Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Tackling global warming

Gentle regulation of the marketplace will simply not suffice for a problem this big, while individual actions are not enough. Governments must act swiftly and substantially

By Jonathan Freedland  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

"And there will be more Darfurs," Ashton said, the more the climate changes.

As Beckett put it on Tuesday: "Wars fought over limited resources -- land, fresh water, fuel -- are as old as history itself."

And climate change threatens to reduce the supply of each one of those resources in some of the most unstable places on Earth, with Africa and the Middle East first in line.

More straightforward still, if we remain dependent on fossil fuels, then we remain dependent on the countries that produce them. That leaves us held to ransom by Russia for its gas, and the Gulf states for oil. Even if global warming did not matter, that would be a hard-headed, realpolitik reason to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

Still, more hearteningly, if climate change is a foreign policy problem, foreign policy can surely be part of the climate change solution.

SUPRANATIONAL SOLUTIONS NEEDED

It's a truism that carbon dioxide does not recognize borders, and that any effort to tackle it will have to be supranational. Ideally, that would mean global treaties, accepted by everyone, which would see the entire human race come together to deal with a threat that is choking the planet we all share. But that's hardly likely, not when the world's biggest polluter, the US, is still led by an administration barely emerging from official denial that there is a problem at all.

That means interim action, starting with the EU. Heaven knows there are ample reasons to be sceptical about the EU, but when it comes to tackling climate change, we should fall to our knees and give thanks that such a body exists.

The EU has more clout, over a larger area, than any single country could ever hope to wield. With its mighty 120 billion euro (US$152 billion) budget, it can encourage the technological innovations, from alternative energies to more efficient gadgets, that might get us out of this mess. And it can regulate out of existence those that make our troubles worse.

Some diplomats are pushing for ever closer engagement with China, working urgently to perfect the technology that might capture the carbon generated by coal-fired power stations, sending it back into the earth rather than into the atmosphere. That's especially pressing in the case of China, which is building a new coal-fired station every four or five days.

Why doesn't the EU go further, constructing a low-carbon free trade area with China, a single market for low-carbon technology? Europeans might design, say, an ultra-efficient fridge; China could build it and, with the resulting economies of scale, they could end up selling them all over the world.

All these ideas are fizzing away among those who have come to realize that no area of life is left untouched by this danger. Very smart people in ministries across the globe are trying to think of the right blend of taxes, regulation, incentives and trading schemes that might stop the world emitting too much carbon.

They acknowledge that most of the US$17 trillion that will be spent in the energy sector between now and 2030 will be spent by private companies -- and that, therefore, public servants are limited to prodding and pushing them, hoping they move in the right direction.

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