Forest dieback and air pollution

China and India are becoming a problem for the fragile attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Agreement

The German forest is still dying. In the meantime it looked once superficially better, the into the international vocabulary entered "Forest dieback" seemed to some even to be a reminiscence of hysterical environmentalists. At the same time, the success of decisive political action to curb pollution from power plants and vehicles could be celebrated.

But after the newest forest condition report can be spoken no more from all-clear. The proportion of healthy trees has fallen to 28 percent. More than 40 percent of the trees have slight damage, one third is seriously ill. Especially the deciduous trees are affected now. The hot and dry summer of 2003 (drought stress and elevated ozone levels), together with existing soil acidification and air pollutants, accelerated the process. The increase in car traffic is eating up the emissions achieved by catalytic converters "Profits", and while sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions have been reduced, nitrogen is now increasingly attacking deciduous trees in particular. And it comes primarily from agriculture, where it is used in the form of manure and animal feed for quick benefits and long-term damage.

But the forest damaged by nitrogen and other residues, which do not originate from agriculture, is only one aspect. Globally, emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, continue to rise. China, with its booming economy, has now become the world’s second-largest polluter of carbon dioxide. The top spot continues to be held by the U.S., which is responsible for more than a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted into the air, while China, according to a report by the International Energy Agency "only" has a share of one seventh (13.6 percent).

China is now the second-biggest air polluter after the U.S

Between 1990 and 2002, CO2 emissions in China rose from 2 to 3 billion tons.3 billion by 44.5 percent to 3.3 billion tons accumulated. Gross national product has risen by over 200 percent in this period. China emits almost as much carbon dioxide as the rest of Asia, but here the increase in emissions was even higher at 82 percent.

Forest dieback and air pollution

Smog cloud over India and Pakistan, image: Nasa

The report shows that emerging and developing countries are contributing more to climate pollution, but only 22 countries are still responsible for 80 percent of annual CO2 emissions. After the USA and China, these are mainly Russia (6.2%), Japan (5%), India, Germany (3.5%), Great Britain, Canada, Sud Korea, Italy and France (1.6%). In 2002, global carbon dioxide emissions increased by 2 percent more than before. In 2001 it was still 0.8 percent.

IEA statistics record CO2 emissions caused by fossil fuel combustion, but these account for 80 percent of all greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide is also released in small amounts by natural processes such as volcanic eruptions. Methane is a major contributor to other greenhouse gases, mainly from livestock and vegetation.

The gross Asian smog cloud

For years, a huge cloud of haze has been observed over Southeast Asia, influencing the climate, disturbing vegetation and endangering people’s health. In 1998 the "Asian brown cloud" accurately recorded and analyzed for the first time. The cloud, which consists of ash, dust, and toxic residues mainly from fossil fuels and forest fires, vaporizes the sun’s rays and leads to increasing drought in the west and to heavier precipitation in the east, during which toxic substances from the cloud also return to the earth. The cloud, Mylvakanam Iyngararasan of the United Nations Environment Programme said briefly at the annual Better Air Quality conference, now brings with it the threat of changing the climate around the world because, as has long been known, it has a "connection between local air pollution and global climate change" there:

Research shows that the result of the air pollution now being observed will be a gross drought. Harmful chemicals, aerosols and other pollutants affect cloud formation. India has been subjected to severe droughts in recent years. Air pollution from China can be transported from winches to India within days or to Europe within weeks. Air pollution is therefore truly a transboundary problem.

But this was already clear since ecology and climate protection have been on the political agenda. But the insight is difficult. Jitendra Shah of the World Bank, speaking at the Better Air Quality meeting, called on Asian countries to do their part, as air filters cannot be built at the borders. Almost all major Asian cities, especially in India and China, have growing problems with air pollution. The main reasons are industrial emissions and rapidly growing traffic. Even when measures are taken, the increase in vehicles quickly eats up the gains. Apparently, according to a study by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, Singapore alone is an exception. The city-state restricts the supply of vehicles through auctions. In New Delhi, India’s most polluted city, 10 percent of the air is polluted each month.000 new vehicles registered.

The Kyoto agreement and goodwill

One step toward aming the required responsibility is the Kyoto Protocol, from which the U.S. withdrew in 2001, partly because China and India, as newly industrializing countries, do not have to meet any requirements. The rough Asian cloud also played a role in this process. In the meantime, the position of the U.S. government has hardened further. It also rejects further controls after the end of the Kyoto agreement in 2012 and is of the opinion that science will somehow solve the problem by then. The clumsy arguments of the American conservatives are well expressed here: the Kyoto agreement as a kind of conspiracy to harm the American economy. Following the American example, many developing countries, which are still without restrictions, do not want to talk about future controls.

Forest dieback and air pollution

Smog cloud over China. Image: Nasa

The Kyoto Agreement, signed by 122 countries, stipulates that richer industrialized nations – 39 in all – reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent by 2012, compared with 1990 levels. It is already foreseeable that most countries will not reach this goal (link to 15756). Whether offsetting with other countries, planting trees or financing clean energy in other countries can even slow down climate warming is more than questionable – and can then in turn be used as an argument for doing nothing at all.

For example, climate expert Wallace Broecker of Columbia University, New York, said that while just up to the 17.12. a meeting of member countries in Buenos Aires shows that even if the Kyoto commitments are met, carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise, especially from prospering emerging economies such as China and India. He calls the result of the Kyoto agreement only a drop in the bucket. Only very new technologies that could pull carbon dioxide out of the air in huge quantities, then remove it from circulation by sinking it into the ocean or other methods, were really going to provide a remedy. This became feasible without too rough costs, while alternative forms of energy and energy savings do not really use. This was allowed to be on the line of the Bush administration, even if Broecker, unlike the Bush administration, does not talk down the risk of climate warming. But also such technologies have to be developed and deployed globally and quickly. Without agreements and commitments, without the willingness to invest money, this does not work either. And that is exactly what is failing – nationally and internationally.

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