Durban Dilemma: A Second Green Revolution?

By Zhuge, Scott | Harvard International Review, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Durban Dilemma: A Second Green Revolution?


Zhuge, Scott, Harvard International Review


In 1992, 172 governments participated in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, producing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The international environmental treaty, while not itself setting any limits on greenhouse gas emissions, provided a framework for producing future protocols that set mandatory emission limits. From then on, the Conference of Parties (COP) met regularly at various cities, producing important climate treaties like the Kyoto Protocol. In late 2011, the COP met again in Durban, South Africa, to discuss three main issues: future US commitments to emission reduction, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Cancun agreements discussed at the previous meeting. However, expectations for the Durban meeting ran low, as the two countries with the highest emission levels, the United States and China, refused to take leadership in commitments to the UNFCCC protocols. Without the support of those two countries, other major countries like Japan and Canada were unlikely to join in a second round of the protocols.

Climate change continues to pose a significant global challenge. In 2007, the IPCC released a comprehensive report on climate change, projecting drastic climate change within this century. The report predicted extreme weather changes, such as ice cap melting, long droughts, and flooding. The UN World Meteorological Association reported that greenhouse gas volumes reached a record high in 2010, with [CO.sub.2] levels increasing to 389 ppm in 2010 from 280 ppm in 1750.

One of climate change's biggest global impacts is on agriculture, especially in developing regions like those of sub-Saharan Africa. Climate change threatens food security in several ways. For example, increased temperatures eventually reduce crop yields in the long run. Even if certain crops could grow more effectively in warmer temperatures, the overall net effect of unbalanced temperature increase causes a decrease in desirable crop yields. A report by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that while climate change tended to hurt agricultural output for all countries, developing countries suffered especially sharper decreases in crop yields compared to developed countries. In particular, crops requiring irrigation took the hardest hits, given that both unpredictable precipitation and temperature increases require more effective irrigation systems. The International Water Management Institute found that by 2025, the global percentage of people living in water-stressed basins will increase from thirty-eight percent to sixty-four percent, due to warmer climate. Increased temperatures also promote weed and pest proliferation, adding to the burden of sustaining crop yields. With these changing factors driven by climate change, agricultural adaptations become increasingly imperative.

Already, population growth projections point to the need for agricultural reform. The United Nations Population Division projects that by 2050, the human population will range from 7. …

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