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«Thematic Resource (Environment) Page 1 of 8 Global warming and India ANAND PATWARDHAN GLOBAL warming has emerged as one of the most important ...»

Thematic Resource (Environment) Page 1 of 8

Global warming and India

ANAND PATWARDHAN

GLOBAL warming has emerged as one of the most important

environmental issues ever to confront humanity. This concern arises

from the fact that our everyday activities may be leading to changes

in the earth’s atmosphere that have the potential to significantly

alter the planet’s heat and radiation balance. It could lead to a warmer climate in the next century and thereafter, portending a potpourri of possible effects – mostly adverse.

International efforts to address this problem have been ongoing for the last decade, with the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992 as an important launching point, and the Conference of Parties in Buenos Aires in 1998 as the most recent step. Although India as a developing country does not have any commitments or responsibilities at present for reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 that lead to global warming, pressure is increasing on India and other large, rapidly developing countries such as China and Brazil to adopt a more pro-active role.

At the same time, the developed countries of the North are trying to limit the extent of their commitments for emission reduction. In this situation, the public and policy makers need to be aware of the ramifications and implications of the global warming problem, even if it is a problem that may manifest itself only sometime in the next century.

What is climate change? Climate change is a newcomer to the international political and environmental agenda, having emerged as a major policy issue only in the late 1980s and thereafter. But scientists have been working on the subject for decades. They have known since the 19th century that carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is a ‘greenhouse gas’, that is, its presence in the atmosphere helps to retain the incoming heat energy from the sun, thereby increasing the earth’s surface temperature. Of course, CO2 is only one of several such greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Others include methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour. However, CO2 is the most important greenhouse gas that is being affected by human activities.

Thematic Resource (Environment) Page 2 of 8 CO2 is generated by a multitude of processes rang

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1. For example, over 700 billion tons of CO2 cycle annually through the biosphere. The anthropogenic contribution in this cycle is around 24 billion tons. Though the natural cycles are finely balanced, this is still a significant perturbation as it leads to an accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere.

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in the discussions. This value then defines the size of the resource that can be ‘used up’.

3. Equivalences have indeed been suggested in the form of ‘global warming potentials’, an index that attempts to capture the ability of each gas to cause changes in the climate system. However, since different gases have different lifetimes in the atmosphere, and since the entire history of forcing is important, this becomes a fairly complex problem.

–  –  –

Authoritative reviews of the science underlying the climate change issue are provided by the

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). See, for example:

J.T. Houghton, et. al. eds., Climate Change 1995: the science of climate change. Cambridge University Press, 1996; and, James P. Bruce, et. al., eds., Climate Change 1995: economic and social dimensions of climate change. Cambridge University Press, 1996. The IPCC also maintains a website at www.ipcc.ch.

A good introduction to the costs of reducing emissions is provided by Robert Repetto and Duncan Austin, The Costs of Climate Protection: a guide for the perplexed, World Resources Institute, Washington, 1997.

The Framework Convention secretariat operates a website at http://www.unfccc.de/, which provides very complete information on the entire negotiation process, as well as the actual Convention and Protocol



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