Keeping Up with Kyoto

Will Canada keep its climate change commitments?

Keeping Up with Kyoto

It’s not easy to keep up on the current situation regarding the Kyoto Protocol. Like the weather, it’s always changing. One thing’s for sure, though, global warming is a hot topic–and it’s getting hotter, in more ways than one.

It’s not easy to keep up on the current situation regarding the Kyoto Protocol. Like the weather, it’s always changing. One thing’s for sure, though, global warming is a hot topic–and it’s getting hotter, in more ways than one.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, last year was the sixth-warmest year since weather recordkeeping began in 1880. Climate change scientists predict that 2007 will be the hottest yet.

Heating Up

Scientists have long known we were heating up; they just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. Accelerated global warming is bringing more than hot temperatures. Ferocious storms, floods, drought, wild fires, the spread of serious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, and major shifts in water supplies are other global manifestations of climate change.

The world over, scientists agree that even minor changes in global temperature will have a major impact on the survival of all planetary life. Global warming is changing more than just our climate. It’s changing all life as we know it, faster than we ever imagined.

An Inconvenient Truth

There will never be a convenient time to find out that we have made our planet deathly ill and that we have only a few years in which to save it and ourselves from major catastrophe. Since its release, former US vice president Al Gore’s Academy-award winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, has been playing to sold-out audiences seeking the truth about the dire situation we are in, inconvenient as it may be.

The film and its message has led to the formation and training of a corps of global warming “disciples.” This specially trained group of around 1,000 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are charged with the task of presenting a version of Gore’s climate change message to communities across the US in the hope they will stimulate immediate and effective action amongst the citizenry, personally and politically.

They are undertaking a noble yet daunting challenge. Americans rank highest on the list of energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, yet US President George W. Bush has refused to ratify the Kyoto Accord. Sadly, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper also pulled the plug on Kyoto. Like our insatiable cousins south of the border, we Canadians are habitually wasteful energy guzzlers: per-person energy consumption and subsequent emissions in Canada are almost equal to those of the US according to Stats Canada.

Kyoto in Canada–Then and Now

On December 17, 2002, I turned 50. The same day I made my annual birthday wish and blew out my candles, Canada ratified the Kyoto Accord, hopefully with similar wishes for a healthy future. By signing on to this international treaty on climate change, with assigned targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, Canada made a commitment to reduce emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels between the years 2008 and 2012.

Although polls in 2002 showed that 70 percent of Canadians supported the Kyoto Accord, powerful detractors within the Alberta energy sector and government mounted campaigns claiming that, by upholding our emissions reduction commitments, Canadian companies would experience trade disadvantages. Threats to national unity were also made.

By 2003 half-hearted, ineffective, and costly federal (Liberal) programs led not to a reduction but to an increase in carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Emissions of CO2 had risen to 24 percent above 1990 levels.

January 2006 saw the new Conservative minority government under the leadership of Stephen Harper, who had made it known that he was less than enamoured with Canada’s getting on board with Kyoto. The government announced in April 2006 that there was no way we would be meeting our emission reduction targets under Kyoto. Instead, declared Rona Ambrose (Canada’s Environment Minster at the time), we would be looking to participate in a whole new program, one sponsored by the US, known as the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.

By early May it was reported that environmental funding designed to meet the Kyoto standards had been cut, and the Harper government was developing a new plan to take its place. In November 2006, still without announcing a clear alternative plan, Canada and Ambrose endured justified criticism from environmental groups and other governments at the UN Climate Change Conference in Nairobi.

In January 2007 Stéphane Dion, the Liberal party’s newly elected leader, took an unprecedented position. He named the environment in general and climate change in particular as Canada’s two issues of greatest national concern. Were he to become the next prime minister, Dion said, Canada would not be able to meet its 2008 Kyoto targets, but would meet the 2012 and later targets.

Meanwhile, a private members’ bill was put forth by Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez aiming to force the minority government of Stephen Harper to “ensure that Canada meets its global climate change obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.” With combined support from the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Québecois, the bill passed third reading on Valentine’s Day this year, forcing the Harper government to formulate a climate change plan within six months of the bill receiving royal assent.

Rapidly Changing Times

Public opinion polls continue to show that Kyoto and environmental concerns are foremost in the minds of Canadians, forcing these issues to the top of our nation’s agenda. Every day there’s something new being reported in the media about the Kyoto Accord.

This account will undoubtedly be old news by the time you read it. Many factors related to Kyoto and climate change will have changed. But there’s one thing that will almost certainly not have changed: Kyoto is our most fundamental international attempt to begin to collectively improve the health of our planet. It’s not perfect, but it’s a first step.

To meet Kyoto targets–as every environmental guru repeatedly reminds us–we must transition to a low-carbon, energy-efficient society that is based on more regional food and energy sources.

A Grandmother’s Perspective

I’m not a scientist, I’m not even a science writer, but I am a grandmother and that qualifies me to know trouble when I see it. We’re in Big Trouble because we have been living for so long as if we are entirely separated from our environment.

Until we embrace and respect the truth of our connectedness to our planet and to each other, we will keep repeating the same deadly mistakes. We must learn and live the truth: we earthlings can only be as healthy as our mother, Earth.

Climate Change and the Future of Food

Can we sustain food crop production as we know it in the face of global warming?

The short answer is no, according to Steve Long, professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois.

“We need to seriously re-examine our predictions of future global food production,” cautions Long. “It is likely to be far lower than previously estimated.”

While researchers believe that higher temperatures and droughts caused by climate change will depress crop yields in many places in the coming decades, hopes had mounted that rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could actually benefit global food crop production.

Those hopes are fading in light of four studies conducted in the US, China, and Japan, where experiments showed that all four of the world’s main food crops–corn, rice, soybeans, and wheat–would be impacted by global warming with a decline in yield of 10 to 15 percent.

Dr. Long’s research, which was partly sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture, came as a surprise to that government agency. They had expressed confidence that the results would be more positive.

Source: newscientist.com (April 2005)

Climate Change and Disease

Climate change is predicted to change everything, including our health. The warmer temperatures and higher CO2 levels will have an impact on allergy-causing pollens as well as disease-carrying microbes, says Dr. Paul R. Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

Here are some of the health consequences of global warming as described in his article in the New England Journal of Medicine (October 2005).

Ragweed

This allergy-inducing plant will grow taller and produce considerably more pollen.

Fungi

Moisture-loving fungi will respond to increased CO2 levels with more growth and spore production. Fungal spores, in combination with pollutants entering the lungs, may already be one factor in the rise of allergic disease.

Malaria

Once a threat in only tropical countries, global warming may facilitate its spread to northern countries.

Mosquitoes

These tiny carriers of many diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile virus, love warm weather. It “boosts their rates of reproduction and the number of blood meals they take, prolongs their breeding season, and shortens the maturation period for the microbes they disperse.”

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