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Sunday November 05, 2006

Last Tuesday, on the last day of October, heavy rains finally drenched the city of Jakarta . It was a welcome respite from the unbearable heat that has been on the city for more than two months. This has been a long dry season, and rains have come very late as temperatures soared unusually high even for ’s equatorial dry season. Temperatures of 35 and 36 degrees centigrade were not unusual, while Jakarta ’s temperature normally ranges between 27 to 30 degrees.    

In the countryside, the sun has parched and cracked fertile soil, and wells are running dry. In Kendal, Central Java, dams that usually irrigate paddy fields at 3000 liters per second now only produce some 50 liters per second, causing the new rice planting season to be postponed for two months until early December. Lakes have receded, ceasing supply to stations that are powered by water to generate electricity to the islands. Forest fires, man-made and natural, have caused thick smoke to choke the skies of Sumatra and Kalimantan , preventing aircrafts from landing and taking off. And, blown further north by the winds, the haze has shrouded the skies of , and parts of .  Other forest fires high along the slopes of volcanoes on Java are still seen ablaze, as tracts of forests have become tinder dry.    

But, now the rainy season is finally approaching. Parts of Sumatra have already been washed by tropical rains. Minister for the Environment, Rachmat Witoelar reported that 90% of fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan , especially those on peat land, have been doused by the rains, as well as sprayed from two Russian BE200 aircrafts. But haze in Pontianak, Banjarmasin and Palangkaraya are still reportedly quite thick.  The weathermen, however, say that the rainy season is expected to start by mid November only, and will peak between mid-December to end January. 

But, with the rainy season comes the specter of floods. Having learnt from past experiences, Jakarta’s administration and Jakarta ’s population are today preparing for untoward floods.   

Transtv and Metrotv report that Jakarta ’s sluices are now being checked to make sure that winches are well oiled. Rivers are dredged and tons of choking urban rubbish scooped up. Hovels built on levees are cleared. Community centers are checking rafts to evacuate people in case of floods, especially the elderly and the sick.  In homes, people are raising their TV and other precious furniture to higher levels. There are, so the report says more than 34 areas in Jakarta that are prone to floods each rainy season, they include the neighbourhoods of Kampung Melayu, Bukit Duri, Pulo Mas and others.  

is overcrowded as it is, and yet a week after the Eid holidays, some 28,000 more people have flocked into the capital city from the countryside in search of already scarce jobs. Most lack education and skills. And so, between Jakarta’s glitzy malls and luxurious real estates on the one hand, and crammed unhygienic hovels, on the other, Governor Sutiyoso admits that Jakarta is not ideal as a capital city, as large areas are located below sea level , therefore floods tend to occur every year, now more than before. 

With these extreme weather patterns around us, are these a natural cycle or are they indications of a drastic climate change? Is it only happening in or also elsewhere, since it seems that catastrophic hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts, floods occur in so many parts of the world today.   

From Monday 6 November to 17 November, the 12th Conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change takes place in Nairobi, . Included in this meeting is the 2nd Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol – to discuss Climate Change and what must be done to slow down the greenhouse effect on planet earth. For climate change as is happening today is impacting not only weather patterns and the world’s eco-system, but threatens global economies and societies, food and water supply, and it seems, even the very existence of planet Earth itself.  

The Earth is getting warmer- 2005 warmest year on record 

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its 2001 report confirmed that "An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system." 

Scientists have found that the 10 warmest years globally since 1856 have occurred in the last 15 years, while the year 2005 was the warmest on record, jointly with 1998. 

Direct manifestations and indications of a widespread and long-term trend toward warmer global temperatures, which IPCC calls “Fingerprints” include: Heat waves and periods of unusually warm weather; Ocean warming, sea-level rise and coastal flooding ; Glaciers melting ; Arctic and Antarctic warming 

s a consequence, there are warning signs that foreshadow the types of impacts likely to become more frequent and widespread with continued warming, which are called “Harbingers”. And these include: the Spreading of diseases; Earlier spring arrival ; Plant and animal range shifts and population changes; Coral reef bleaching; Downpours, heavy snowfalls, and flooding; Droughts and fires. 

Whereas, examples of Fingerprints in Asia are: 

In - Rising waters and temperatures
. Here the average rate of sea-level rise was 0.09 +/- 0.04 inches (2.3 +/- 0.9 mm) per year over the last 30 years. But, global sea-level rise was aggravated locally by subsidence of up to 2 inches (5 cm) per year for some regions due to earthquakes and groundwater withdrawal. Also, ocean temperatures off the coast have risen in the last 100 years, especially since the 1960s 

Further, in the Tien Shan Mountains in -- Glacial ice has reduced by one quarter in the past 40 years

In - Average temperature has increased
. The average temperature for the island has risen 1.8°-2.5°F (1°-1.4°C) in the last 100 years. The average temperature for 2000 was the warmest on record. 

