Every year deliberately lit fires rage across Indonesia. They destroy pristine rainforest, endanger orangutans and contribute to climate change. A young carbon trading entrepreneur goes in search of a solution.
Role of government
National governments have an important role to play in environmental protection - it’s their responsibility to negotiate and codify laws regarding pollution, conservation, and sustainable uses of natural resources. Crucially, they’re also responsible for funding law enforcement, to ensure that the populace is complying with the rules. State and provincial governments play an important role too, but the Federal government oversees the way states interact with each other (such as when pollution flows downriver from a neighbouring state).
Despite the innovation of market-based solutions for climate change, government participation is absolutely crucial to top-down regulation of new ‘ecosystem services’ industries. For the market solutions to work, governments first have to set limits on CO2 emissions, codify systems measuring the effectiveness of carbon sequestration, fund alternative energy infrastructures, and co-ordinate conservation efforts. Ultimately, efforts to prevent global warming are global initiatives, and thus require a high level of international governmental co-operation.
Governments are also responsible for developing risk management strategies to cater for the increased likelihood of natural disasters and subsequent outbreaks of disease. Global warming brings with it extraordinary weather phenomena like hurricanes, monsoons and droughts, and governments need to have plans in place to mitigate the chaos. Taking hurricanes as an example: the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has concluded "The strongest hurricanes in the present climate may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes over the next century as the earth's climate is warmed by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere". The USA was harshly criticised for its failure to adequately respond to the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans; the lack of a management plan for this kind of natural disaster illustrates what sort of policy needs to be developed for the future.
Sometimes, as in the USA and Indonesia for example, state governments can take the lead in environmental protection when the federal government is ‘behind the times’. In these nations, innovative regional leaders are blazing a trail of new environmental policy. For example, Aceh’s Governor Irwandi has declared a moratorium on logging while REDD is developed in his province, and he intends to permit only environmentally sustainable development. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is using market-based policy and clean technology investments to implement his vision for a healthier environment. He’s even implemented a ‘Global Warming Solutions Act’. In 2007, eight North-eastern US states committed to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is a state-level emissions capping and trading program.� By demonstrating that emissions reductions can be achieved even without being a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, RGGI’s supporters hope that the state-level program will apply indirect pressure on the federal government.
These regional leaders’ actions can be contrasted with their national governments’ inaction. Historically, Indonesia doesn’t have a sound environmental record, and only now are the ministers for the environment and for forestry attempting to reconcile their conflicting agendas. In the USA, President Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that his nation is the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. While it hasn’t been ratified, the USA did symbolically sign the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 - it was signed by the incumbent Vice President, Al Gore.