1. Global warming, Climate change
4 Greenhouse effect gas
5 GAs adv
Since the 1980s, there has been a growing body of evidence to suggest that industrialisation is having an effect on the climate of the planet. As concern has grown, a number of international bodies have been set up to research the issue, and more recently a series of treaties have been established to help curb the emission of so-called ‘greenhouse gases’. The most important of these was the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (see beelow for a link to the full text of the agreement) as part of which the European Union, the USA and Japan agreed to reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The protocol has come under attack from both sides – many environmentalists feel that it does not really address the threat of global warming, while many in industry feel it is an unnecessary burden.Global warming is a particularly difficult issue as it demands a world-wide response. Many developing nations are understandably anngered that a problem that seems to have been created by the rich, developed nations will have most impact on them. A global consensus remains far off.
1. Over the past 100 years, mankind has been burning increasing quantities of fossil fuels (such as
2. Computer models predict that continued gl
3. Technology has now reached the point where we can continue to develop standards of living throughout the world without needing to burn fossil fuels. Renewable sources of energy – such as wind or solar power – are ripe for development, but have yet to see the levels of investment needed to make them truly effective. More efficient use of energy is also vi
4. Global warming is a world-wide catastrophe waiting to happen: the emission of greenhouse gases affects everyone. It is therefore vital that the entire world responds now. The targets set by the Kyoto protocol will barely scratch the surface of the problem. Only minimal reductions were agreed to by the developed world, and no real agreement was reached involving the developing world, which is producing a greater percentage of greenhouse gas emissions every year.Gases such as CO2 remain in the atmosphere for centuries. If we wait until we can see the results of global warming, it may be too late – the damage will have been done, and reducing emissions then will have no effect for generations. We therefore must act now, and we must act globally. Developed countries must do all they can to reduce their use of fossil fuels. They must assist developing nations to do the same, by sharing technology or perhaps through ’emissions trading’ – allowing poorer countries to sell their quota of pollution in return fo
1. That mankind is causing global warming is far from being a proven fact. It is true that records show that average temperatures have increased over this century; however, temperatures actually dropped slightly between the 1930s and the 1970s. This was not associated with a reduction in fossil fuel emissions – in fact, they were increasing over this period. If the ‘greenhouse gases’ are responsible for global warming, how can this be?Accurate records simply do not cover a long enough period to be useful. The earth’s average temperature varies naturally through time, and we so far have few or no good explanations to explain events such as the ice ages. Indeed, there was a ‘mini-ice age’ around four hundred years ago, during which the Thames in London repeatedly froze over during winter; this was followed by an intensive but natural period of ‘global warming’. We do not have enough information to say that current trends are not simply natural variation.
2. Again, our computer models for predicting climate change are far from reliable. The weather is a hugely complex system that we are only just beginning to understand; it is affected by millions of factors, including solar activity, volcanic eruptions, ocean currents, and other cycles which we are gradually discovering. Very slight changes in the computer model result in immense differences in predictions. Some scientists have, for example, suggested that global warming could actually cause a drop in sea level, as rainfall patterns and ocean currents shift. Indeed, refinements in the models used by the IPCC have caused it to tone down its predictions. In 1990, it estimated that by 2100 the average temperature would rise by 3°C and the sea rise by about 65cm; by 1995, it had revised these to 2°C and 50cm. The more research takes place, the less ‘catastrophic’ global warming seems to be; however, it is always the predictions of doom which are most widely reported in the media.
3. Of course there is an important role for greater energy efficiency. However, most alternatives to fossil fuels are simply not effective. They can also cause their own problems. Nuclear power creates unacceptable radioactive waste; hydro-electric power projects, such as the Three Gorges dam in China, leads to the flooding of vast areas and the destruction of the local environment; solar and wind power often require the covering of large areas of natural beauty with solar panels or turbines. Environmentalists often paint an idealistic view of renewable energy which is far from the less romantic reality.
