Political hot air at the Hague

THREE YEARS ago in Kyoto there was an agreement to reduce the release of greenhouse gases that effect the world’s climates.

Bill Hopwood

These gases, the most important of which is carbon dioxide (CO2), hold in the earth’s heat. Without these gases the world would be frozen, but even a small increase can change the weather and climate around the world.

Over the last few years the average world temperature has increased. The Arctic ice is shrinking as are glaciers worldwide.

As well as rising sea levels scientists expect the world to have more storms, like the recent ones in Britain and much of Asia.

Due to widespread burning of fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – over the last 200 years the amount of carbon dioxide has increased by over 25%. The Kyoto agreement was to reduce these gases to 5% below the level of 1990 by 2010, but since then they have increased. Most scientists think that releases need to be cut by 60% not 5%.

The recent Hague conference was supposed to agree ways to reduce CO2 releases. However, most of the arguments were about ways to avoid reductions, by using various loopholes. Top of the list is counting trees, which when growing hold carbon. However wood only holds carbon if it never roots or is burnt – most unlikely.

Already companies are getting into the act, leasing land in East Africa to grow trees, planning to make millions. This latest form of colonialism will drive people off their land and the trees will use scarce water resources.

Another loophole is allowing the buying of permits to pollute from other countries that have cut the release of CO2, especially Russia.

The biggest supporter for the loopholes instead of actual cuts has been the USA.. The big oil-based companies – cars, airplanes and oil – have lobbied the government to resist any changes.

Some even argue that there is no evidence of climate change or that it doesn’t matter. In recent years there has been no cut in CO2, instead it has increased 3% per person per year.

There are real alternatives which include public transport, renewable energy – using winds. waves and the sun, and energy efficiency. Britain currently only produces 3% of its electricity from renewables, although it’s well placed, especially for wind power.

The government wants to increase this to 10% by 2010, but is only investing a few million a year into research. Minuscule compared to the billions spent on nuclear power.

As well as reducing the releases of CO2, this policy would reduce air pollution which causes death and illness. It would also reduce the use of oil, a valuable raw material that will run out in the near future unless trends are changed.