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A foot in the door: even those who support the Kyoto Protocol recognize its flaws; but they say it's a move in the right direction of helping to reduce global warming.

Supporters say the protocol is better than nothing and really should be looked upon as a starting point for deeper cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions in the future. Some are a little more enthusiastic. Liberal MP David Anderson, who was environment minister when Canada ratified the Kyoto accord, described it as "probably the most important diplomatic event of our generation"

In an article in The Globe and Mail in February 2005, Mr. Anderson wrote: "The threat of climate change is real and it is here. The past two centuries of industrial activity have affected our atmosphere, oceans, and bio-diversity. Continued greenhouse-gas emissions at ever-increasing rates will make matters much worse. A few decades--two or perhaps three--is all we're likely to have before the irreversible impact of climate change radically alters human existence.

"Action now will not restore our environment to what it once was, or even halt climate change entirely. What it will do is improve the chances of our way of life continuing for our grandchildren and generations beyond them."

Rather than heaping praise on the protocol, most boosters focus on the damage we've already done to the global environment and how much worse it will become if we don't start doing something about it. Early spring-times, expected to arrive a month sooner by 2100, might sound like a move in the right direction but there's a serious downside. Already, birds are laying eggs earlier than usual, plants are flowering before they used to, and mammals are breaking hibernation sooner. It's all happening too fast for Mother Nature with too little time for species to adapt. According to a team of researchers at Stanford University's Center for Environmental Science, 1,473 species of plants, insects, birds, and animals had already changed significantly by 2003. The population of waterfowl such as ducks and Canada geese is expected to drop by 50 percent or more over the century. That will affect our forests because many of the birds that fly out of existence eat the bugs that could destroy our trees if they're not kept in check.

Many experts say we need to act now because delaying will cause increased illness and destruction of the biosphere. Scientists are warning of dire consequences if nothing is done to halt the increase in the world's temperature.

The European Environment Agency says the middle of the continent might become crowded with "climate-change refugees." These will be people escaping a thawing Arctic to the north and Mediterranean droughts to the south.

Deserts are growing and this has been described as a global menace that will affect the health of Canadians. A new international study warned that an increase in the number of sandstorms as far away as China is linked to growing health problems such as coughing, fevers, and sore eyes. The report, coauthored by a Hamilton researcher, says global warming and population growth are drying out parts of the Earth. It describes desertification--the transformation of fertile land into a desert, often as a result of human activity or climate change--as one of the planet's chief environmental challenges for the future. According to the report, remnants of swirling dust storms arising out of the Gobi Desert between northern China and southern Mongolia are crossing the Pacific Ocean and reducing air quality over North America. The result could be more "environmental refugees," leaving homes in dry areas as they become increasingly uninhabitable. More than 40 percent of the world is composed of dry land, with limited plant growth, and about two billion people live in these areas, half of them in poverty.

In August 2005, top officials from 22 countries met in Ilulissat, Greenland to discuss the impact of climate change in the Arctic region locally and globally. One of the main points made at the conference was the need for action worldwide. The group acknowledged that even if further targeted and ambitious action is taken immediately, global warming will continue for hundreds of years. "The high costs of inaction imply that the choices we face are not between action and inaction but between various alternative courses of action. We cannot afford inaction."

Other key points made at the meeting were:

* Efforts to combat climate change seem to be on the rise and the momentum has increased since the last climate change conference in Buenos Aires in 2004. The implementation of the Kyoto Protocol represents a crucial breakthrough;

* There is a need to raise the awareness of the general public and in the private sector regarding the consequences of climate change, with talk of possibly launching a global public awareness campaign. There is also a need for more information on the costs of not putting enough effort into combatting climate change;

* We need to speed up the development and transfer of technologies with an expected global investment in the energy sector of $16 trillion (U.S.) until 2030. The application of cleaner technologies is vital for achieving long-term sustainable emission paths.

