SCIENCE IN THE NEWS #2109 - Global Warming

By Mario RitterThis is Sarah Long.And this is Bob Doughty with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today we tell about the world's changing climate. We tell about why the earth is getting warmer. And we tell about what the international community is doing about the problem.

Last week, a group of scientists established by the United Nations released a report. It says that the earth's climate is warming faster than was earlier thought. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report at a conference in Shanghai, China, January twenty-second.

The report warns that the earth's average temperature could rise between about one and six degrees Celsius during the next one-hundred years. It notes that the Nineteen-Nineties was the hottest decade and Nineteen-Ninety-Eight was the hottest year ever recorded.Scientists say higher temperatures could melt ice in the Polar areas of the earth. The world's sea level would rise nearly one meter as a result of a temperature increase. The report says there is new and stronger evidence that human activity is causing the earth's climate to change. Studies have shown that the level of carbon dioxide gas has increased by thirty-one percent in the last two-hundred-fifty years.

Carbon dioxide gas is important because it is known as a "greenhouse gas." Substances in the air that trap heat and make the atmosphere warmer are called greenhouse gases. The heat-trapping ability of these substances cause what is called the "greenhouse effect." Many scientists and activists say greenhouse gases have changed the world's weather.Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are greenhouse gases. Even water vapor is considered a greenhouse gas. However, people do not have control over how much water vapor enters the atmosphere.

Plants and animals naturally produce the gases carbon dioxide and methane. However, the processes of burning fuel and producing complex chemicals also release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Plants or animals do not naturally use some of these substances. These complex molecules may stay in the atmosphere forever.Many scientists believe that the greenhouse gases produced by factories and vehicles are causing the world's climate to change. But the issues involved in the world's climate are complex. Scientists disagree on how greenhouse gases affect the atmosphere. Nations also see the problem differently. Concern over changes in the climate has caused international policy makers to take action. In Nineteen-Ninety-Two, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in New York City. It tried to find ways to control greenhouse gases.

In Nineteen-Ninety-Seven, an agreement called the Kyoto Protocol began to set general limits on the production of greenhouse gases for industrial nations. However, environmental activists and industries disagree on what action should be taken to solve the problem of the earth's changing climate.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Some scientists do not agree with the environmental policy developed in the Kyoto Protocol. They say the climate may naturally grow warmer and colder over periods of time. These scientists say we do not know enough about the climate to restrict production of greenhouse gases.

The American Petroleum Institute is a trade organization that represents the American oil industry. The Institute speaks to Congress and negotiates with government agencies.

Companies that produce oil and chemical products release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The oil industry worries that restrictions on the amount of greenhouse gases released will hurt its operations. Oil companies say restrictions on their production will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The oil companies also say that restrictions on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions will make them unable to compete with companies in other countries. This is because the Kyoto Protocol calls for restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from major industrial countries. Developing countries will not have such restrictions.American industry is not alone in rejecting the Kyoto Protocol. A labor group called Unions for Jobs and Environment also opposes the agreement. The group is an organization of many labor unions that represent mostly workers in the energy industry.

The labor group estimates that the Kyoto Protocol would cost the United States at least one-million jobs. It also says that energy prices would increase up to eighteen percent. American labor unions believe international measures will hurt the American economy. But, the labor unions do not give an opinion on climate change.Some environmental groups also oppose the Kyoto Protocol. Bill Hare is a spokesman for Greenpeace. He says his group would rather have no agreement than a bad agreement. Many environmental groups say any attempt to reduce restrictions on industry is wrong.

Different groups see climate change in different ways. We will tell about efforts by the international community to deal with the world's climate.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))What is the Kyoto Protocol? The Kyoto Protocol gets its name from the city in Japan where the agreement was written. The Kyoto Protocol resulted from a number of conventions dealing with world climate. More than one-hundred countries took part in the convention that established the Kyoto agreement.

The Kyoto Protocol says that industrial nations must cut their total greenhouse gas emissions to five percent below Nineteen-Ninety levels. The plan requires each nation to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by different amounts. The emissions are measured in tons of carbon released into the atmosphere.For example, the United States must reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by seven percent. The European Union must reduce its emissions by a total of eight percent. Japan, Hungary, and Poland are required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by six percent. However, some countries do not need to reduce their emissions. And some countries like Australia, Norway and Iceland may increase their emissions.

Countries permitted to increase their greenhouse gas emissions will be given credits. The credits are equal to tons of carbon released into the atmosphere. These credits can then be sold and traded. Negotiators of the Kyoto agreement hope that sales of credits will be used to develop technology for cleaner energy.However, negotiations on climate change were not completed at the Kyoto meeting. Countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol have not agreed on the exact amount of emissions to permit. The cost of carbon credits has not been set. And nations have not agreed on a target date for reducing emissions.

Negotiations at The Hague in the Netherlands were supposed to complete the Kyoto agreement last November. Representatives of about one-hundred-seventy-five countries met at the Hague. However, they were not able to reach a compromise.One of the major problems is that the United States and Canada would like farmland and forestland to count toward emissions reduction. Both countries argue that plants use carbon dioxide. The United States and Canada believe that their forest and farmlands will use up a large part of their greenhouse gas emissions. Smaller countries in the European Union do not think this plan is fair. They note that the United States is by far the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to meet again this year. One-hundred-eighty-two nations have agreed to send representatives. They will meet in Marrakech, Morocco in late October. It is possible that an agreement could be reached at the Morocco convention. But, it is unlikely that everyone will be satisfied.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Mario Ritter. It was produced by Nancy Steinbach. This is Bob Doughty.And this is Sarah Long. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.

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