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The practical way to tackle climate change

Nations at the Doha meeting must look at realistic medium-term efforts to manage the effects of climate change.

A strong-hulled tank ship steamed steadily across the Canadian Arctic this month, delivering a cargo of liquefied natural gas from Norway to Japan. The Greek-owned Ob River is the first such vessel ever to use the northern route, 40 per cent shorter than the usual one.

The novelty of this voyage demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that the world's climate is changing. Indeed that issue is the subject of global negotiations this week in Doha, 9,000km away from the Northwest Passage.

The talks are aimed at extending or renewing the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement to limit emissions of the greenhouse gases deemed responsible for changing the climate of our only planet. The pact, reached in 1997, was subsequently ratified by 191 countries - but then mainly ignored.

Bric countries and others have been burning more and more coal as living standards rise. During the boom years, few government leaders anywhere were ready to restrain domestic growth in the cause of vague global altruism. Now that money is tight, growth seems even more precious.

As the Doha meeting gets going, optimists are preaching that climate change can be slowed or reversed, pessimists are warning that the consequences of warming will be incalculable, and pragmatists are looking for any ways at all to make real progress on the problem.

Fortunately there are some promising approaches, but most of them demand acceptance that really stopping climate change is beyond humankind's technical and political ability. To be sure, clean energy is being developed; every day brings stories such as yesterday's report, in The National, of an Ajman hotel using solar heating.

But with Russia, Japan and Canada all already rejecting a new version of Kyoto, and China busily building new coal-fired power plants, the time has come for statesmen and entrepreneurs to begin to focus on remediation. Now, not 2020 or 2050, is the time to put resources into cooperation on, for example, crop research to develop better drought-resistant grains.

We also need to find ways to exploit the advantages that climate change will bring - such as the fuel savings achieved by the Ob River as it delivers its cargo to Japanese users.

Certainly, diplomatic work to build worldwide consensus about emission controls is worth the effort, and should continue.

But realistic medium-term efforts to manage the effects of climate change are at least as promising, and demand more attention everywhere.

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