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What will the world gain with the Kyoto Protocol?

MOSCOW. (Viktor Danilov-Danilyan for RIA Novosti) - Developed countries' obligations on the Kyoto Protocol will come into force on February 16.

The Protocol is an unprecedented international instrument developing the ideas of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The convention aims to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the air at a level safe for the global climate-a goal approved by practically all countries. The document did not set any limitations or obligations despite the fact that the situation urgently demanded practical measures against adverse climate changes. Such measures were blueprinted in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

This trailblazing global project started heated debates, which have not finished to this day. The protocol is criticized from two opposite points. Some say there is no need for the protocol as climate changes, if there are any, are not caused by man. This argument is not valid since there is a 90% or even greater probability of negative climate change. The percentage grows as more information comes in.

Disastrous changes are expected. If we do not do anything about it, a catastrophe will come at the end of the 21st century with an average temperature rise by 4.5 degrees centigrade, which will sharply reduce biodiversity. A great number of life forms, both higher and lower, will be destroyed. Even today, ecosystem destruction and environment pollution reduce biodiversity at a pace 500 times faster than in any era reconstructed by paleontologists.

Biotic transformations under the impact of climate change will speed up radical changes of human life. Farming will become extremely hazardous as arable areas and yields will shrink. It will become necessary to invest huge sums in farming technology and agrochemicals-but they will not be enough to compensate losses as natural changes outpace human efforts.

The world will be doomed to social upheavals. People will flee en masse from countries suffering from famine due to water shortages. Emigration will threaten to reach a billion. Russia, with ample water and land resources, will be among the most attractive host countries.

Permanent water shortages can be expected as early as in the 2030s. If mass migrations set in by the end of the century, as predicted, it is hard to say what will become of established social systems. Developed countries will certainly not welcome mass immigration, with the threat of living standards getting down.

But how will they manage to stop immigration? Undemocratic ways, even downright cruelty, will be inevitable. The deathly global alternative will disastrously destabilize politics. Humankind will abandon spiritual values in the biological crisis. Democracy-even human nature-might be lost. This is what climate change may bring.

Other critics of the Kyoto Protocol criticize it for setting the goal of reducing pollution by only 5%. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, said its goals were small while radical steps were necessary. That would be too good to be true. After all, even such modest targets frightened off the United States and Australia, and they did not ratify the Protocol. If it were more ambitious, it would have no chance for approval at all.

When the Kyoto Protocol was being drafted, its authors did not intend it to drastically reduce greenhouse gas concentration in the air within 5-10 years. The project was regarded as an initial step in lasting international efforts to solve the climate problem and a tool to smooth out partnership patterns.

The Protocol has determined certain mechanisms, such as trade in greenhouse gas quotas, joint projects and clean development. Others can be invented. Initiatives are coming up even now. The Kyoto idea needs to be continued after the initial budget period, finishing in 2012, in a new format and with new pledges.

Although the Kyoto Protocol makes seemingly small demands, it has tremendous political and institutional significance. If we don't make this step, greenhouse gas concentration will grow by 2012 against 1990 by 18 ppm, i.e., greenhouse gas particles per million air particles. The figure will be 16 ppm if the Protocol is implemented.

Even this small reduction is economically lucrative as the matter concerns degrees, and even parts of degrees. It will be a triumph if global warming is reduced by 2 degrees a century - just think of the difference between 37 and 39 degrees in the temperature of the human body. When it comes to the biota, every tiny change will be notable. Progress with the Kyoto Protocol will save many living things on Earth.

Viktor Danilov-Danilyan (Ph.D.) is a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and director of the Moscow-based Institute of Water Problems.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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