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Analysis: Biggest polluters
‘cop out’ of COP18

Just days before the US presidential elections, Superstorm Sandy took its toll on the northeastern coast of the United States of America. President Obama proclaimed that “climate change is not a hoax”, it is a reality that needs attention and action. Just weeks later, the US delegation to the Doha conference declined yet again to join the international community in their effort to extend the Kyoto Protocol. They were not alone. China and India refused to budge from their oft-stated positions. Russia alienated itself from just about everybody by not only standing aside but launched a verbal assault on the host for trying to do his job.

In school, seniors are expected to lead by example. That is clearly not the case on the world stage today. The mantle of leadership has fallen on that much-abused collective, the international community, the vast majority of the smaller and the less powerful.

How can it be acceptable for thousands of Syrians to be killed by aerial bombardment, month after month, but not by chemical weapons? What’s more important, the mounting numbers of innocents dying or the method of their deaths? Where is the logic in making economic progress at the cost of ecological decline? Are the lives of the people of Vanuatu less important than the livelihoods of the residents of Vancouver? If there were Martians watching our news on TV every night, they would be shaking their heads in disbelief.

The old fight between rich developed and poor developing nations looks set to go on forever. In the face of sluggish domestic economies and mounting unemployment, rich nations aren’t prepared to pay for their sins of the past. No-one’s keen to cutback on military marching bands, savings that could fund the US$100 billion Green
Climate Fund. Poor developing nations like China and India will keep insisting that their progress cannot be hampered by new burdens. In contrast, the Indonesian position is more reasonable. In this the world’s largest archipelago, with everyone living close to a coastline somewhere, global warming isn’t just an after-dinner discussion. Its effects are real and the signs are visible. No wonder there is growing concern. Nine out of 10 Indonesians now believe that “if we don’t act now we’ll never control our environmental problems”. That number is up from eight, just five years ago. Pollution is affecting livelihoods, growing numbers worry about the effect on health. Erosion of the coastline and landslides inland are all very real.

Not surprisingly, 82 percent of the population says “at heart I am an environmentalist”. This is often ridiculed by critics pointing to the pictures of urban squalor that are easily available to make their case. I find it difficult to imagine people intentionally ignoring waste bins and collection schedules if effective waste management systems were available across all of the cities and towns of Indonesia. They aren’t, not yet. When they are, the sentiment expressed by so many will become more of a reality than it is today. To be fair, the pictures from Jakarta should not be compared to those of many other big cities in many other developing countries where sanitary conditions are far worse. A growing number, climbing from 54 to 64 percent in just as many months, now say “I try to recycle everything I can”. Much of this may well be driven by economic necessity, but where is the merit in quibbling? More noteworthy is the ranks of concerned citizens continuing to swell even as the country’s middle class feeds its ever-increasing appetite for more products and services.

Equally reassuring is the balanced view of the nation on the issue of global warming. Influenced by the periodic waves of spin from both believers and skeptics, dutifully fanned by media, opinions change from time to time.

In the last five years, the number of Indonesians who feel that “threats to the environment are exaggerated” has gone up from 40 to 58 percent, but heading south again with 52 in September 2012. As the ravages of climate change become increasingly noticeable, we can expect this number to continue shrinking.

Over time, the belief that “environmentally friendly products are overpriced” will also decline. That’s because growing affluence will help, on the one hand. On the other, demand and scale will bring prices down. The trajectories are pointing in the right direction, but not for the last remaining climate-change sceptics.

New science and new technologies are creating new industries and new jobs, all over the world. They are changing the way we lead our lives. With fossil fuels running out in 50 years or so, why is it such a challenge for governments to subsidise renewable energy. Without exception, fossil fuels continue to be protected or subsidised by every government to the exclusion of anything else. Go figure.

My opinions are influenced by Roy Morgan Single Source, the country’s largest syndicated survey. More than 26,000 respondents are interviewed every year, week after week. The data is projected to reflect 87 percent of the population 14 years of age and over.

The writer can be contacted at debnath.guharoy@roymorgan.com

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