4. The evidence for global warming is not strong enough to merit this kind of response – it is entirely possible that the changes over the past century have been purely natural. Environmentalists in the developed world can afford the luxury of demanding government action, as increasingly technology-based economies mean that reducing pollution will have a minimal impact on prosperity or employment. Those in the developing world are not so lucky. Industrialisation is a key part of building successful economies and bringing prosperity to the world’s poorest people; heavy industry is often the only area in which developing nations can compete.Global action on greenhouse gas emissions would sustain the inequalities of the current status quo. The developing world would be entirely dependent on multinationals to provide the technology they needed to keep pollution levels low, or else would have to stop expanding their economies. Having apparently caused the problem through the industrialisation that made them powerful, developed countries would essentially be pulling the ladder up behind them, depriving other countries of the chance to do the same. This is simply unacceptable: in the modern world, one of our first priorities must be to help the poorest people achieve the prosperity they need to support themselves. The current evidence for global warming does not begin to merit endangering this goal.
Cimate change is a reality. Today, our world is hotter than it has been in two thousand years. By the end of the century, if current trends continue, the global temperature will likely climb higher than at any time in the past two million years. While the end of the 20th century may not necessarily be the warmest time in Earth’s history, what is unique is that the warmth is global and cannot be explained by the natural mechanisms that explain previous warm periods. There is a broad scientific consensus that humanity is in large part responsible for this change, and that choices we make today will decide the climate of the future.
How we are changing the climate
For more than a century, people have relied on fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas for their energy needs. Burning these fossil fuels releases the global warming gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Other, even more potent, greenhouse gasses are also playing a role, as is massive deforestation.
What we know
• While there are still uncertainties, particularly related to the timing, extent and regional variations of climate change, there is mainstream scientific agreement on the key facts:
• Certain gasses, such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere create a “greenhouse effect”, trapping heat and keeping the Earth warm enough to sustain life as we know it.
Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, etc.) releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Although not the most potent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide is the most significant in terms of human effects because of the large quantities emitted.
Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are now the highest in 150,000 years.
The 1990’s was most likely the warmest decade in history, and 1998 the warmest year.
Should countries be allowed to buy greenhouse gas quotas from other countries and so, in effect, pay for the right to pollute more? Or should polluters simply be heavily taxed if they exceed their own quotas?
It is generally, although not universally, accepted that the planet is under severe threat from climate change. A number of methods have been proposed in order to reduce the emissions of so-called greenhouse gases, which lead to global warming. The European Union has always favoured a ‘carbon tax’ (a tax on heavy polluters) whereas the United States has supported Tradable Pollution Quotas (TPQs). Each country in the TPQ scheme is initially permitted to produce a certain maximum amount of each polluting gas. Consequently, countries which wish to exceed their quotas can buy the right to do so from other countries which have produced less than their quota of polluting gases. In 1997, at the Kyoto environmental summit, the European Union conceded and the subsequent Kyoto protocol laid the foundations for TPQs. Under this protocol developing countries are exempt from the emission standards and cannot take part directly in pollution trading. Furthermore, countries can also ‘sink’ carbon (e.g. by planting forests to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) to offset some of their pollution against their quota.The definition for this debate is simply that the TPQ system, as agreed upon in Kyoto, will be an effective way of averting global warming. The issues of global warming or climate change, alluded to in point 1, is covered more fully in the specific debate on that topic.There are two distinct subsets of opposition arguments. The industrial lobby claims that TPQs go too far and that such stringent regulation is unnecessary. The environmentalists claim that TPQs are too lax. Both strands are presented below but note that they are mutually contradictory and you may end up in trouble if you run all these lines in a debate!
1. The environmental lobby has hugely overestimated the claims for pollution damaging the environment. The fossil record indicates that climate change has occurred frequently in the past and there is little evidence linking climate change with emissions.
2. In reality the TPQ scheme is a cop-out. It means that in the long run there will be more pollution than if limits were strictly enforced for each country and punitive taxes imposed on those exceeding their quotas. Without TPQ, if a country kept well below its quota, that would be good for the environment. The TPQ scheme means that this benefit is lost and the right to this extra pollution is bought by another country.
