Climate change is considered to be a critical global challenge and recent events have demonstrated the world’s growing vulnerability to climate change. The impacts of climate change range from affecting agriculture to further endangering food security, to rising sea-levels and the accelerated erosion of coastal zones, increasing intensity of natural disasters, species extinction and the spread of vector-borne diseases.
Climate change is about the growth of greenhouse gas emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels, resulting mainly from industrial activities and motor transportation, hence there is a build up of the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide build up is made worse by the increasing loss of forests, which act as “carbon sinks” that absorb gases and prevent its release into the atmosphere. Further, the increase of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere also enhances the “Greenhouse Effect” (in which more heat is generated), thus leading to temperatures rising. Based on data from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is estimated that the mean global surface temperature has increased by about 0.3 to 0.6 degree Celsius since the late 19th century to the present, and an increase of 0.2 to 0.3 degree over the last 40 years. A significant rise in temperature can trigger several events, such as melting of the ice sheets, the death of some significant marine life and other biodiversity, and effects on agriculture and human health.
Projected global warming this century is likely to trigger serious consequences for mankind and other life forms, including a rise in sea levels of between 18 and 59 cm which will endanger coastal areas and small islands, and a greater frequency and severity of extreme weather events.
The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997 are few efforts world has taken to contrl it. Kyoto is only a first step and its targets expire in 2012. International negotiations are now taking place under the UNFCCC with the goal of reaching a global agreement governing action to address climate change after 2012.
Effects of Climate Change
(i) Africa : One of the major areas to be affected by climate change in Africa is the Kalahari Desert. There are 2.5 million kilometres of dunes in southern Africa which are covered in vegetation and used for grazing. However the rise in temperatures and the expected dune expansion along with increased wind speeds will result in the region loosing most of its vegetation cover and hence, becoming less feasible for indigenous peoples living in the region. As their traditional resource base diminishes, the traditional practices of cattle and goat farming will no longer survive.
(ii) Asia : In the tropical rainforests of Asia, temperatures are expected to rise 2-8 degree Celcius and further climatic variation will include decrease in rainfall, crop failures and forest fires. Tropical rainforests are the haven for biodiversity, as well as indigenous peoples’ cultural diversity and forest fires will threaten this heritage of biodiversity.
People in low-lying areas of Bangladesh could be displaced by a one-meter rise in sea levels. Such a rise could also threaten the coastal zones of Japan and China. The impact will mean that salt water could intrude on inland rivers, threatening some supplies of fresh water.
In the high altitude regions of the Himalayans, there are glacial melts which effect hundreds of millions of rural dwellers who depend on the seasonal flow of water; there might be more water in the short term, but less in the long run as glaciers and snow cover shrink. The warming of the high altitude regions are likely to mean that population growth, settlement expansion and encroachment are likely to become a major management challenge and these external influences are likely to have an impact on indigenous peoples and their lands.
(iii) Central and South America and the Caribbean: Like elsewhere in the world, indigenous peoples’ use of biodiversity is central to environmental management and livelihoods. In the Andes, alpine warming and deforestation will threaten indigenous peoples’ access to plants and tuba crops for food, medicine, grazing animals and hunting. Once these food crops are replaced by trees that will grow in the region, indigenous peoples will be deprived of important traditional resources which are central to their livelihoods.
(iv) Arctic: The polar regions are now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on earth, which contribute to environmental and socio-economic changes. Indigenous peoples, their culture and the whole ecosystem that they interact with is very much dependent on the cold and the extreme physical conditions of the Arctic region. Indigenous peoples depend on hunting for polar bears, walrus, seals and caribou, herding reindeer, fishing and gathering not only for food to support the local economy, but also as the basis for their cultural and social identity.
(v) Central and Eastern Europe, Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia: Like the polar regions, Siberia and the far north-east are now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on earth, which contribute to environmental and socio-economic changes. The survival of indigenous peoples, who depend on fishing, hunting and agriculture, also depends on the success of their fragile environment and its resources. As bears and other wild game disappear, the local villages and the people that live in them will suffer particular hardships. Worse, unique indigenous cultures, traditions and languages will face major challenges in maintaining their diversity.
(vi) North America: Climate change is likely to have a major impact on indigenous peoples and their communities that are dependent on natural resources. About 1.2 million tribal members live on or near reservations, and many pursue lifestyles with a mix of traditional subsistence activities and wage labour. Many reservation economies and budgets of indigenous governments depend heavily on agriculture, forest products and tourism.
(vii) Pacific: Most of the Pacific region comprises small island states and are affected by rising sea levels due to climate change. Environmental changes are prominent on islands where volcanoes build and erode; coral atolls submerge and reappear and the islands’ biodiversity is in flux. The region has suffered extensively from humankind disasters such as nuclear testing, pollution including shipping-related pollution, hazardous chemicals and hazardous wastes (Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs), and solid waste management and disposals. These issues as well as the threats of climate change have severely affected the ability of island ecosystems to maintain a healthy and pristine environment for the enjoyment of indigenous people.
(i) The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change : Under the Convention, governments:
gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices
launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries
cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): The IPCC was established by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to assess the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of human induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for mitigation and adaptation.
(b) The Kyoto Protocol: The Kyoto Protocol was established in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and entered into force on 16 February 2005. The industrial nations comprise 15 percent of world population yet, they account for almost half of emissions of CO2.Under the protocol’s terms, the industrialized countries have taken binding commitments to cut their emissions by a certain date (up to 2012) and by a certain percentage from their 1990 levels. The targets vary among the industrialized countries.
(c) Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).The Convention established two permanent subsidiary bodies: the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). These bodies give advice to the COP and each has a specific mandate. They are both open to participation by any Party and in some cases NGOs and other intergovernmental agencies.
(d) UNFCCC COP 13 : The 13th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) on UNFCCC will take place in Bali 3 – 14 December 2007. The meeting will be held in Nusa Dua, Bali, hosted by the Government of Indonesia.According to the Head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Mr De Boer the UN Bali gathering needed to do four things to start negotiations for a way to curb climate-warming gases after the current accord, the Kyoto Protocol, expires in 2012. The meeting must agree to launch negotiations, determine the areas of discussion, decide on a deadline and create a mechanism for the negotiations