On Oct. 22 the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, finally ratified the Kyoto Protocol. With this action, the climate treaty, which has been delayed for seven years, can now come into force. In recent years, climate change has become a common topic of discussion every time we experience "unusual" weather. If it rains too much or too little, if it is too hot or too cold, if there are numerous typhoons, we immediately point to climate change as the culprit.
In fact, climate is the long-term average of various weather conditions, and scientists are not able to say with certainty whether the difference in the weather from one year to the next is due to climate change or whether it is a normal fluctuation in weather patterns. But most people do agree that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the climate will certainly change, possibly into something that is very different from what we know today.
As we haven't the means to predict the speed and scope of changes to the climate in 30 or 50 years, we are naturally conservative and hope that it will remain relatively unchanged from what we know. Scientists have estimated that we must reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 60 percent of what is now normal if we are to keep the increase in the density of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere below 25 percent.
As early as the 1992 summit, nearly 200 national leaders met to agree on the reduction of greenhouse emissions to the same level as in 1990 by 2000. As this self-imposed reduction had no effect whatsoever, the international community formulated the legally enforceable Kyoto Protocol in 1997. At present, the protocol applies to just over 30 industrialized nations who aim to reduce emissions by an average of 5.2 percent by 2010.
Although this is a very small amount, it has taken seven years to put the treaty into effect. The main problem lies in the time lag for climate change and its uncertainty.
Scientific prediction as to climate change for 10 to 100 years in the future are extrapolated from what we know of past weather patterns. It is more than possible that what we know is incomplete, so there is a high degree of uncertainty in scientific predictions about the weather; predictions about social and economic consequences are even more uncertain.
Mankind's main sources of energy are coal, oil and gas. All activities, from the basic necessity to feed and clothe ourselves, to matters of national economy and defense, all require energy. The accumulation of greenhouse gases over the last 100 years has begun to affect us directly, and the continuance of such emissions is only making matters worse.
If we look at the situation for the new millennium, the benefits to the environment as well as social and economic life of reducing or stopping the emission of greenhouse gases will certainly be greater than the cost. This is why we should act early and reduce the burden on future generations. This is why conservationists are all demanding that we take action now.
Governments and business leaders do not all agree that it is necessary to take action at this point. They need to decide how much they will do, and whether to do it now or to wait a few years when more advanced technology is available.
Will the short term benefits be greater than the cost? Will it affect competitiveness? Because we are not in command of all the variables, the benefits of reducing greenhouse emissions may not become immediately evident. The many issues involved make the decision a difficult one, with the result that until now nothing has been done.