Next week's Bali summit on global warming is certainly concentrating minds about the alarming consequences of
not tackling climate change and the positive effects of doing so on an urgent basis. Yesterday the European Union
produced compelling evidence of how this can be achieved in the short term, showing that Ireland has one of the
costliest roads to travel. The annual report from the United Nations Development Programme outlined ways for rich
states to adapt and how they can mitigate the effects on poorer ones. Unless they do, progress made in human
development over the last 30 years will be reversed, as the world's poor are hit first and hardest.
This authoritative UNDP report describes its message as a call to action, not a counsel of despair. That is the right
way to approach the worldwide crisis, which is undoubtedly the most serious facing humanity. Unless the greenhouse
gases causing global warming are rapidly reduced we are likely to reach a tipping point for much more dangerous,
frightening and probably irreversible degradation of the environment. It is cheaper by far to take action now.
This report, like the scientific one from the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change last week, spells out
many ways to tackle these issues. It proposes limiting global warming this century to less than 2 degrees centrigrade
over pre-industrial levels (it is now 0.7 degrees but unchecked could reach a completely unsustainable 6 degree increase
by 2030). This can be done by carbon taxes, strict compulsory cap-and-trade programmes, energy regulation and
international financing of low-carbon technology transfers, especially to the coal plants in China and India which will
be responsible for most of their increased carbon emissions over the next 23 years.
These are feasible measures, however politically difficult they will be. But they must be combined with action to
prevent poverty increasing through the breakdown of sensitive ecologies and world agricultural systems from rising
temperatures, drought, flooding and glacial retreat. That would endanger and marginalise the estimated 2.6 billion
people who still exist on less than $2 a day. The UNDP's report spells out in graphic detail how this poverty affects their
human development. Ireland's fifth placing in the list is a privileged position from which to contemplate that reality.
This State will only achieve the existing commitments it has made to reduce carbon emissions by an increasingly
expensive resort to trading schemes and green investment in developing countries. More stringent commitments to
follow the Kyoto Protocol will require much more radical action to decarbonise our economy and its future growth.
They will have to be formulated in time for the follow up meetings after Bali, which are to conclude at a Copenhagen
summit in 2009. Dr Bert Metz rightly pointed out in a lecture in Dublin last night that as the second highest emitter of
greenhouse gases in the EU we have a major role to play.
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