Global Warming: Concern and Challenges

Posted on May 20, 2010 in unEarthed

Kush Kalra:

‘It has been my opinion, that he who receives an estate from his ancestors is under some kind of obligation to transmit the same to their posterity.’

-Benjamin Franklin


Global warming is one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats facing the planet. The warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increase in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level. While the world’s climate has always varied naturally, the vast majority of scientists now believe that rising concentrations of “green house gases” in the earth’s atmosphere, resulting from economic and demographic growth over the last two centuries since the industrial revolution, are overriding this natural variability and leading to irreversible climate change in the global climate system that supports the planet’s basic life support functions.1

Global warming, which began with the advent of industrialization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, has accelerated over the last few decades and bodes ill for the Earth’s ecosystems and for human heath. The planetary temperature has increased one degree Celsius over the last century, a number that might seem small yet has dramatic consequences.2 The last 24 years have been in hottest in the last century and a half and 2006 was the hottest year since record keeping began in 1856. If no action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases could reach double its pre-industrial level within the next 30 years, leading to a temperature rise of atleast 2ºC. Estimates from the International Panel on Climate Change place the rise as high as 10ºC over the next century.3

No doubt, considering the magnitude of the problem, the international community has embarked on the development of climate policy with an unprecedented speed. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed at the UN Conference for Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro 1992 which identified, high anthropogenic emissions as the main reason behind climate change. But it was rather a general approach and never specified emission targets or binding mechanisms and instruments of climate policy. The UNFCCC entered into force in 1994. Further negotiations were crowned with success when in 1997 COP 3 in Kyoto reached on certain specific mechanisms to reduce emission of green house gases, now called the ‘Kyoto Protocol”.4 In consequences a carbon market is developing rapidly as a step towards reducing and stabilization of green house gases in the atmosphere to avoid dangerous global warming.

International Negotiations

Climate changed emerged on the political agenda in the mid-1980s with the increasing scientific evidence of human interference in the global climate system and with growing public concern about the environment. Because climate change is such a complex and challenging issue, policy makers need and objective source of information about the causes of climate change, its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts, and possible response options.

Recognizing this, the World Meterological Organization (WM O) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. The Panel’s role is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the best available scientific, technical and socio-economic information on climate change from around the world. In the first report in 1990, IPCC concluded that the growing accumulation of human made green house gases in the atmosphere would “enhance the green-house effect, resulting in an additional warming of the Earth’s surface” by the next century, unless measures were adopted to limit emissions. The UN general assembly responded to this by launching negotiations to formulate an International treaty on global climate protection, which resulted in completion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in May 1992.5

The convention was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio in June 1992, when it was signed by 154 states and European Community. It entered into force on March 21, 1994. India signed UNFCCC on 10th June 1992 and ratified that in 1993.6 The convention established the Conference of Parties (COP) as its supreme body. During COP3 meeting in Kyoto, Japan, the Parties agreed to a legally binding set of obligations for 38 industrialized countries and 11 countries in Central and Eastern Europe, to return their emission of GHGs to an average of approximately 5.2% below their 1990 levels over the commitment period 2008-2012. This is called Kyoto Protocol to the convention. The Protocol entered into force on 16th February, 2005 and targets six main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N20), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol provides for the clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which enables developing countries to participate in joint greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation projects. Under this Protocol, Annex I countries (developed countries and economies in transition) are required to reduce GHG emissions to below their 1990 levels.

The CDM enables these countries to meet their reduction commitments in a flexible and cost-effective manner. It allows public or private sector entities in Annex I countries to invest in GHG mitigation projects in developing countries. In return the investing parties receive credits or certified emission reductions (CERs) which they can use to meet their targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

While investors profit from the CDM projects by obtaining reductions at costs lower than in their own countries, the gains to the developing country host parties are the form of finance, technology and sustainable development benefits.

The basic rules for the functioning of the CDM were agreed on at the seventh Conference of Parties (COP-7) to the UNFCCC held in Marrakesh, Morocco in October-November 2001.

Deemed as the “Kyoto Surprise”, CDM is the only link between the Developed and developing countries under Kyoto Protocol.7 Its workability will help ensure the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol and of developing countries, willingness to participate in a future global emissions regime. Since emissions from developing countries will eventually surpass those from the Annex I countries, developing countries full participation in such a regime is crucial.

India’s Initiatives

1. India and UNFCCC

India signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on 10 June 1992 and ratified on 1 November 1992. India has undertaken numerous response measures that are contributing to the objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. They are- increasing significantly the capacity of renewable energy installations, improving the air quality in major cities and enhancing afforestation, thus putting economic development on a climate-friendly path.

