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The History of Climate Change

Next Monday Kenya will host an international conference on climate change, with environment ministers from about 130 Kyoto-signing countries attending. It is fitting that Africa is the location of the conference, as it is the first continent to really experience the serious effects of temperature increase, with more frequent droughts and famines.

Africa will suffer disproportionately from climate change for a couple different reasons: due to geography, because it has the misfortune of possibly experiencing temperature increases that are double the world average, and due to economics, because most countries in Africa are simply too poor to help shield their citizens from the negative effects. The greater irony is that the emissions that cause climate change are coming almost exclusively from developed or quickly developing countries, while the negative effects thus far have been mainly felt by those who are not benefitting at all from the development. This imbalance cannot last indefinitely.

The French government has thrown their support behind Tony Blair and his push earlier this week for more action on climate change. This ties in with a recent article on the Herald Tribune about how European governments have been taking the lead when it comes to responding to climate change, with an understanding and proactiveness that should embarrass governments in places like North America and Australia.

India has joined the APP (Asia-Pacific Partnership) to collaborate with countries including the US and Australia on over 100 “clean energy projects”. Participation by India is important because one of the frequent reasons given by the US and Australia for refusing to sign Kyoto is that developing countries such as India and China are not yet held to the same strict standards as those in the West. Again, however, global unfairness rears its ugly head when India and China point out that Western countries had a full century of unreined destructive development during which to become wealthy, and they are now attempting to deny other countries the right to do the same.

Meanwhile, familiar debates about climate change are playing out in Australia. The governing party is attacking environmental proposals by opposition parties by claiming that they will dramatically raise energy costs and be the equivalent of a carbon tax. This sounds like the classic tactic of convincing the population that fighting climate change will be economically unfeasible. The opposition parties are fighting back by pointing out that the Australian government spent nearly twice as much money promoting itself in ads last year as it did fighting climate change.

Back in North America, an investigation is being launched into whether the Bush administration acted improperly by censoring and editing the reports of climate change scientists. There have been a number of well documented cases over the past few years where climate change reports paid for by the government were heavily censored and changed before release to make sure the problem did not seem too serious. It will be interesting to see what conclusion this investigation comes up with, and more importantly, what will be done if the investigation concludes the government did act improperly.

Finally, it seems that Canada may eventually be held liable for its failure to live up to the terms of the Kyoto Agreement, which it signed. By failing to show “demonstrable progress” by 2005 Canada is now in violation of Article 3.2 of the protocol and may face legal action. Earlier this week, Jack Layton of the NDP Party continued to pressure Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the Conservatives “dead-in-the-water” Clean Air Act by proposing an alternative green plan and threatening to make the vote on the Clean Air Act a vote of non-confidence that could bring down the minority government.

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