time. There is good reason to believe that the continuous and ferocious nature of the events happening all over the planet are causing the planet itself to change with the unintended consequence that life as it is now known may not be possible for future generations of people. This is a situation that cannot be ignored. Particularly, it cannot be ignored by the United Nations, the global organization charged with articulating the needs and rights of humanity.

If the changes to the planet are being caused by people, people can change their behavior and begin to modify the changes taking place in Earth’s atmosphere. It is important to recall that this has happened successfully in the reduction of substances that deplete the ozone layer through worldwide collaboration with the UN Montreal Protocol starting in 1987. Due to its widespread adoption and implementation this agreement has been hailed as an example of exceptional international cooperation. It has been ratified by 196 states.

The present climate change crisis is more complex by far than the ozone depletion crisis. The work before the UN now is to guide the nations in an agreement to diminish the carbon in the planet’s atmosphere; a huge undertaking with complex economic and social ramifications. Unfortunately, there is less good will manifest for resolving this crisis than for resolving the ozone crisis. Some progress is being made, but not on the scale that the crisis warrants.

The United States and China, the planet’s two biggest polluters, find themselves in completely opposing camps over the form an agreement for reducing carbon emissions should take.

“The United States wants to move forward from the Copenhagen accord agreement made last December by coordinating national commitments to reduce emissions and instituting a rigorous regime to ensure compliance.

In an October 8 article for the Guardian’s online version (China and the U.S. blamed as climate talks stall), Jonathan Watts writes, “China is keen to protect a two-track approach in which richer countries make the first and biggest moves to reflect their greater responsibility for climate change. It wants the U.S. and signatories to the existing Kyoto Protocol to lock in their commitments to reduce emissions and resists demands that China’s own actions are simultaneously incorporated in the framework of an international treaty.”

Meanwhile, the planet and particularly poorer nations and small island states are already feeling the brunt of the impact of climate change. For the upcoming Cancun conference Dessima Williams, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, said, “We call on major powers to come to the table in a more urgent and efficient manner.”



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