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In a time of crisis

, by Nives Costa

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

For many weeks, the financial crisis and its consequences have regularly hit the top columns of international newspapers. Few days ago, we have been made aware of another of its victims: the European consensus on the CO2 emission reduction plan.

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The crisis was the ideal pretext for the right wing-led Italian government, supported by a fierce group of industry representatives, to demand a renegotiation of the emission cuts requested under the Kyoto Protocol. The European partners have turned baffled and irritated in front of the aggressive declarations of the Italian Government.

Political activity is notoriously focussed on the short term, and climate change does not belong to this category. And what about the costs of climate change? Costs, as global warming will not just alter our landscapes and our lifestyle. It will also hit hard on our economies. How to measure such complex and intangible elements? According to the Stern Report – the report on the impact of climate change on the world economy commissioned by the British Government to the economist Nicholas Stern in 2006 – the costs of mitigation and emission reduction would be 1% of the global GDP; the cost of non-action, 20%. Climate models, like economic models, are not crystal balls and their estimates are indicative. Yet, choosing not to act in view of a small short term gain will bring disproportionate and absurd costs.

Who is going to pay the real price of global warming?

Who is going to pay the real price of global warming? Developing countries, as climate change will surely be unfair. This will happen for many reasons: first of all, environmental degradation is already advanced in many developing countries, especially in their megalopolis. The very same industries that today cry for a reduction in the emission cuts have been outsourcing and polluting in these locations for years now. Furthermore, many developing countries lie within tropical areas, notably more vulnerable to extreme weather events, or are just above the sea level. They are often over-populated, and they don’t have the resources to perform the so-called climate change adaptation – a nicer name for damage control.

Our economies will have to face serious drawbacks as well: the optimist models only forecast damages to the tourism industry and to our landscapes, disappearance of alpine glaciers, sanitary crisis and diffusion on tropical illnesses. The negative ones feature migratory waves towards the wealthier world due to the disappearance of low lands, multiplication of local conflicts for resources, deepening of the world food crisis.

These are the bad news. The good news is that we already master the technology for arresting this trend. It is not possible to neutralise global warming, because the process has already started, but it can be put under control. Reducing CO2 emissions is a key step in this direction.

The good news is that we already master the technology for arresting this trend

Back to the last days’ politics: considering what said above, the requests of some European governments, led by the Italian government, proove all their irrationality. It is worrying to see how some European countries ignore with determination the opportunities offered by the green economy, and see only its costs. The way forward is clear: investments in new, clean technologies, focus on renewable energies, re-thinking our life styles. The re-conversion of our economy into a sustainable economy is a challenge but also an opportunity, that some countries are already seizing.

The EU seems firm in its decision of cutting 20% of its greenhouse gases emissions, as foreseen in the Kyoto Protocol, even if that target is still far away. In any case, the EU remains the main supporter of the climate agreement in the international community.

Next year, in Copenhagen, the goal will be to reach an agreement on even stricter emission limits. The hope is that the EU will show that concurrence of political intent that has characterised its better moments. The times they are a-changin’, used to sing Bob Dylan, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone.

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