Under the framework Convention, all parties are obliged to develop and publish a national inventory of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) not controlled by the Montreal Protocol.8

There is a difference in fulfillment of this requirement between Annex countries and non-Annex 1 countries.9 The former are required to report annual inventories, while the latter are required to report for the year 1994, or alternatively fro 1990 fro initial national communications and for the year 2000 in the second national communications.

2. India and Kyoto Protocol

By acceding to the Kyoto protocol on 26th August 2002, “India has sent a good signal by taking the lead in the region and showing that multilateral approach is better than unilateral”

Right now India is emerging as one of the major beneficiaries of clean technology. India has necessary institutional and regulatory mechanism for implementation of CDM projects and has large potential for CDM-related project activities in the areas of energy, coal, industry, renewable, transport and municipal solid waste.

Suggestions to Confront Global Warming

1. International Level

Global co-operation through international treaties is critical for decreasing global warming as we have seen that Montreal Protocol has been fairly successful in phasing out chlorofluorocarbon use. No doubt, to confront global warming, countries has entered into Kyoto protocol but Kyoto only represents the beginning of global co-operation as it has not received full international support. United States, Australia and Kazakhstan have refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol and have not formulated a workable plan to achieve the goals of the protocol. Citing “serious harm” to its economy, as well as the exemption of developing nations from the treaty, the Unites States contends that the Kyoto protocol is an unfair and ineffective means of addressing global climate change concerns.10 Even so, many US cities have taken the lead and passed legislation to meet Kyoto standards. China, though exempt from its provisions as developing country, may have passed US in total annual greenhouse gas emissions according to some recent studies which makes the issue of exemption of developing according debatable.

The Kyoto protocol will expire in 2012 and international talks in May 2007 on a future treaty to succeed the current one. All the nations should join their efforts and enter a treaty which has co-operation of all countries including US which is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases as global warming require a multilateral effort. Last but not the least, US should not try to hinder multilateral efforts by entering into packs like the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development [(APPCDC). In its efforts, the US is trying to entice the emergent emitters to support this approach in preference in Kyoto. To confront global warming, full co-operation on behalf of all the nations is required and such co-operative approaches should not be hindered.

2. National Level

Governments and corporations can reduce global emissions by increasing energy efficiency standards, sharing technologies, encouraging the use of renewable energy sources, eliminating coal and oil subsidies and protecting forests.


The rapid, human-caused warming of the Earth over the last century carries serious consequences for our environment and health. While the economic costs of global warming may constitute up to 20 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year, an investment of just one percent of the annual world GDP by 2050 could reduce emissions significantly and head-off the worst projected impacts of global warming. Therefore, all the nations of the world should unite, cooperate and act now to ameliorate and reverse climate change as it would not be forgotten. “We have not inherited the earth from our ancestors, but have borrowed it from our children.”11


* Adam, David. 2007. Move to cut the methane emissions by changing cows’ diet.” The Guardian. July 10th Issue
* Aldy, J.L., Corvalan, C.F. and Philippeaux, H. 2003. Climate Variability and Change and Their Health Effects in the Caribbean: Information for Adaptation Planning in the Health Sector. Conference 21-22 May, World Health Organization, Geneva.
* Barrett, S. 2003. Environment and Statecraft. Oxford University Press, New York.
* Buesseler, K.O. and Boyd, P.W. 2003. Will Ocean Fertilization Work? Science 300:67-68.
* Weatherhead, E.C. and Andersen, S.B. 2006. The search for signs of recovery of the ozone layer. Nature 441: 39-45.
* Falcam, L. 2001. Death by Warming. Honolulu Advertiser. August 12.
* Grabherr, G., Gottfried, M. and Pauli, H. 1994. Climate effects on mountain plants. Nature 369:448.
* Jacoby, Henry D., and Denny Ellerman A. 2004. The Safety Valve and Climate Policy. Energy Policy 32 (4); 481-491.
* Mendelsohn, Robert. 2003. Assessing the market damages from climate change. In Global Climate Change: The Science, Economics, and Politics. Cheltenham, UK.
* Roan, Sharon 1990. Ozone Crisis, the 15 Year Evolution of a Sudden Global Emergency. Wiley.
* Santilli M. et al. 2005 Tropical deforestation and the Kyoto Protocol: an editorial essay Clim. Change 71: 267-276.
* WHO. 2003. Synthesis Workshop on Climate Change and Health. 1-4 December 2003, Republic of the Maldives. World Health Organization, Geneva.



The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz