The climate is changing through human intervention. No substantial reduction of carbon emissions has yet taken place, and in Asia there were 18 times as many natural disasters in the 1990s as in the 1970s. Their impact puts agriculture under growing stress and threatens food security. In Bangladesh, for example, with its low-lying coastline, high population density and economic dependence on agriculture, people’s lives and livelihoods are threatened by frequent cyclones and associated effects, such as salt water intrusion, rendering agricultural lands unproductive. In Asia and Africa, malaria is making a big come back as the temperature rises. Delegates from over 150 nations participated in the eighth session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, New Delhi, 23 October -1 November) to work out commitments of the Kyoto protocol.
At the conference, who should do what and how much? was the debating question. Canada has come forward with the biggest ever contribution in funds. But there are serious areas of concern: trading in emission credits has remained the weakest link; the biggest polluter, the USA, has not ratified the Kyoto protocol; the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), a general fund created by the signatories, did not have enough money to meet its budget. Some claimed the implementing agencies for the GEF (such as the World Bank) were delaying the projects out of a bias. With no alternative, the UNFCCC remains by far the best hope for all countries to come together, thrash out their differences and forge ahead before unprecedented catastrophes rip over the earth. “No other agency or country knows the suffering of the people more intimately than the Church,” affirmed Robert Athickal SJ, Vatican representative at the Conference. “Just as the Church will be the first to rush to offer solace and help, it is equally important to negotiate before the catastrophe strikes.” The Holy Father has often insisted on the importance of an ecological conversion for our times.