Apprehending the serious health and environmental consequences of pollution (chemical contamination) of the breathing air, ecological wisdom has prevailed among political leaders, scientists, environmentalists and philanthropists of the world to control the emission of pollutants, including greenhouse gases from industries and automobiles and other developmental activities. It has been a hard task for the environmentalists as emission control directly meant slowing down countries. For them, development was more important than the environment as it helped eradicate poverty and prosperity for their people, for the human resources and the citizens.
Nevertheless, some environmental legislation was pushed through and signed by a majority of the developed and industrialised nations of the world who are the major contributors of greenhouse gases and other toxic pollutants.
The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, 1985/ 1988/ 1991
CLRTAP was the first international agreement on air pollution signed by all European and North American countries. It was aimed at reducing emissions of sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides which were agents of acidic precipitation. The 1985 CLRTAP Protocol on emissions of sulphur compounds committed nations to reduce sulphur emissions from 1980 levels by 30 per cent by the year 1993. Many nations have achieved this and are going further. This came to be known as the ’30 per cent Club’. The U.S.A and the UK refused to join the club. A 1988 CLRTAP Protocol called for a freeze on nitrogen oxide emissions at 1987 levels and reduction down to less than half of 1980 levels by 1995. The European Community proposed to cut emissions by 30 percent by 1998. Austria, Sweden and Germany have committed themselves to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxides by two-thirds. The 1991 CLRTAP Protocol committed 21 developed nations to reduce the emissions of smog-forming volatile organic carbons (VOCs) by 30 percent by 1999.
The United Nations Convention on Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change (1992)
Political leaders, scientists and environmentalists from all over the world who met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (named ‘Earth Summit’) in 1992 to discuss various environmental issues, formulated a draught proposal called the ‘Climate Treaty’ or ‘Climate Convention’. The convention was framed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mainly Carbon Dioxide from both static (industries) as well as mobile (automobiles) sources back to 1990 levels by 2000. Scientists had demanded a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2005 and further cuts after that. The treaty was adopted and signed by over 150 nations including all the industrialised nations except the USA on 9th May 1992 and came into force in 1994. The unfortunate part is that since the Rio Earth Summit, the global carbon dioxide emissions have further increased by an average 100 million tonnes per year, which is nothing but a disgrace to the whole effort.
Kyoto Protocol on Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions (1997)
After the Rio Convention on Climate Change in 1992, the parties met in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 to take stock of the situation in the five years after Rio and to establish legally binding emission reduction targets for 38 industrialised nations. Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, industrialised nations are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (all the three gases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) by around 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by the years 2008 to 2012. Over a 100 nations including all the industrialised nations (except the USA and Australia) have signed it and petitioned to control the emissions. It is shameful how the USA, being the biggest polluter and contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions (nearly 25 percent), had refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol till very late. Kyoto Protocol will come into force only after 55 countries representing 55 percent of the emissions of the industrialised world have ratified it. With the USA not joining, the Protocol will cover just 40 per cent of global emissions.
Through the Kyoto Protocol, the international community developed a strategy to reduce the greenhouse gases by carbon sequestering (CS) or carbon farming (CF) projects. Carbon sequestration or carbon farming is the absorption and storage of carbon from the atmosphere in green plants by photosynthesis.
Industries and motorists emitting greenhouse gases will be required to invest resources into such environmentally friendly projects that will include afforestation, reforestation, revegetation, tree plantation or other changes to ecological land use. The Protocol proposes a mechanism for emissions trading (EM). The emitters, mostly industries and motorists, would pay those parties (tree growers and forested landholders) who maintain and manage a forest cover/ plantation/ vegetation on their lands to absorb the carbon released by them. This is known as ‘carbon credits’. Owners of new carbon sinks (reforested or revegetated areas by rural communities and landholders) receive carbon credits for each tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent sequestered or absorbed by their plants.
Australia has launched an innovative ‘Carbon-Neutral Programme’ for industries and motorists. An organisation called GREENFLEET has invited the Australian motorists to pay $30 (tax deductible) per vehicle every year and they would plant and maintain 17 native trees to absorb (sequester) all the carbon dioxide emitted by them in one year, which is about 4 tonnes per car. Several thousand subscriptions have been received by Greenfleet, who has already planted more than a million native trees. When fully grown, they will have absorbed (sequestered) more than 2 lac tonnes of carbon dioxide on behalf of the Australian motorists. Australia is thus, at least, complying with some of the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in Air (2001)
In 1997, the UNEP adopted this convention, which urged governments to take immediate action on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). POPs persisted in the environment for an exceptionally long period, and travelled long distances through the atmosphere, even up to the Arctic poles of the earth, and were detrimental to human health, even at very low concentrations. The WHO also endorsed the action. A decision to ban the production of 12 POPs was taken. It currently cover 12 chemicals but has a process to add new POPs