While examples of Harbingers of Climate Change that have impacted on Asia include: 

In -- Malaria has spread to high elevations
. Malaria was detected for the first time as high as 6,900 feet (2,103 m) in the highlands of Irian Jaya in 1997. 

Additionally, in -- Burning rainforests, 1998
. Fires burned up to 2 million acres (809,371 hectares) of land, including almost 250,000 acres (101,172 hectares) of primary forest and parts of the already severely reduced habitat of the Kalimantan orangutan. 

Meanwhile in the Indian Ocean
– there occurred Coral reef bleaching (including in the  Seychelles; Kenya; Reunion; Mauritius; Somalia; Madagascar; Maldives; Indonesia; Sri Lanka; Gulf of Thailand [Siam]; Andaman Islands; Malaysia; Oman; India; and Cambodia).

Again in – Lakes disappeared, 2001
. More than half of the 4,000 lakes in the Qinghai province are disappearing due to drought. The severity of the impact is exacerbated by overpumping of aquifers. Annual average temperature in has increased during the past century, with pronounced warming since 1980. Most of the warming has been in northern areas, including Qinghai Province , and in the winter. 

How fast are temperatures rising? 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) 2005 State of the Climate Report:  

  • Since 1900, the average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.2-1.4 ºF.  
  • Since the mid 1970s, the average surface temperature has warmed about 1 ºF.  
  • The Earth’s surface is currently warming at a rate of about 0.32ºF/decade or 3.2 ºF/century.  
  • The average surface temperature of the Earth is likely to increase by 2.5 to 10.4°F (1.4°-5.8°C) by the end of the 21st century, relative to 1990 . This projected rate of warming is about two to ten times greater than the warming observed during the 20th century and may represent a warming rate unprecedented for at least the last 10,000 years, says NOAA. 

 Industry, Transportation, Agriculture, worst culprits of CO2 Emission 

Indeed, although natural geographical earth movements such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions also contribute to climate change, yet, it is Carbon dioxide (CO2) that has been identified as the most significant of the global warming gases, accounting for over 80% of global warming pollution. Atmospheric levels of CO2 are now higher than at any time in the past 420,000 years, which are all due to human action, says WWF. 

Around 97% of the CO2 emitted by western industrialised countries comes from burning coal, oil and gas for energy. Approximately 25 billion tonnes of CO2 is spewed into the atmosphere every year, or about 800 tonnes every second! Not surprisingly, says WWF, a global temperature build-up on this scale is seriously disrupting the natural balance of the world’s climate. 

The worldwide need for power and electricity, transportation, plastic, paper, timber, and the world’s population explosion, all have added to the excessive emission of C02 and climate change. Additionally, conversion of rain forests into agricultural land, the use of fertilizers that pollute the air and their runoff into rivers and lakes, all have caused the rapid depletion of earth’s resources and its biodiversity.  

Aviation Industry major producer of CO2 

Launched last week, the UK Stern Review, named after Sir Nicholas Stern, Head of the U.K. Government Economic Service and Adviser on the Economics of Climate Change and Development, reported that scientists found that transportation accounts for 14% of global greenhouse-gas emissions, making it the third largest source of emissions jointly with agriculture and industry. 

The report adds that three-quarters of these emissions are from road transport, while aviation accounts for around one-eighth and rail and shipping make up the remainder. Total CO2 emissions from transport are expected to more than double in the period to 2050, making it the second-fastest growing sector after power, as quoted by Imtiaz Muqbil in Travel Impact Newswire. 

“CO2 emissions from aviation are expected to grow by over three-fold in the period to 2050, making it among the fastest growing sectors. After taking account of the additional global warming effects of aviation emissions, aviation is expected to account for 5% of the total warming effect (radiative forcing) in 2050.” 

The report further notes that while the electricity sector would have to be largely decarbonised by 2050, through a mixture of renewables, carbon-capture-and-storage and nuclear, the transport sector is still likely to be largely oil-based by 2050, and efficiency gains will be needed to keep down growth. 

It says that “there is currently no incentive to reduce international aviation emissions, as only emissions from domestic flights are currently allocated to any country within national emissions inventories. Furthermore, many large international markets are outside the current Kyoto obligations framework. 

“However, the industry is growing fast, and people with lower incomes, especially in developed countries, are now able to travel globally due to low-cost flights. 

In this context, WWF is urging the 189 governments meeting next week in Nairobi, , to produce a clear plan for the Kyoto Protocol's post-2012 emission reduction targets. Ministers attending the international meeting also need to ensure that the least developed countries can access financial sources which have already been guaranteed to fund defense mechanisms against the impacts of climate change. 

