HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsThe US must balance its space ambitions with carbon reduction

The US must balance its space ambitions with carbon reduction


The curtain has finally come down on the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol.

While there has been renewed energy in the negotiations, I doubt if the outcomes are anything to trust.

Most governments and other players here are concerned that countries might end up settling for a compromise and weak deal which does not directly commit to cutting down carbon emissions and dealing with climate change.

Perhaps the only major surprise of the week was the US U-turn in favour of the EU roadmap towards an agreement.

Not that the EU deal is the best but it gives a breath of life to the highly endangered Kyoto Protocol.

Apparently the Kyoto Protocol upon which most countries pin their hopes expires in 2012.

The European Union is calling for the talks to agree a mandate to negotiate a new, legally-binding climate deal by 2015 covering all major economies, in return for the bloc signing up to a second period of emission cuts under the existing Kyoto treaty.

While the bid is backed by the majority of countries, including some of the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming such as Africa, major players including the US and China had opposed the plans.

So this is a surprise twist to the drama in Durban.
Perfidious as we know Europe and its allies, we can only hope that they meet part of their deal.

But it is the US’s capricious tendencies prior and during the conference that raises doubts on its willingness and commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

Firstly, as we know, they are not part of the Kyoto Treaty and are not willing to be part of any legally-binding agreement and yet they are among the biggest polluters. And indeed, I am worried.
Perhaps, let me unpack their capricious tendencies and ambitions.

This year Nasa announced its plans to launch a $2,5 billion, 570-million-kilometre mission to Mars.

The mission will be undertaken by a device called Curiosity Space Rover which Nasa hopes will test whether there could be life on Mars using a torch with the strength of a million light bulbs.

If you think, this may be the only reason for their reluctance to commit on climate change — wait a tad.

Early December during COP 17 Nasa again announced that it had identified a new planet outside our solar system that might be able to support life.

Kepler-22b, named after the orbiting telescope that discovered it, is about two and a half times the size of earth and is 600 light-years away, orbiting a sun-like star.

The newfound planet’s average surface temperature is believed to be a comfortable 22 degrees Celsius, which means it could sustain liquid water and puts it in the so-called habitable zone.

Nassa has been planet-hunting with its Kepler space telescope since 2009 and has now identified over 2 300 potential planets, about 50 of which seem to have the right conditions to support life.

There you have it. One wonders why the US is so keen on hunting for a new planet that supports life when we can save the earth by simply reducing carbon emission.

One cannot help but see the nexus between their arrogance to sign the Kyoto Protocol and their ambitious run-away Mars projects.

There is no harm in exploring new ground but it is spiteful for a country to commit almost the same billions of dollars needed to save the earth on ambitious future space projects when people are dying right now.

A bird in hand is worth a million in the sky. Save mother earth so that peasant framers can feed themselves again.

If the US are serious about human rights as they purport to be, this is the time to play ball and stop pretending they have already found a destination.
Climate change will not only affect the developing countries.

Climate change is not a future threat: it is a key driver of disasters now.

The frequency and intensity of floods, storms and droughts is increasing and the average number of people affected by climate-related natural disasters is estimated at 217 million per year.

Scientific evidence indicates that this trend will continue at an accelerated pace.

Poor people living in risk-prone areas, mostly in developing countries, are suffering the most as they lack the resources to adapt to, or cope with, the impacts of a changing climate.

This story will not start and end in the poor countries as the security of states including the US will be compromised for as long as climate change is contributing towards the exacerbation of existing vulnerabilities and people’s ability to sustain their sources of livelihood, especially in poor and under-developed countries.

People will migrate, civil strife will break out, and the world will be at war again as people glean for survival.
The protests around the current global economic down turn have already sent some useful signals- people will not stoically watch their future on fire.

Climate adaptation and mitigation activities including efforts designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions need to go hand in hand with long term investment in sustainable agriculture, peace building and poverty alleviation.

The world is waiting for a cleaner future. And the US has more to lose should everyone decide to be as arrogant as they are.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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