Climate Change: 'A Problem of Lifestyles'

BANGKOK - An eleventh hour intervention by the Indian delegation at a major U.N. climate change conference here pushed to centre stage the need for a dramatic shift in lifestyles rather than dependence on green-friendly technology for solutions to global warming.

The call by the Indians to include lifestyle changes and behaviour patterns to mitigate climate change was ''welcomed across the board,'' said an observer at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a meeting that drew scientists, environmentalists and government officials from over 120 countries.

''There was no opposition; it was approved without question,'' added Catherine Pearce of the environmental lobby Friends of the Earth International after the close of the week-long meeting ending Friday, with the release of the 'Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change' report. The over 1,000 page document, which was the subject of heated debate, lasting well after midnight on three days, was the third such document circulated this year to address the dire consequences the world faces due to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the global response required.

''Changes in lifestyles and consumption patterns that emphasise resource conservation can contribute to developing a low-carbon economy that is both equitable and sustainable,'' stated the summary of the report for policy makers that was approved by the ninth session of the IPCC Working Group III.

''Changes in occupant behaviour, cultural patterns and consumer choice and use of technologies can result in considerable reduction in carbon dioxide emissions related to energy use in buildings,'' it added.

But this emphasis on shifts in individual behaviour to help cool an overheating planet does not translate into a call for sacrifices in lifestyle, leading members of the IPCC declared. ''We should not view it in terms of sacrifices,'' Ogulande Davidson, co-chairman of the IPCC Working Group III, said at the closing press conference.

''This is for a change of lifestyle without a change in comfort,'' added Rajendra Pachuri, chairman of the IPCC. ''One has to try to accept a different threshold of comfort.''

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who sat through the discussions interpreted this message that was included for the first time in an IPCC report differently. ''It is a strong message sent to the citizens of the United States and Europe to reassess their personal carbon footprint and help the rest of the world to achieve a common goal,'' Shailendra Yashwant, climate and energy team manager for the South-east Asia office of Greenpeace, told IPS.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, an average U.S. citizen requires 10 hectares of the planet to support his or her lifestyle, while an average European needs over five hectares. An average person in Africa, by contrast, draws on about one hectare of the earth's resources to live.

The case made by the Indians is due to receive attention in China which has emerged along with the U.S. as one of the leading producers of GHGs due to high dependency on fossil fuels. China is expected to top the list of GHG producers by 2009 and India is due to follow close behind in over a decade, given its projected increase in coal usage.

''When China adopted the open economy policy we used the U.S. model, but now we need to change that by stressing efficient use of energy and consumption that uses less energy,'' David Zhou, researcher at Beijing's Energy Research Institute and a member of the IPCC's body of experts, told IPS. ''We are trying to create new models by looking at some European countries.''

The solutions for greener future made out in this report were aimed at preventing the Earth's temperature increasing by a further two degrees Celsius to avoid an environmental catastrophe. For that, carbon dioxide emissions, by far the largest contributor to global warming, need to drop between 50 and 85 percent by 2050, the report states.

The economic cost of that, according to the U.N. panel, that draws on the contributions of over 2,000 scientists, would be only 0.12 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP). And innovations in technology offered governments a way forward to achieve the urgently needed benchmarks, it adds.

Among the key mitigation technologies singled out in the blueprint for change were switching from coal to gas, nuclear power, hydropower, solar power, wind power and, in the future, ''advanced renewable energy, including tidal and waves energy.''

''New energy infrastructure investments in developing countries, upgrades of energy infrastructure in industrialised countries and polices that promote energy security can, in many cases, create opportunities to achieve GHG emission reductions,'' the report notes.

Investment in such ventures, expected to total over 20 trillion U.S. dollars between now and 2030, ''will have long term impacts on GHG emissions,'' it adds pointing to ''long life-times of energy plants and other infrastructure capital stock''.

But the challenge that awaits governments to take a radical turn in their energy supply line is daunting, given that renewable energy accounts for only 13 percent of the world's primary energy demands, of which, biomass is the largest alternative energy source.

According to Greenpeace, about 80 percent of primary energy supply still comes from fossil fuels, of which oil provides 36 percent of the world's fuel needs, while coal supplies 25 percent.

The first two reports by the IPCC that were released this year raised the alarm about the peril that current and future generations face if global warming continues at the current pace. For one, it could result in extreme weather patterns from hotter summers to warmer winters, rise in sea levels, stronger storms and hurricanes, droughts and melting of glaciers.

In fact, a rise in the global temperature by two degrees Celsius could result in the extinction of a third of the world's animal and plant species and the communities worst affected would be the world's poor, the previous reports warned.

''While governments have to take the lead in finding solutions, people also have to play their part in making changes to reduce GHG emissions,'' says Ismalel Elgizouli, a mathematician at the Khartoum University, Sudan, and an African representative at the IPCC. ''That is why changes in lifestyles are essential.''

''If people only use what they need they can help save energy without any change in their comfort,'' he explained to IPS. ''But it must be voluntary.''

Copyright (c) 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.

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