Thursday, March 21

Coping with climate change

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BEGINNING tomorrow most of the world’s leaders will be in Copenhagen hammering out a binding pact to reduce the carbon emissions from factories in China, USA, Australia, and India- the main polluters and Brazil, another polluter through deforestation. Most scientists believe that these emissions are the causes of the climate change.

The local farmers call this phenomenon an imbalance in the equilibrium of nature — someone has committed some serious crime against it. They talk in terms of too much water, too long a dry spell, and pests that have affected their crops and livestock.

While the representatives from some 87 countries are descending upon the Danish capital in thick furs, the small island nations and settlements along the tidal flat coastal areas of the globe are ‘sinking’ as a result of the rise of the sea level — the result of the climate change.

As this is a man-made problem, the leaders from the polluting country feel a pinch of guilt and are trying their best to reduce the green gas emissions bit by bit over the coming years.

And money, lots of it, is needed to compensate the factories for the measures taken to reduce the atmospheric pollution.

There is nothing much that any one nation can do to stop the climate change. But if so many countries, especially the major polluters, banding together, there is a probability the impact of the climate change on human life and the environment can be gradually reduced. After all, in a sense, the environmental problem, being humanmade, is under human control, using human ingenuity and intelligence.

Create a commission

All this week these leaders will write down principles of agreement for every nation to endorse and abide by at the end of the summit. The idea is to replace the Kyoto Protocol due to expire next year with another accord with more teeth. This time around the agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions must be made binding on those nations.

To be effective, though, there must be a mechanism, a commission or agency, to monitor the amount of the gas emissions from the culprit countries on the spot.

Such a body must be managed by the United Nations. It should be armed with the power and authority to enforce compliance with the terms of the treaty, though this is easier said than done. We all know how difficult it is to inspect nuclear facilities in Iran. Still, in the matter of climate change, the agency may be effective if the polluters are pragmatic and sensible.

And Malaysia should propose the formation of the commission or agency. It is good to see that the government has become proactive in this issue during the CHOGM meeting in Trinidad last week. All this while, from Rio to Bali, the role to articulate concerns on the impact of climate change on the environment and the livelihood of the people in Malaysia has been played by the various non-government organisations which have been taking part in those meetings.

We’re in a global longhouse

Why are we, snug in our little corner of the world, so concerned with the climate change? In Malaysia we have not experienced major disasters. Touch wood. But we are not absolutely immune to the effects of the change in weather patterns?

Why are we worried about the melting snow on the Himalayas or the freezing of the ice in the Arctic? These places are very far away from us.

Not any more. We are inside that global village. All countries are interdependent. What happens in other parts of the world affects us here as well to some extent.

We begin to worry when the scientists say that as a result of the melting snow in the Himalayas and the freezing of the ice in the Arctic, the sea level the world over will rise. It has risen.

Gosh, suddenly we become aware that, at home, along our coasts there are many towns and people.

These townships are getting bigger and bigger by the day. More and more housing schemes are built on the mud flats, in the Rampangi area in Sarawak, for example. Before these swampy marshes were filled with earth or sand, they were subject to flood during high tides.

We cannot blame this on the developers. There is no land large enough for a housing scheme away from the coastal areas. Here the land is comparatively cheaper, except for the dumping which costs the earth. There are other economic factors to consider. These housing areas are not far from the town centres and the basic infrastructure is already in place.

We begin to console ourselves. Fortunately, we are not within the Ring of Fire and no major earthquake is supposed to occur that may cause a tsunami. Although we have read reports by the local seismologists that even here we have experienced earth tremors of certain strength on the Richter scale, but these are mere vibrations without doing any damage to buildings or causing big waves like those that devastated the coast of Acheh a few years ago. Are we fully prepared to cope with any major disaster, though?

We are being complacent, it seems. No doubt we have flood mitigation measures being constructed or in the pipe line but these do not prevent the rise of the sea level as a result of the global warming, do they?

