Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author Sofia Sousa.
In a world where CO2 emissions have been increasing at a dangerous speed, the Climate Change issue has been brought under debate. The consequences it can have for the next years in terms of global warming and destruction of the Earth are in fact overwhelming and scaring. Although the Kyoto Protocol has tried to set requirements and to reduce each country’s emissions, its rules are not ambitious enough, given the environmental destruction that approaches us.
The scaring scenario of the increase of CO2 emissions and global warming was perceived by the international community back in the 90s, when the developed world accounted for 65% of the total annual emissions, while its population only included 20% of the world population, in 1990. After the UNFCCC showed its aim of “reducing atmospheric concentrations of GHGs” and “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with the Earth’s climate system” through a voluntary, non-binding treaty in 1992, the Rio Summit, the Kyoto Protocol established in 1997 a set of obligations for countries to reduce their GHGs emissions by 2012. Although Kyoto’s objectives aimed toward a sustainable development through reduction of emissions by 2012, the truth is that there is still a long way to go until the world meets the desirable goal of preventing global warming. In fact, the scope of the Protocol’s initial cap can be viewed as a political negotiation rather than an optimization of the environmental approach, especially in practical terms. Also a huge lack of transparency and liquidity of carbon markets is a major issue being discussed. The fact that the biggest emitters, US and China, have not agreed to commit to these requirements is extremely critical, as the world definitely needs them to cooperate. While the Protocol was signed at a time when consensus regarding the Climate Change debate was weaker than today, nowadays its lack of ambition leads to a need to define a post-Kyoto international agreement.
Some experts believe that a suitable way to solve the climate challenge would be the use of coal with carbon capture and sequestration. In fact, the study on The Future of Coal from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Ansolabehere, 2007) encourages the idea that the use of this source of energy could start to show progress regarding the environment protection around 2025, being even able to lead to better results than renewable energy by 2045. However, coal power with carbon capture and sequestration has also been seen as a technological system that still remains unproved, as there are risks of CO2 escapes during the process. One should therefore reflect whether it would be worth it to wait until such long-term results with little evidence of success. My answer to this reflection is that we should definitely bet on the use of coal with carbon capture and sequestration as a long-term solution to the Climate Change issue. According to The Future of Coal study (MIT) mentioned above, the finding that the use of coal with carbon capture and sequestration would reduce CO2 emissions while keeping its use above today’s level, should not be forgotten. The promotion of such use should therefore be included in the post-Kyoto international agreement.
Beyond the use of coal with carbon capture and sequestration, there are also sustainable solutions that all sorts of companies have been developing and adopting worldwide, especially regarding the implementation of sustainable architecture. It should include the use of recycled materials in all kinds of buildings, which in turn reduces embodied energy, that is, the energy used in the production of new materials. Materials such as bamboo, baked earth, coconut, clay, among others, can be used to build small houses, warehouses, unique coffee shops or restaurants, among other buildings. Also cardboard houses consist of a building that uses a recycled material, allowing its construction to save energy. These houses are designed with exterior waterproofing and, once the required resistance is proved, could have several functions, such as serving as excellent holiday houses in the countryside. Sustainable architecture should also promote the use of renewable energies, both in common buildings and in firms’ production processes. It is already a fact that many companies have been aware of the potential that renewable energies have toward the environment protection and reduction of CO2 emissions. Companies such as China Power New Energy, EDP (Energias de Portugal) or Nevada Geothermal Power have been strongly focusing on renewable energies, and not only energy firms should engage in this sustainable solution, but also firms in other industries. This source of energy can be implemented through wind turbines, solar water heating or air-water heat pumps. Solar water heating, for example, can be a cost-effective way to access to hot water at home, as it uses a free fuel – sunshine. Although the costs of solar collectors’ installation can be high, payback periods can be short because of the annual energy savings they result in.
It is also necessary that the biggest polluters join a post-Kyoto international agreement, since this condition was not met under Kyoto’s requirements. It is a complex question because both economies aim to invest in their development, and need production and consequent emissions to do so. I believe that only pressure and time may help so that this condition is met. I also believe that Australia’s ratification of the Protocol in 2007 can help to pressure the US to join the agreement, since Australia was one of the industrialized countries refusing to ratify the Protocol and is now working toward its emissions’ reduction. It has the possibility of showing the world that even a country with a strong dependence on fossil fuels is able to take responsibility in the Climate Change debate. This would contribute toward the US isolation, increasing the pressure for the developed country to ratify. I believe that the ratification of the US in the new international treaty is a pre-condition to bring developing countries such as India and China into an agreement with realistic and ambitious targets.
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