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Climate Warming and Our Common Responsibility: Becoming Informed So We Can Act
The issue of global warming, a major challenge of our time, is a quintessential "entrance" to the initiation of an awareness-raising and education campaign on the question of everyone’s individual responsibility.
Following is a brief overview of the issue as it stands today (September 2005) and a few ideas on the educational potential of this issue for an initiation to the concept of human responsibility.
Climate change - current situation
The energy received by the Earth from the sun is partly trapped within the atmosphere by certain gases that prevent it from vanishing into space. Thanks to these "greenhouse effect" gases, the lower layers of the atmosphere warm up and reach temperatures that are favorable for life. Since the appearance of industry and due to its intense development in the past two centuries, humankind is constantly emitting more greenhouse gases. These gases remain concentrated in the air, and the atmosphere becomes warmer. Carbon dioxide is the main problem: it is what we emit the moment that we consume any carbon-based fuel: oil, natural gas, coal, or wood. Global warming of the atmosphere upsets the balance of the large masses of air and the whole planet warms up. The average temperature of the surface of the Earth has increased by 0.6 degrees Celsius since the end of the 19th century. Scientists have forcasted a new increase of between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. Even if the increase is the lower of the two forecasts, it will be the greatest increase within a century since 10,000 years ago.
Climate change brings about a number of threats that weigh upon human beings, among which:
Climate change is a global crisis that the whole of humankind is facing. Its consequences are ecological, but also economic and political in that the problem is also linked to challenges such as poverty, economic development, and the increase of world population.
An international climate convention - the Kyoto Protocol
Under the aegis of the United Nations, most countries of the world have formed a coalition around an international convention, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change" (UNFCCC), aiming to seek the solutions to face this problem. In 1997, the governments agreed on an amendment to this convention, called the Kyoto Protocol, a text including legally binding terms. The countries that ratify this protocol are committed either to reducing their carbon-dioxide emissions and those of five other greenhouse gases, or to trading "emission rights" with other countries if they maintain or increase their emissions.
Current estimations indicate that if the Kyoto Protocol is successfully applied, it would lead to a reduction of the average temperature increase to about between 0.02° C and 0.28° C by 2050 (source: Nature, October 2003), compared with the increase of 1.4° C to 5.8° C between 1990 and 2100 currently anticipated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For this reason, several scientists and environmentalists question the value and efficiency of the Kyoto Protocol and are demanding more binding commitments for the countries. We should also note that the Kyoto Protocol is a first step, since Article 4.2 of the Convention on Climate Change has planned to modify the required reduction levels when the objectives of the protocol will have been reached.
The protocol ensued from the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It is open to the 189 countries participating in the UN climate convention but includes the commitment of only 38 industrialized countries, with a global reduction of carbon-dioxide emissions by 2012 estimated at 5.2% less than the emissions in 1990. The protocol was open to signatures from March 16, 1998 to March 15, 1999. It entered into force on February 16, 2005.
The U.S. government signed the UN climate convention but still refuses (September 2005) to ratify the protocol because it considers that it would slow down the country’s economy. The United States is the country that emits the most greenhouse gases: about 23% of the total global emissions. The United States prefers to invest in new technologies and refuses any binding multilateral agreement; it justifies its non-endorsement by the fact that there is no obligation being put on the developing countries (China and India in particular, the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters).
An international mobilization of civil society
This year, the 11th meeting of the Conference of Parties of the Climate Change Convention will be held in Canada, at the same time as the Conference on Climate, i.e., the first meeting of the signatories of the Kyoto Protocol, between November 28 and December 9, 2005. A large number of organizations that are active in several countries, as well as international organizations, have prepared a series of demonstrations on climate change. The goal of this movement is to alert public opinion on the scope and emergency of the climate crisis, and to pressure for the adoption of urgent action and for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the United States and Australia. The anticipated actions will culminate in several countries on the same day, December 3. The call to action launched on this occasion declares: "We need a large public-opinion movement to pressure for urgent and radical action, without which we incur the risk of a global disaster of inconceivable proportions. We consider that the Climate Conference in Montreal represents the best opportunity to launch a coordinated international action on climate change for next year."
Raising awareness and educating to incite to action
Facing the disturbance of the global balances as a consequence of global warming, which is of concern to us all, individual action is necessary and indispensable. Everyone can, at every moment of his or her daily life, contribute to facing the problem, through:
Looking from another angle, we can see that a communication and awareness-raising effort of the general population on every individual’s responsibility is more than ever indispensable and urgent. This effort should be undertaken by teachers (at every level of the school system, as well as in the framework of extra-curricular activities), journalists, and organizations. To prepare an action in a classroom or during an activity, to prepare an awareness-raising article or series of actions, there are many resources that are easily accessible through the Internet. Following are a few among the many references.
Bibliographical references on the Internet / Contacts:
1. www.defipourlaterre.org : Web site presenting the "Défi pour la Terre" (Earth Challenge) ecocitizen campaign, an initiative of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation, which presents a popularized presentation (two levels: for children and for adults) of the greenhouse effect, the impacts of human activity on the planet’s climate, the risks connected to climate change, the interactions of climate change with other global problems, daily gestures that everyone can adopt to contribute to the solution of the problem.
2. http://unfccc.int/2860.php : Web site of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Changes" (UNFCCC). This Web site is the main source of information for the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and their implementation. It provides a detailed overview of climate changes and the global answer to them, links to official documents (such as downloadable texts of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol), decisions, national communications, documents of the workshops, and audiovisual products (webcasts).
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto_Protocol: The "Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia" Web site offers a very detailed and well-organized presentation of the Kyoto Protocol, the scientific data on climate change available to date, economic data surrounding this issue, the official country positions on the Protocol, a discussion of the issue, as well as links to Web sites devoted to this subject - all of this in about ten languages.
4. For information on the mobilization campaign to obtain the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the United States and on the actions planned for December 3, 2005, see:
5. Today, more than sixty organizations (groups of environmentalists and scientists, green parties and other parties) from all over the world support this call to action on climate for December 3, 2005. Here are some of them and their details on the Internet: