The Bigger Picture
Published on August 6th in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
In my previous columns I have discussed some of the reasons why we must take more individual responsibility and action to address climate change due to global warming. But I am also painfully aware that there is only so much that we can do as individuals to reduce global carbon emissions. The world’s governments and their political leaders must do more as well but there is also one group of countries that is more important than all of the other countries in the world. I call them Chimerzilia.
Chimerzilia is the G5 of carbon emitters. Without their agreement to do more, and I mean a whole lot more, to reduce their countries’ carbon emissions there will be little, if any, reduction in global warming and the resultant climate change we will all experience.
Chimerzilia represents an amalgam of the names of the five countries (China, America, Brazil, Indonesia and India) that are the world’s largest carbon emitters and they are collectively responsible for more than 50% of global carbon emissions. Although the EU and Russia are also big carbon emitters and are responsible for more than 20% of global carbon emissions between them, the future depends on the G5 aka Chimerzilia. The G5 are also the 5 most populous countries in the world and, except Indonesia, among the world’s 7 largest nations by land area along with Australia, Canada and Russia.
Surprisingly, the reason why less industrialized countries like Brazil and Indonesia are in the top 5, instead of the more industrialized countries of the EU and Russia, is because of the amount of carbon that enters the earth’s atmosphere due to deforestation. While many of you may have also seen satellite photos of the smog blanketing Southeast Asia that was caused by fires in Indonesia a few years ago, what you may not know is that research shows that 70% to 90% of the fires were set by large, officially sanctioned companies to clear land for timber, oil-palm, and rubber plantations.
In Brazil tropical rainforest fires are set illegally in order to clear land for cattle grazing and agricultural uses after the best trees have been logged. But as a consequence of this activity the Amazon rainforest is losing its ability to stay green year round because the combination of deforestation and drought make it dangerously flammable. Scientists believe that as much as 50 percent of the Amazon could someday go up in smoke if these land clearing fires continue due to the lowering of the Amazon’s humidity levels.
But while the smoke and smog inducing carbon emissions that result from fires in the rainforests of Indonesia and Brazil causes problems for those suffering from breathing problems, all of the world’s citizens pay a price in the longer term. That’s because deforestation releases carbon stored in tropical peat and rainforests into the air while also reducing the earth’s ability to absorb existing levels of carbon in the atmosphere.
So the importance of the G5, aka Chimerzilia, is this; while China, America and India must agree to cut the 50% of the world’s carbon they are emitting, Brazil and Indonesia must also cut their own carbon emissions by reducing or eliminating deforestation, which is simultaneously eating up our global sponge for carbon emissions. Doing one or the other but not both is simply not an option if we want to avoid even more catastrophic consequences from climate change than the ones we are currently facing.
Both individually and collectively, the nations that compose the EU have done much more than most other countries around the world to address the problem of man-made global warming. I applaud the EU for their actions to reduce carbon emissions and hope that the EU will continue to push other countries like Russia to follow its lead.
But I am also a realist. Without the Chimerzilia G5, I see no hope for an effective global agreement to replace the largely ineffective Kyoto Protocol and address the causes of climate change. I hope that the political leaders of the EU will come to the same conclusion and not raise too big of a ruckus when America starts bilateral negotiations with the other members of the Chimerzilia G5. Like it or not, those negations have already begun albeit privately not publically. Yet!
While the EU is China’s largest trading partner, America is a close second and China is also the world’s largest holder of American debt securities. America is also the world’s largest economy and importer of foreign goods. America is also the world’s only true superpower notwithstanding the fact that China envisions becoming a superpower itself in the very near future. Indonesia’s largest trading partner is America but it is also the largest member of the 10 nation ASEAN which is China’s 3rd largest trading partner. India and Brazil’s largest trading partners are also China and America.
Is the picture I’m trying to paint here starting to emerge yet? The Chimerzilia G5 has a vested interest in maintaining these lucrative trade relationships among themselves as well as their trading relationships with the EU. But America has not been as aggressive as the EU when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, so the other members of Chimerzilia have decided that their own economic interests will be better served by any carbon emission reduction agreements that they can negotiate bilaterally with America.
I may be wrong, but I believe an effective post-Kyoto global climate change treaty will be one based on bilateral environmental agreements between and among the member states of the Chimerzilia G5. While the consequent global treaty won’t be the kind of agreement the world truly needs to stave off global warming, it may set the stage and provide a framework for later negotiations that will lead to much more aggressive action.
This, incidentally, is my most optimistic scenario for how the world’s political leaders might actually begin to deal with the issue of climate change. I will offer a much more realistic assessment next week.