Climate Change

Yesterday, as the curtains rose in Cancun, Mexico, on the next round of international talks on climate change, expectations were low that the delegates will agree on a new treaty to reduce emissions that lead to global warming. They were unable to do so last year in Copenhagen and since then, the terms of negotiation in the biggest countries have grown apart even more. However, it is still possible for this year's meeting to have more progress than the last's. The Cancun delegates should move their focus on the long-term efforts to help the current situation to other practical and immediate actions that could have an effect on global warming in the years to come.

Global is caused by two kinds of pollution- carbon dioxide and other gases such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFC's), lower atmospheric ozone- and dark soot particles. There are three reasons why the carbon dioxide problem is difficult to solve. Firstly, carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for centuries and there will be no other permanent solution to helping global warming if no deep cuts in the carbon dioxide emissions are made. Secondly, carbon dioxide is mostly produced due to the burning of fuels. Fuels are very important in today's society as they are used everywhere- in cars, power stations etc. Thirdly, It will take decades of years and trillions of dollars to convert all the current fossil fuel power plants to cleaner ones such as nuclear, solar and wind powered ones. Meanwhile, while some effort is put on doing this job, a fast-action plan is needed.

As for the other three gases, they can stay in the atmosphere from several days to about a decade, and they contribute to 80% of the total percentageof pollution as carbon dioxide. However, the world could easily and quickly eliminate these pollutants, as there is enough technology and regulatory systems. Take methane as an example. It is emitted from livestock, rice paddis, landfills and coal mines, is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is the main ingredient in natural gases. To lessen the amount of methane in the atmosphere, old gas pipelines, from which this gas is emitted, can simply be changed with better ones, better managing the water used in rice cultivation. Just by doing this, 40% of the amount of methane in the air can be reduced.

Big cuts are also possible for HFCs, which is mainly used as refrigerants in air-conditioners. They were used to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) but caused a lot of global warming. The warming effect of HFCs are 1000 times more than that of carbon dioxide and will continue to increase unless they are regulated as CFCs had been in the past. Shifting from HFCs to other climate warmers that are 100 times less potent will offset nearly a decade's increase in warming that is expected from rising emissions of carbon dioxide.

From the political point of view, the people want the amount of ozone and soot to decrease the most, as these substances contribute a lot to local air pollution and the people care about the quality of air they breathe even though most of them do not care much about global warming.

Ozone is formed in the lower atmosphere from carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, and is a hazardous component in urban smog. Every year, it causes tens of billions of dollars worth of damage to crops. Pollution restrictions to reduce ozone levels in the rapidly growing polluted cities of Asia could both clear the air and slow warming. Soot is also a problem in the world. Every year, soot is responsible for 1.9million deaths due to respiratory diseases. It also melts ice and snow packs. New air pollution regulations could help reduce soot. Such laws in California have helped cut diesel emissions there by half. In China and India, a power improving programme cuts soot levels by two thirds.

Reducing soot and other short-lived pollutants would not stop global warming, but it would buy time, perhaps a few decades for the world to include other plans. For too long a time, overly ambitious goals have focused on the aspects of global warming that are hardest to solve. A few modest steps, with quick and measurable effects are a better way to proceed.


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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.