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Thursday April 12, 2007

The United Nations has confirmed that the 13TH UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parent treaty of the Kyoto Protocol, will be held in Bali, Indonesia, from 3-14th December 2007 at the Bali Convention Center, Nusa Dua. The conference is expected to be attended by over 10,000 participants from 189 countries, said Indonesian Environment Minister, Rachmat Witoelar.
Indeed, Climate Change, that not so long ago seemed to have been the exclusive domain and concern of environmentalists only, has finally caught the attention of world political and economic leaders. For, the past years have seen extreme natural disasters from cyclones, hurricanes and floods to draughts, erosions, forest fires, rising seas, all wreaking havoc to economies and social fabrics, and causing the death of thousands around the world, from the United States to Europe, to Russia, Africa, China, India, Bangladesh, and including Indonesia.  
In 1992 world leaders signed the Kyoto Protocol that required 35 industrialized countries and the European Community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol had the overriding goal to stabilize greenhouse gases at levels preventing "dangerous (human) interference with the climate system". Nonetheless, as it did not define the word "dangerous", the issue had been a vexed point in efforts to slow climate change ever since. Under the Kyoto Protocol, which is the U.N. plan for fighting global warming, the 35 industrial nations agreed to cut emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.  But in 2001, President George W. Bush pulled the United States, - the top carbon dioxide producer in the world, - out of the protocol.
Since then, the unabated emission of carbon dioxide into the air, especially by industrialized countries has accelerated global warming. The World Meteorological Organization/WMO has said that extreme weather patterns that are affecting many parts of the globe are a direct result of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions, resulting chiefly from the excessive use of fossil fuels that pollute and choke the air with carbon dioxide.  Scientists of the University of East Anglia in England have pointed out that the 10 warmest years the world has known since 1856 occurred in the last decade. The year 2005, together with 1998, were found to be the hottest years in history, while 2002 and 2003 were the second hottest, followed by 2004.  
Meanwhile, NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) stated that since 1900, the average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.2° to 1.4° F. The average surface temperature of the earth is likely to increase by 1.4°C – 5.8° by the end of the 21st. century. (See also Indonesia Digest 39.06).
Carbon dioxide (CO2) has been identified as the most significant of the global warming gases, accounting for over 80% of global warming pollution. And around 97% of CO2 emitted by western industrialized countries comes from burning coal, oil and gas for energy, equal to about 800 tons every second.  In addition, the UK Stern Review reported that transportation accounts for 14% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, with aviation accounting for around one-eighth. Moreover, with the fast growth of the aviation industry, it is expected that aviation will account for 5% of the total warming effect in 2050. All this build-up has, and continues to seriously disrupt the natural balance of he world’s climate.
Therefore, in preparation of the important Bali December Conference, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which recently met in Brussels, completed its report entitled “Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”, as reported  by UN News Center of 6 April. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has called climate change one of his top priorities, has hailed the new report, urging nations to make decisive efforts to alleviate the worst consequences brought on by global warming.  
The Brussels report forms the basis for the December Convention in Bali, to set an international framework for controlling the emissions of carbon dioxide after 2012, the expiry date of the Kyoto Protocol, which mandates emission curbs for industrial countries.
Global Warming and Climate Change largely brought about by Human Behaviour
The Brussels study highlights that warmer global temperatures are causing profound changes in many of the earth's natural systems. Approximately 20-30 per cent of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5 degrees centigrade. According to IPCC forecasts, the earth is likely to warm by 3 degrees centigrade during this century, a temperature that would have largely negative consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services, such as water and food supply.
The report further stressed that Climate Change will have a more devastating impact on poor countries - and poorer citizens within rich countries - which are less capable of adapting to shifts in weather patterns.
Many of the regions expected to be worst affected already suffer severe water shortages and hunger, which will only get worse, while some parts of North America and Europe will benefit in the short-term from milder winters and longer growing seasons.
Climate change presents dangers that could affect the health of millions of people, the report found, for it could lead to increased malnutrition, deaths and disease due to higher concentrations of ground level ozone.
The report is a synopsis of a more than 1,400-page assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with contributions from more than 1,000 of the world's leading climate experts, on the impact of global warming and the vulnerabilities of economies, ecosystems and human health.
It will be presented at a Group of Eight leaders summit in June in Germany, during which the EU will press President George W. Bush to sign on to international talks to cut emissions.
It is the second of four reports by the climate change panel. The first, issued in February, updated the science of climate change, concluded with near certainty that global warming is caused by human behavior.
Climate Change “deeply intertwined with trade, economics and transport issues”
Prior to the Brussels Meeting members of the Group of 8+5 Environment Ministers met in Germany . Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told correspondents that the outcome of the  “Group of 8+5” Environment Ministers in Germany had been “unexpectedly encouraging”, since it was marked by a broad acceptance of the scientific evidence regarding the role of humans in climate change.

