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Air Pollution and its Effect on our World's Climate
Jul 1, 1997

It is a Divine rule that As you sow, so shall you reap. The effects of pollution are not always felt by those who create it, but instead are suffered by these downstream or, in the case of air pollution, downwind. As the atmosphere is constantly moving and no one can actually claim specific molecules as their own, we are all forced to share in the responsibility for its maintenance. The build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is believed to cause changes in the climate which affect weather patterns, the ability to grow food, and the flooding of low lying areas, in general. Since the atmosphere is an entity without political boundaries, the way to lower destructive levels of greenhouse gases is for all nations to work toward the common goal of reducing their build-up in the atmosphere, since we are all in the same boat.

In the ongoing efforts of the United Nations toward that end, representatives from 50 countries participated in an informal international meeting convened by UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), in conjunction with the Earth Council and the Government of Costa Rica, held 29-31 October in San Jose. Specifically, the meeting entitled, ‘New Partnerships to Reduce the Buildup of Greenhouse Gases, discussed cooperation through a range of issues related to the concept of ‘Activities Implemented Jointly’ or AIJ. Among those present were Elizabeth Dodeswell, the executive Director of UNEP, Mr. Maurice Strona, Chairman of the Earth Council, and Dr. Mostafa Tolba, Director of Inter-national Centre of Environment and Development. The forum was opened by the host, His Excellency The President of Costa Rica, Mr. Jose Maria Figueres.

The concept of AIJ (which appears to be a spin-off of the older concept of Joint Implementation) emerged in 1995 at the First Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Berlin. AIJ is intended to provide an impetus to investment and co-development of advanced technologies that reduce the rate of greenhouse gas emmissions while advancing national economic and development goals. AIJ or, simply, any well-thought out Joint Implementation scheme, may be a cost-effective way to achieve the objectives of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change by encouraging technology transfer and co-operation between North and South. An AIJ Pilot Phase was included in the decision which forged the Berlin Mandate.

UNEP’s Executive Director, Elizabeth Dodeswell, in her address to the informal forum in San Jose, said that, ‘Joint Implementation, whether or not it involves credits but most particularly if it does, must be devised with one overriding consideration-it must be fair.’

Opponunities to reduce or mitigate greenhouse gas emissions are often more cost-effective in developing countries. As a result, joint implementation strategies might involve a developed country investing resources and technology in a developing country in exchange for emission credits. As Ms. Dodeswell pointed out, it may not however be enough for Joint Implementation agreements to be struck on a willing buyer, willing seller basis, but in addition, will require assessment and brokering through a neutral international process, bringing objectivity to the transaction and monitoring the implementation, to ensure fairness throughout.

At the Second Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Geneva, 8-9 June, 1996, the implementation of the Convention was reviewed. The Ministers and other Heads of delegations present stated, among many other things, that they will: ‘Instruct their represen-tatives to accelarate negotiation on the text of a legally-binding protocol or another legal instrument to be completed in due time for adoption at the third session of the Conference of the Parties. The outcome should fully encompass the remit of the Berlin Mandate...’ In addition, one of the particulars noted is ‘quantified legally-binding objectives for emission limitations and significant overall reductions within specified timeframes, such as 2005, 2010, 2020, with respect to their anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol.’ The goal of all these Climate Change meetings is spelled out in Article 2 of the Convention. Heavily summarized, it calls for, stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations in a timely manner in order to avoid climate change with dangerous consequences so that economic development may proceed in a sustainable way.

The Third Conference of the Parties, referred to in the preceding paragraph, will be held in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. Let us hope that agreement can be reached and carried out in a fair and constructive manner so that talking about the weather in this or future generations may continue to be a pleasant conversation- opener. Recognizing that, in today’s world, it is intolerable for 800 millions to be suffering from hunger and malnutrition and that it is everyone’s right to have adequate food to survive, the United Nations must reorganize itself in order to meet this challenge. The United Nations work in the field of peace and security is no less relevant: more effective conflict prevention and resolution efforts hold the promise of preventing the loss by millions of people of food security, particularly in the poor countries. At long last, very important principles on which to base our future action can be found in the results of previous world conferences and summits, including Rio, Vienna, Cairo, Beijing, Copenhagen and Istanbul. All conferences held so far have confirmed that environment matters all over the world. It matters as a set of interconnecting problems that threaten the quality of life and the sustainability of economic development worldwide. The environment is a global issue affecting people in developing and developed countries alike, and linking them in the need to take immediate action.

Today, there are 1.5 billion people living with dangerous air pollution, 1 billion without clean water, 2 billion without sanitation. Food production has doubled worldwide in the past quarter century- but at the price of loss of crop diversity, increased chemical contamination and loss of natural habitats. Around one-seventh of tropical forests have been lost in the past 25 years. These are not just local problems; their global impact takes the form of growing regional pollution, the spread of epidemic disease, the loss of biodiversity, global climate instability and the likelihood of mass migration from lands that can no longer support their populations.

Fortunately, the old notion of ‘development versus the environment’ has given way to a new view in which economic development and environmentally sustainable practice go hand in hand. Increasingly the idea of environmentally sustainable development is influencing the thinking of policy makers, international development agencies, and corporate executives. At the same time, years of environmentally conscious practice have produced advanced and cost-effective technologies and know- how. There are no longer either intellectual or technological impediments to the environmentally sustainable management of development.