How farming communities cope with global warming

Studies have been made by NGOS on the effects of the climate change on the livelihood of the indigenous and farming communities in some countries. It is interesting to learn that those communities on the higher grounds have been able to adapt to adverse conditions through their traditional system of agro bio diversity. The worry is over those communities settled on the coasts on the mud flats. Here lies our challenge. As they say, the appropriate authorities will look into it.

The rural farming communities including those in Borneo and in the northwestern Ghats in India have been practising shifting cultivation since time immemorial. This, it is now acknowledged, is a sustainable method of farming, though it has severe limitations wherever land is scarce.

There are other methods like those adopted by the Nepalese farmers who maintain as many as 60 varieties of rice. The Andean farmers plant a dozen of varieties of potatoes on a single farm; the Sahel Africans maintain many varieties of sorghum and millets. The pastoralists of sub-Sahara Africa manage to keep livestock going strong. Incidentally, these are basically traditional farming strategies to cope with changing weather patterns in particular areas.

“The management of this agriculture biodiversity plays a central role in adaptation to climate change,” says a paper presented by PAR (Platform for Agricultural Research, an NGO based in Rome, at a seminar in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in June this year. The paper also recognises the vital role of women in agro diversity. The Sarawak’s practice of shifting cultivation was commended as a sustainable practice, subject to availability of enough land.

There is a bold suggestion at the seminar: farmers should adopt what is called slash and mulch method as opposed to the slash and burn. Some rice farmers in Sarawak have in fact adopted a similar method. They spray chemical on the grass and burn a little and then plant seeds on this field. The fire does not cause the haze. The grass makes good mulch.

Those attending the UN initiated meeting in the Danish capital on Monday will not discuss these details. Britain and France at the Trinidad meeting promised to canvass for support of other nations on their proposals to reduce the carbon emissions by dangling a carrot of some RM34 billion, to begin with.

The stick would be discussed at Copenhagen. The target nations are the United States, China, Australia, India and Brazil. The problem is how to persuade these nations to reduce the gas emissions from their factories.

Australian government could not push the bill on ETS (Emission Trading Scheme) through the senate but promised to table it again next year rather than calling for the snap generation election to get the mandate from the Australians once and for all. The meeting in Copenhagen is to convince these major polluters that carbon emissions have badly affected the lives of those living in the island nations like Nauru, Tuvalu and the Maldives and parts of Indonesia. In Maldives the parliamentarians have rehearsed how to conduct meetings under water. In Nauru people have been migrating to other parts of the Pacific. The Samoans and the Cook Islanders and the Fijians have already swamped Auckland in New Zealand.

The need to replace the Kyoto Protocol is imperative because all these years there have been talks and talks and pledges without legal obligation or commitment on any nation’s part. Each country has been waiting for the next to make the first move. This time around, however, it would be a breakthrough if some concrete steps were taken, after the disappointment at the recent Apec meeting. The reluctance on the part of the main emitters of carbon is understandable.

Who will compensate for the loss suffered by the factories in adapting to new technology to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

At a time like this, world’s interests must supersede those of national interests.

The problem caused by the climate change is a global problem and the issue should not be politicised by any nation especially those responsible for most of the carbon dioxide emissions.

It is our hope and prayer that the Copenhagen summit will produce something concrete such as the launch of a fund with which to administer the measures to reduce the emissions gradually beginning next year and an agreement that is binding on all countries. It can be done if there is political will and the heart to spare a thought for the countries in danger of being submerged as a result of climate change. That would be a catastrophe of great magnitude.

Meanwhile, the farmers in the rural communities continue with their agro biodiversity practices. Although they are the least of all emitters of carbon, they have contributed so much to reducing the impact of climate change by means of agro agriculture. They will survive all right.

Whether or not the initial US$10 billion fund proposed by Britain for the reduction of gas emissions will ever trickle down to the farmers is another matter. The money is meant for the big culprits or polluters — the cause of all the concerns the world over.