Participants in the meeting - the Group of 8 countries plus China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa - had recognized that urgent action was needed “in line with [suggestions of] the scientific community”, said Mr. de Boer

Indeed, climate change, once viewed exclusively as an environmental problem, had been recognized to be deeply intertwined with trade, economics and transport issues, Mr. de Boer said.  Talk at the meeting had focused on ensuring that the future of countries was “climate proof”, through stricter household appliance and automobile standards and the application of targets and tax incentives to encourage good environmental behaviour.

Another encouraging development at the Group of 8+5 meeting was the growing sentiment among developing countries that they needed to make “a quantum leap” in their development, while avoiding the mistakes of industrialized countries.  Participants at the meeting had been supportive about the international carbon market, which was estimated at $30 billion, saying it had led to a growth in investments in developing countries targeted at reducing emissions, as well as to a North-South transfer of technology.

A meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia had been planned for December, said Mr. de Boer, and would involve economists, the scientific community, civil society and business leaders.  Discussions were likely to touch on emerging issues, such as deforestation - shown by scientists to have caused 20 per cent of the increase in greenhouse gases, and raised by the Group of 8+5.

Other topics meriting further discussion included the sustainability of biofuels -- such as the production of ethanol in Brazil -- which Mr. de Boer said needed careful study.  “What happens if you are cutting down rainforests in order to plant sugar cane or palm oil?  Aren’t you really doing more harm than good?”

In Indonesia: draughts, floods, forest fires, and erosions

Having suffered a long dry season at the end of last year, since the rainy season started practically only in January, while rains would normally arrive by October, Indonesians today are becoming acutely aware that there are indeed extreme changes happening in the archipelago’s weather conditions. The rainy season, which is usually welcomed, when rice planting season may begin and the parched rivers may finally flow with refreshing water, has this year become somewhat of an anti-climax. For, indeed sudden torrential rains have poured, but these were accompanied by strong whirlwinds, causing erosions and floods, damaging newly-planted rice fields, destroying homes. But these rains did not last sufficiently long to fill out the dried-out dams, thus raising concerns whether the available water could irrigate fields until harvest time.  Whereas, normally, the rainy season would be marked by continuous rains that may last for days, but these would come down with a lot less violence.
Explaining the archipelago’s weather conditions, in January, Reuters reported scientists as saying that Indonesia and perhaps Australia risk more droughts because of shifts in Indian Ocean temperatures and stronger monsoons that are widely linked to global warming. They said that studies of 6,500-year-old fossil corals had helped to reveal unexpected links between monsoons, droughts and periodic cooling of the eastern Indian Ocean known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).  A trend towards stronger monsoons in Asia that "will probably serve to prolong IOD-related droughts in western Indonesia, and possibly also southern Australia", the scientists wrote in the journal Nature.

More droughts could disrupt agriculture, slow an Indonesian drive to end poverty, lead to more wildfires that cause both smog and deforestation, threaten wildlife habitats and disrupt hydropower generation.

