Time Running Out on Global Warming
With world leaders seemingly paralyzed over attempts to reach a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute on Wednesday issued an exhaustive report on the effect of the unimpeded rise of global temperatures, saying agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change, with higher temperatures heightening the likelihood of short-run crop failures and long-term food production declines.
At the same time, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank released three reports on the sidelines of a climate conference in Bangkok warning that Asia’s food and energy security are being threatened, with the likelihood that the poor will flood into already overburdened mega cities, with the impact falling disproportionately on women. One of the three reports was the one prepared by the IFPRI. The energy reports released by the ADB warn that Asia’s access to affordable energy is under threat from demand-supply gaps, high reliance on fossil fuels and the growing need for energy for regional economies.
Although world leaders are due to meet in Copenhagen from Dec. 7-18 for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, most observers say it is extremely questionable whether the conference will accomplish anything. Some 1,500 delegates in Bangkok are now attempting to boil down a 200-page draft text to 30 pages for the Copenhagen conference. Last week in Pittsburgh, US President Barack Obama himself hosted a G-20 summit dealing partly with climate change but came up with no definitive action plan.
“Honestly, I am disappointed with the G-20 meeting last week,” Connie Hedegaard, Danish minister on climate and energy and host of the Copenhagen conference, said in Bangkok. “It did not deliver on climate finance as expected.”
The industrial countries are continuing to refuse to commit to either dramatic cuts in carbon emissions or to provide aid to poor nations to help them to adapt to climate change. For their part, the major developing countries, India and China in particular, have refused to commit to binding targets, although it should be noted that both are rapidly expanding their non-fossil-fuel resources.
India, for instance, expects to get as much as 470 GW of power from nuclear plants by 2050, and China is beginning to take a global lead in solar equipment production. China also now has 11 nuclear plants in operation and 24 more either under construction or about to start. China plans 120 to 160 GW of nuclear energy by 2030.
The developing countries have a right to question the industrialized world’s commitment. The United States, which uses roughly 20 percent to 25 percent of the world’s energy and sends much of it up in smoke, grew to its current dominance with the profligate use of fossil fuel consumption, with the Eurozone not far behind. Now, with the world undeniably threatened by rising temperatures, the southern countries want to know why they should agree to technologies and emissions targets that will limit expansion unless the industrialized countries help them pay for it. One of the things that rankles is that developing countries would be expected to purchase climate mitigation technology from the West.
China is demanding that the equivalent of 1 percent of GDP flows, in addition to official development assistance, be directed to developing countries for clean energy production, a difficult requirement with the world still attempting to shake off the effects of the biggest global downturn since the Great Depression.
Although the best course is probably a combination of targeted technical assistance to promote renewable energy, support for manufacturing the equipment in Asia via joint ventures, better targeting of export credits, encouragement for state and commercial banks and strengthening of carbon credit markets, backed by levies on aviation and shipping, there appears to be no commitment on the part of the West to cover the budgetary layout.
In the meantime, according to the IFPRI, as the world’s temperature continues to rise, the consequences will inevitably include melting glaciers, more precipitation, more and more extreme weather events, and shifting seasons that threaten food security across the planet. The report analyzes 323 crop and livestock commodities in 281 food production regions covering the globe’s entire land surface except for Antarctica, bringing together for the first time detailed modeling of crop growth under two climate scenarios, neither of them encouraging. According to the report:
• In developing countries, climate change will cut yields for most important crops, with South Asia hardest hit as irrigated yields for all crops decline.
• Prices will rise for rice, wheat, maize, and soybeans, with meat prices rising as feed prices rise. Growth in meat consumption will slow with cereals consumption falling more substantially.
• Calorie availability in 2050 will actually decline relative to 2000 levels throughout the developing world, increasing child malnutrition by 20 percent relative to a world with no climate change, with the result that as many as 25 million more children will be malnourished.
The report warns that the world must invest $7.1–7.3 billion annually to raise calorie consumption enough to offset the negative impact of climate change. It recommends increased investment in agriculture science and technology to meet the demands of a growing population even without the threat of global warming and that national research and agricultural extension programs be reinvigorated, along with improving global data collection, dissemination and analysis.
Enhanced food security and climate-change adaptation go hand in hand, the report says, or the world must face the consequences.
John Berthelsen is editor of Asia Sentinel.