3. It is much too simplistic to state that it does not matter where pollution is produced, merely that the total amount generated is salient. This is completely untrue for many gases which do effect the region in which they are created. Furthermore, in order to permit them to industrialise, developing countries have been excluded from the protocol. This seriously undermines the efficacy of the protocol.It is also wrong for the proposition to assert that taxes still allow big companies to pollute; if taxes were set high enough then pollution would become prohibitively expensive.We also note that the introduction of TPQs will make later reduction in global emissions much harder. Once trading in TPQs has started it is almost inconceivable to imagine countries which have bought extra emission rights voluntarily giving up those rights in order to help reduce global emissions further.
4. It is true that TPQs have had some success in the United States. They have, however, failed in Europe for two reasons. First, the European schemes were badly planned. This bodes very poorly for the Kyoto protocol, which has all the hallmarks of bad planning, since many of the key decisions were not made at Kyoto but were left until later. Secondly, whereas the American solution to pollution was always trading emissions, the main European solution was, and still is, to produce new technology to clean the emissions. Extending the TPQs scheme to the entire globe thereby places European initiatives at a disadvantage because of the cheaper, but ultimately less effective method of TPQs.
5. Enforcement was ignored at the Kyoto summit itself and large question marks still remain over the compromise reached at the follow-up Bonn summit. Clearly the entire scheme is invalidated without a comprehensive enforcement mechanism. It is also virtually impossible to assess the effect that an individual country’s carbon ‘sink’ is having on the atmosphere. This merely creates a loophole through which a country can abuse the protocol and produce more than its quota.
6. Such a scheme as TPQs will hit employment and hit it hard. Countries even in the developed world are not so rich that they can simply buy enough quotas to avoid pollution, neither can they afford to install the expensive cleaning technology. There will therefore be a decrease in growth and consequently in living standards in developed countries.
1. It is now generally agreed in the scientific community that something must be done to curb emissions of greenhouse gases. The fact that El Niño has occurred with record frequency and that the four hottest years on record have all been in the last decade are clear evidence for climate change. The evidence that this climate change is due to global warming caused by pollution is also strong. The possible consequences include crop failure, mass flooding and the destruction of entire ecosystems with the possible loss of billions of lives. Other consequences of pollution include acid rain and the enlargement of the hole in the ozone layer.
2. The TPQ scheme is the only practical way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases globally. It will guarantee that global levels of these gases are kept below strict targets, which is more realistic than expecting heavy polluters magically to be able to cut their emissions overnight.
3. Emissions are fundamentally a global problem. The emission of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, for example, effects the entire planet regardless of where the gas is produced or the distribution of sites in which the gas is produced. This validates the use of TPQs, which act to limit the total amount of each polluting gas globally. This is much more effective that the alternative of taxing emissions, because rich companies or countries are still able to pay the tax and pollute. This effect is exacerbated since the tax would act to bankrupt smaller companies, which cannot afford the tax, thereby generating more revenue for larger companies.
4. TPQs are a tried and tested scheme. For example, this system was introduced in the United States by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and lead to trading in sulphur dioxide emissions. Such schemes have been successful and there is therefore good reason to suppose we can institute TPQs on a global scale.
5. Progress in the field of emission control is remarkably difficult because of the opposition from the industrial lobby, most notably in the United States, which sees such restrictions as being harmful to the economic wellbeing of their economy. TPQs are the one method of control which is accepted by these lobby groups and more significantly by the United States government. As the world’s biggest polluter the United States must be included in any meaningful treaty and since TPQs are the only acceptable solution to the United States’ objections they are to be welcomed as the only practical way forward.
6. Economically TPQs cause less damage to an economy than any other emission control regime. Individual companies and countries can trade TPQs on the free market until they have struck the right balance between the cost of paying to pollute and the cost of cleaning up their industry.