The scientists said recent stronger monsoons had been widely linked by scientists to a global warming blamed on human burning of fossil fuels. But most studies of monsoon have focused on the likelihood of more rains in India and other parts of Asia.
"Our findings suggest that the some of the knock-on effects will cause more widespread consequences ... than previously thought," said Nerilie Abram of the Australian National University of the report in the journal Nature.
"If the consensus holds true that the Asian monsoon will intensify with climate warming, Indonesia can expect more frequent and longer droughts," Jonathan Overpeck and Julia Cole, both of the University of Arizona, wrote in a separate commentary in Nature.
"Rural livelihoods and natural resources will thus be at greater risk as drought undercuts regional food supplies and stokes wildfires that also generate exceedingly poor air quality in the region.
In addition, Reuters reported Indonesia’s Environment Minister, Rachmat Witoelar, as saying earlier that this country could lose about 2,000 islands by 2030 due to climate change. Studies by U.N. experts showed that sea levels were expected to rise about 89 centimetres in 2030 which meant that about 2,000 mostly uninhabited small islets would be submerged.
Forest Fires causing the annual regional haze and the rapid deforestation of Indonesia’s rich rainforests through illegal logging and land conversion are other issues faced by Indonesia that the government is now determined to tackle. Deforestation will be one of the main issues to be discussed at the Bali Climate Change Convention in December.
Indonesia and Australia cooperate fighting illegal logging 
In the latest development, Reuters AlertNet reports that Indonesia and Australia have recently agreed to reduce illegal logging. Environmentalists say that illegal logging in Indonesia strips 2.1 million hectares (5.2 million acres) of forests every year in a trade worth US$ 4 billion.
Early this week Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar called on world consumers to stop buying products made from illegally logged wood, saying that rich countries should pay the poor to preserve forests in the battle against global warming.
A report last month by the Environmental Investigation Agency and Indonesia-based Telapak (footprints) said that Malaysia and Chine were major recipients of stolen Indonesian timber and that shipping companies from Singapore carried such wood overseas.  Rachmat Witoelar was speaking at a news conference with Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Jakarta to discuss a new World Bank-backed fund aimed at countering global warming through the protection of forests.
Australia, which declined to join the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, plans to contribute A$ 200 million (US$161 million) over five years to the fund, which will be mostly spent in Indonesia. 
Lisbon Tourism Summit in May to discuss Tourism’s role in Climate Change
Meanwhile, the world’s tourism leaders have not stood still. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has recently launched an international campaign to call to dialogue the issues on climate change, said a WTTC release. 
 An online forum has been created to encourage open dialogue on the issues that need to be addressed on climate change. The forum also draws input concerning environmental good practice, working hand in hand with sustainable communities, nations and business.
Industry leaders, experts, governments and other stakeholders are invited to join the dialogue and to share their views by visiting
Travel & Tourism leaders, from both the public and private sector, will gather to reflect on the online dialogue and to discuss the issues at the 7th Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, May 11 and 12, 2007.
WTTC President Jean-Claude Baumgarten said, "The risk of an energy crisis is forcing a re-think on consumption levels, efficiency, and alternatives. Know-how is being developed and already Travel & Tourism leaders are working on making a real difference, not only on the carbon footprint of their activities, but also the overall impact of Travel & Tourism on our natural environment. Rather than demonizing any industry or activity, the task now for individuals, corporations, communities and governments, is to cut through misconceptions and to work on realizing practical solutions for a sustainable future."
STI President Brian Mullis added, "Demonstrating that unavoidable carbon impacts can be offset sends an important message to the industry and to travelers worldwide. Since the Global Travel & Tourism Summit will be the highest profile tourism-related event to become carbon neutral, we're hoping it will catalyze a movement we've spearheaded in helping the Travel & Tourism industry become carbon neutral."
WTTC is the forum for business leaders in the Travel & Tourism industry. With Chief Executives of some one hundred of the world's leading Travel & Tourism companies as its Members, WTTC has a unique mandate and overview on all matters related to Travel & Tourism. WTTC works to raise awareness of Travel & Tourism as one of the world's largest industries, employing approximately 231 million people and generating over 10 per cent of world GDP.

(Sources: UN News Center, Reuters, WTTC release, Bisnis Indonesia)   (Tuti Sunario)