When the Kyoto Protocol came into effect in February 2005, the environmental group, the Sierra Club, described it as "an important step forward in the protection of the global environment." The International Institute for Sustainable Development, in its 1998 report A Guide to Kyoto: Climate Change and What it Means to Canadians, said "The treaty is a recognition by the world's major industrial nations that the scientific evidence for climate change is now so strong, that it can no longer be ignored." The report added that a growing number of multinational corporations are taking this view and quoted the Group CEO of British Petroleum at the time as saying, "We've moved, as the psychologists would say, beyond denial. There's a growing consensus that climate change is an issue we have to take seriously."


Environmentalists say it's up to the developed nations to pioneer the systems of pollution control and pass on these technologies to the poorer countries. And, they note that the developing giants India and China are already taking some steps towards cleaner and renewable energy sources. Write a report on what one or both of these countries are doing to stem pollution.


Climate Action Network Canada--http://www. resources/publications/can/ kyoto=beyond-intro.html

Full Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle--http://www. html

Precautionary Principle Group--http://www.

The Sierra Club--http://


Swiss Re, the world's second-largest re-insurer, has estimated that the economic costs of global warming could double to $150 billion (U.S.) each year in the next 10 years, hitting insurers with $30 billion to $40 billion in annual claims.

Scientists who support Kyoto have estimated that emissions cuts equivalent to 30 Kyotos will be needed, according to Myron Ebell, director of global warming at the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute.

A recent study financed by Environment Canada linked smog and extreme temperatures to premature deaths among the elderly and those with breathing problems: in Toronto, for example, the study found that over a 46-year period, 120 cases of premature deaths a year were linked to extreme heat, 105 to severe cold, and 822 to acute exposure to five common smog pollutants.


Author Ronald Wright says our deteriorating environment is yet another "progress trap"--a trail of successes that ends in disaster--that humans have a habit of walking into. In his 2004 book A Short History of (ISBN: 0-88784-706-4) he explores that tendency to self destruct. Mr Wright uses examples ranging from the overkill of big game in the O d Stone Age when we became such good hunters there was nothing left to hunt, to farmers who destroyed the land with aggressive irrigation schemes.

He explains in an article in The Globe and Mail in May 2005 that, while ancient disasters were contained, now "we have, in effect, one vast civilization feeding on the whole planet and pouring waste into air, earth water, and the bodies of every living thing, including us."

Mr. Wright cites the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report--a study by 1,300 scientists from 95 countries, the World Bank. and the United Nations--which confirms that "we are perilously near the edge where unsound 'progress' suddenly turns bad: nearly two-thirds of the Earth's ecosystems are degraded, nine-tenths of the fish are gone from the seas, polar ice and tropical glaciers are melting fast. Those who still deny the reality of man-made climate change should look at Mount Kitimanjaro--bare of its famous snows for the first time since the Ice Age."

If allowed to continue, he says global warming could eventually bring civilization to its knees.

"Under relentless pressure from self-serving corporations, governments everywhere have been stampeded into deregulation, tax subsidies, and lack of enforcement against environmental crime ... (which) is spreading destruction across the planet ...," he writes.

The author a so suggests that "such recklessness is typical of failed civilizations at the peak of their arrogance and greed, shortly before they crash."


The Precautionary Principle is the idea that if the consequences of an action are unknown, but are judged to have some potential for major or irreversible negative consequences, then it is better to avoid that action. It's often used in connection with the impact of human civilization or new technology on the environment. It captures some of Grandma's favourite sayings: A stitch in time saves nine; An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; Better safe than sorry.

The principle promotes the idea of taking action now to prevent harm to health and the environment before it happens. In the case of the Kyoto Protocol, it means to slow down the rate of destruction, and ultimately reverse it.

In January 1998, 32 environmental leaders met in Racine, Wisconsin. Their plan was to define and discuss implementing the precautionary principle, which has been used as the basis for a growing number of international agreements. Participants included treaty negotiators, activists, scholars, and scientists from the United States, Canada, The three-day conference at Wingspread, headquarters of the Johnson Foundation private group dedicated to improving the health and healthcare of Americans), issued a statement calling for government, corporations, communities, and scientists to implement the precautionary principle in making decisions. The group defined the principle as follows: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed, and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action."
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Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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