Last September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-created network of scientists who collate data on global warming, announced that air temperatures are increasing more rapidly than previously thought. Based on projected levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the IPCC anticipated that average temperatures would increase by up to five degrees Celsius over the next century. The same month, NASA’s Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) satellite revealed that the hole in the ozone layer that forms every year over Antarctica (the blue- and purple-rimmed pink splotch in the illustration above) covered a larger area than ever before, over 28 million square kilometres. The hole, which has been forming between September and November every year since the 1970s, was so large last year that it extended over Punta Arenas in southern Chile, a city of 120,000 inhabitants; this was the first time that the hole was detected over a major population centre. Add last summer’s reports that the Arctic ice cap was melting at ever-accelerating rates, and a dramatic stage was set for the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP-6) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held last November in the Dutch capital, The Hague.
The COP-6 conference, which brought together representatives from 182 countries, aimed to define operational details for achieving the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions established under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The parties to Kyoto committed themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5% below 1990 levels over the period between 2008 and 2012, but to date this commitment is faltering. Canada, for example, targeted a 6% reduction by 2010, but instead, emissions are up 13% over 1990 levels.
In light of this fact, one might have expected Canada to come to the conference looking for solutions. However, over the course of the talks it emerged as one of the nations that drew the most criticism for attempting to negotiate its way out of meeting reduction targets. Canada joined the U.S., Japan and Australia in arguing that the way to deal with Kyoto was to trade emissions between greater and lesser polluting nations, and to have North America’s extensive forests recognized as carbon sinks that absorb the CO2 produced by human activity. The European nations chafed at this proposal, insisting that these major polluters take more direct responsibility for reducing emissions, and the conference ended without an agreement.
It’s clear from The Hague that the Canadian and U.S. governments are more concerned about the political risks associated with what Environment Minister David Anderson calls a “command and control” interventionist strategy than the environmental risks posed by inaction. Both countries are enjoying buoyant economies that they fear will be threatened by curbs on energy consumption. But this fear is based on the assumption that green strategies and a healthy economy are mutually exclusive. Instead of trying to protect polluting industries from the inevitable, government could choose to support forward-looking alternatives. The projects featured in this issue reveal that architects are starting to convince building owners of the strong business case for sustainable design, which is critical in a culture so heavily biased toward economic concerns. Even more tellingly, major corporations including Ford, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors and British Petroleum have abandoned the Global Climate Coalition, a Washington-based lobbying group opposed to the Kyoto Protocol, positioning themselves for the future market in alternative fuel vehicles. While governments dither on this critical issue, it seems that some industries are beginning to understand that going green is not just doing the right thing, but that it is indeed the colour of money.