In the last week of July 2001, representatives from 178 countries met in Bonn, Germany, for something that is very crucial to their future and the very survival of our planet. They signed a historic agreement that promises to fight global warming. This is the first international treaty of its kind that seeks to check the excesses of human development at the cost of the environment – and the planet itself.

Location and date marker for glacier in Jasper National Park in Canada. Clear evidence of global warming.
Location and date marker for glacier in Jasper National Park in Canada. Clear evidence of global warming.

The very fact that the treaty has been signed despite strong opposition by the United States, the world’s greatest polluter, represents a triumph of will. The feeling that it is now or never is what gave the decisive push toward the signing of the treaty.

Global Warming: An artistic rendition of of a rapidly warming earth
Global Warming: An artistic rendition of of a rapidly warming earth

What is global warming?

Global warming is exactly that: the warming up of the globe, that is of planet earth. This happens as the level of greenhouse gases like carbon-dioxide keeps increasing within the earth’s atmosphere instead of being released. Such gases are released into the atmosphere when coal and other fuels are burned to provide energy.

Greenhouse gases are thus called as they act like the glass walls and ceilings of a greenhouse. So, while the sunlight warms up things, it doesn’t let the heat escape. Many scientists say that the earth’s rising temperatures could eventually melt polar ice caps and cause sea levels to rise, thus worsening the flood situation across the world.

In 1997, a treaty regarding greenhouse emissions was developed in Kyoto, Japan. That treaty had limited the amount of harmful gases that countries could release into the atmosphere. But the main hindrance to the signing of the Kyoto Protocol was the opposition of the United States. Although the US represents only 4 per cent of the world’s population, it produces as much as about 25 per cent of the greenhouse gases.

Like in 1997, this year too the United States refused to sign the agreement at Bonn. But the treaty was signed anyway. Michael Zammit Cutajar, the top United Nations (UN) official dealing with climate change expressed his jubilation, saying, “We made a tremendous political advance.” The next UN climate conference is scheduled to be held in Morocco in October.