You Nuo

UN's long marchin search of climate solutions

By You Nuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-12-22 07:35
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This is a post-Copenhagen appeal to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Having seen the confusion and limited success at the just concluded UN climate conference, one may question how far and how fast will be the attempt to reach an all-inclusive climate solution.

Admittedly, Copenhagen is important because it has for the first time brought all the key industrialized and industrializing countries into a climate accord, brokered by the US, China, India, South Africa and Brazil, even if it is non-binding.

Compared with the Kyoto Protocol, which has binding targets but which many countries, armed with enough industrial capacity, have failed to achieve, the Copenhagen Accord cannot be dismissed as a step backward. As already scheduled, more talks and conferences will follow, hopefully to structure a deal acceptable to more nations.

But people have seen, not just this time, that the enormous difficulty in striking a deal and what it could mean in practice are often separate questions.

It makes one think that the key to the future may not be in lofty speeches and all-round binding or non-binding targets. Yes, those are important issues. But they are not enough to inspire action. What the world needs are examples and models, of how development can be made possible without subjecting the environment to more carbon pressure, especially through traditional energy technologies.

Without a whole new generation of entrepreneurs (call them social entrepreneurs) to pioneer the new technologies, developed as well as developing countries will still see emission cuts as an extra economic burden.

From where we are now to a desirable green lifestyle with less carbon emissions, less old energy and perhaps less old agriculture, there still seems to be a long march ahead. But few institutions, national or international, are promoting it in a systematic way.

Right now, while continuing to sponsor the international negotiation process on climate change, the UN perhaps needs to have at least five groups of international experts to work on the possible solutions for the future world.

The first group could work on contingency plans for the worst-case scenarios, such as for people in small island countries, to prepare for their organized evacuation and support their immigration. After that, suggestions could be forwarded on the world's coastal cities threatened by rising sea levels.

The second group could be responsible for solving the drought problem in areas where global warming has been destroying people's livelihood. They can help by building multi-national waterworks, developing affordable agriculture techniques and working out resettlement plans. Presumably, Africa is the place where these things are most needed.

The third group could focus on the economic use of resources in cities, now that industrial development and agricultural decline are pushing more people toward urban areas in the developing countries, matched with inadequate public infrastructure and large, untreated wastes.

The fourth group could test and spread green technologies. It is often heard that there is some good, almost wonderful way of helping cut emission and protecting the environment. But is it really working? And how widely is it applicable? This is an area where expert evaluation and verification are needed, and no private company can provide due assurance on that.

The fifth group could be heading a supra-sovereignty fund to facilitate the above activities, most importantly to oversee the transfer of solutions from rich to poor countries.

Think about it, Mr Ban. By the time a binding climate treaty is in place, you would probably have to ensure some of these things are done anyway. If climate change is a long-term challenge for humankind rather than being tied to one or two short-term targets, then it would be a challenge for global governance. It is an area where the UN has an irreplaceable role to play. You had better start early.