Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Environment Day A Low-Carbon Event

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday,  June 1 / 08

Zack Gross

Our planet marks World Environment Day each year on June 5th.  It’s an opportunity, through the United Nations, to stimulate global awareness and maybe some political action, on the on-going ecological crisis that faces us all.

The WED 2008 slogan is “Kick the Habit!  Toward a Low Carbon Economy
,” recognizing that climate change and carbon dioxide emissions have become one of the defining issues of our time in history.

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) is using the 2008 program to ask member nations, corporations and local communities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by improving energy efficiency, using alternative energy sources, and forest conservation. 

Each year, one country hosts World Environment Day, with major events taking place there.  For 2008, New Zealand has achieved that honour, as that country was one of the first to pledge itself to a carbon-neutral future.  As an estimated 20% of emissions contributing to climate change result from deforestation, and as forests are key to New Zealand’s economy, this industry will be highlighted in their WED program.

The UN General Assembly established World Environment Day in 1972 to open the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, held when global leaders began to recognize modern humanity’s immense effect on the natural order.  This was also when UNEP was created.  Since then, WED themes have included Green Cities, Water, Desertification, and Melting Ice. 

In recent days, environment ministers from all the G8 countries and rapidly growing economies, such as India and China, gathered in Kobe, Japan to discuss ways to curb emissions, save endangered species and cut back on trash. 

As extreme weather intensifies – a sure sign of climate change, such as growing instances of drought, intense storms and rising seas – the pressure is on build momentum for talks that will be held by their government leaders at the annual G8 summit in July, also in Japan. 

As a symbol of environmental awareness, delegates in Kobe were delivered to meetings in hybrid cars and told to bring their own dishes and utensils to use at meals.  Rather than use air conditioning, the meetings were held in “cool biz” clothing – short sleeves, no ties, a “new tradition” in Japan.

Less developed nations are, somewhat understandably, focused on growing their economies and considering the environment afterwards.   They also will not slow their own growth unless they see a similar commitment from developed countries. 

At the 2007 G8 meeting in Germany, industrialized countries such as Canada, Japan and the European Union set a target date of 2050 to halve their greenhouse gas emissions.  They are being called upon now to move that date up.

David King, Britain’s former chief scientific advisor, said this week that rich nations need to quickly figure out how to maintain economic growth while committing to deep emission cuts.  Rather than telling India that they should hold their current levels, he states that we need to cut our levels down to theirs!  As an example, Europe would need to cut its annual per capita emissions by 80%.  US figures are double per capita those of Europe, so even greater reduction is needed. 

A second option to reduction might be the research and development of technology to modify the environment, so-called geo-engineering.  This might mean pumping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere or out of the oceans.  The question at this point would be the time-frame for its development and the cost.

Climate change brings with it extraordinary weather events that affect vulnerable people, such as the European heat wave that killed over 70,000 people, mostly seniors, the ill and children in 2003.  Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is another example of unusually severe weather that killed over 1800 people, displaced thousands more and destroyed infrastructure state-wide in the southeastern US.  Another is disease, as Rift Valley Fever, malaria and cholera have resulted from excess rains and flooding and unusually warm temperatures in East Africa. 

“Although climate change and its effects are a global phenomenon
,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the UN World Health Organization, “it will affect problems that are already huge and difficult to control, and largely concentrated in the development world or amongst the most vulnerable populations.”

While a walk in the park or garden, or playing outdoors with our children, are still appropriate activities for World Environment Day, the reality of the threats to our environment, and therefore humanity, are growing ever more evident.  Recent weather events in Burma and in the Midwestern US are further reminders of our need to take June 5th seriously, as a time to push for change in the ways we live and in the policies our governments and corporations adopt.

Zack Gross is program coordinator at the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of 36 international development organizations active in our province.

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