Humans have overshot exploitation of Earth’s bio-diverse Resources 

Global warming, climate change and excessive use of earth’s resources, have severely degraded the ecosystem of the earth’s planet, to such conditions as never before experienced in human history, alerts WWF Campaign Director Paul King recently in Jakarta, as reported in Kompas daily. 

And, if the exploitation of natural resources continues at present scale, then by 2050 human beings will need the biodiversity of two earth planets to meet global demand! 

According to WWF Living Planet Report 2006, which was launched in Beijing last week, earth has lost 31% of terrestrial species within the period of thirty years alone between 1970 -2003. This rapid loss in biodiversity is the result of human demand patterns that has overshot the earth’s capacity to produce.
Living Planet 2006 says that “Since the late 1980s, we have been in overshoot  – the Ecological Footprint has exceeded the Earth’s biocapacity – as of 2003 by about 25%” 

WWF calls the Ecological Footprint which  tracks this in terms of the area of biologically productive land and water needed to provide ecological resources and services – food, fibre, and timber, land on which to build, and land to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) released by burning fossil fuels. 

Whereas, the Earth’s biocapacity is the amount of biologically productive area – cropland, pasture, forest, and fisheries – that is available to meet humanity’s needs. 

By tracking wild species, the Living Planet Index has also monitored the health of ecosystems, and found that “between 1970 and 2003, the index fell by about 30%. This global trend suggests that man is degrading natural ecosystems at a rate unprecedented in human history. 

Effectively, the Earth’s regenerative capacity can no longer keep up with demand – people are turning resources into waste faster than nature can turn waste back into resources”
states WWF Report. 

Humanity must put brakes on global warming

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it would take an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 60% just to stabilise concentrations in the atmosphere at their present level. Whilst this kind of immediate reduction simply isn’t possible, the IPCC’s figures show how much needs to be done to put the brakes on global warming.

Without the introduction of effective climate protection policies, carbon emissions will continue to rise making it nigh impossible for mankind to correct the damage it has caused.

We need to stay below 2°C 

WWF believes that temperature rise should stay well below 2°C in order to avoid dangerous climate change. It has already been shown that 2°C would bring with it a set of devastating impacts to coral reefs, arctic systems and local communities. The Earth cannot afford to go above. 

Impact of Climate Change on the World Economy 

Meanwhile, a UK government report on the economic impact of climate change presented by UK Treasury Minister Gordon Brown and Sir Nicholas Stern, the lead author and a former World Bank chief economist, shows the enormous cost the world is facing if action against climate change doesn‘t speed up. 

The Stern report states that warnings about the impact of global warming are proving certifiably true, leaving no room for any further time-wasting scepticism and dithering about what needs to be done next.

“Climate change presents a unique challenge for economics: it is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen,” the report says. “The economic analysis must therefore be global, deal with long time horizons, have the economics of risk and uncertainty at centre stage, and examine the possibility of major, non-marginal change.”

It adds that, “The effects of our actions now on future changes in the climate have long lead times. What we do now can have only a limited effect on the climate over the next 40 or 50 years. On the other hand what we do in the next 10 or 20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next.”

"The Stern Review is a wake up call to the world,” says Hans Verolme, Director of WWF’s Global Climate Change Programme. “Failing to take action now will devastate our living planet. It’s the world's poor that will suffer most from droughts and other natural disasters exacerbated by climate change.” 

“Now we learn the world's economy too will receive a serious blow if we do not act soon," Verolme added. "There are simply no excuses left to further delay strong action on climate change. This must translate in to practical actions that countries need to take right now.”

 “We need to keep global warming below 2°C because beyond that the changes of climate and weather will spin out of control," he stressed.

"The world can still prevent dangerous climate change but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. With political leadership and joint action we can make global emissions peak within 10 to 15 years. It is not a lack of solutions that is holding us back.”


• The danger threshold above which climate change is going to spin out of control has been set at 2°C warming of global average temperatures above pre-industrial levels (circa 1800). This value is based on the best available scientific research but is essentially a political decision. Among the countries who have accepted that threshold is the European Union at its Summit in spring 2005.
• Based on research such as the one presented to the UK’s Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change conference in 2005, the estimate is that CO2 emissions have to peak in 10 to 15 years from now to remain below the 2°C threshold.  

Editor’s Note 

In putting together this report, it struck me that all this while I have not really been fully aware of how rapacious the human race has become. 

Until today, although believing that we humans are not alone in this universe, man has yet to discover another planet among the million planets in this entire universe, where man can live. If it had, perhaps humans will be out there today to conquer and colonize it for our selfish ends.  

The beauty and abundance of nature that has been given to us on this earth has only been used to satisfy humanity’s greed. And because of this greed, man is now in danger of destroying the One and Only Planet Earth where mankind can live.  


(Information collected from WWF website, BBC, Travel Impact Newswire, Kompas) (Edited by Tuti Sunario)