Economy heats climate

THE COP6 Climate Change conference ended in The Hague last month without an agreement between world environment ministers on how to apply the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Over the past 100 years, global temperatures have risen by an average of approximately 1.5 degrees. The United National estimates that over the next century, temperatures will rise by a further one to five degrees.

These temperature changes may not seem much, but are significant when considering that the last ice age occurred with global temperatures only five degrees cooler than they are at present.

A study published this year in the scientific journal Nature has demonstrated that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at their highest for 20 million years, and by 2100 could reach the same level as during the Eocene period 50 million years ago, when there were no ice caps.

No one is certain of the degree to which rising global temperatures are caused by human activity. It is not an alarmist position, however, to suggest that human economic activity is at the very least one of the leading contributors.

When so much is at risk, and when the odds of disaster in the business-as-usual scenario are not minute, the precautionary principle must be considered.

The Kyoto Protocol set an overall target of a 5 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels for industrialised nations between 2008 and 2012.

Only two of the leading industrialised nations are on target to meet the objectives that they set.

At Kyoto the Australian government took the embarrassing stance of arguing for an 8% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, and won. Now it is trying to find ways to water down this commitment.

The main sources of greenhouse gas emissions come from transport and electricity.

Improved efficiencies through environmental technologies are important but will not be sufficient to solve the problem. We must remember that the economy is a sub-system of the Earth, and that there are limits to how much we can transport goods across the globe and to how much energy we can use.

A new economic system is needed that meets our needs without endless growth and which distributes resources more equitably.

* Rodney Vlais is a social analyst involved with several non-profit organisations.

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