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  Straits Times 26 Oct 07
Green woes: It's like the Titanic, expert warns
Disaster looming in face of shrinking resources and geopolitical inertia
By Arti Mulchand

THE environmental fallout that is going to hit the planet is right around the corner, says Dr Ashok Khosla, a world expert on sustainable development.

In the next decade or so, people will not be able to fly or even drive because of shrinking resources, said the founding director of the Government of India's Office of Environmental Planning and Coordination. He is also ex-director of the United Nations Environment Programme and former winner of the Sasakawa Environment Prize.

People everywhere will also have to watch their health because crucial species used as disease cures are extinct or threatened, he said.

'The world will be very different. Oil reserves will get used up. You're going to have to walk to work and turn off lights when you're are done... Lifestyles are going to have to change.'

While there will be great advances in science and technology, he said that major concerns such as poverty and environmental ills will be hampered by 'our inability to get our act together as nation-states on the geopolitical front'.

Disaster could hit as early as 2020, said Dr Khosla, 67, who was in Singapore to chair a roundtable discussion on the issue at the ongoing IndoChine Festival yesterday.

'It's like the Titanic. There's an iceberg right ahead... and we have to start thinking fast and changing direction,' he said.

That is why, like many other environmental experts, he is keenly awaiting the outcome of upcoming talks at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali in December.

There, the future of the Kyoto Protocol - the current agreement on controlling carbon emissions - will be decided. Carbon dioxide is the key contributor to global warming.

A clash is expected between developing countries and developed nations over the former's right to develop and the latter's burden of responsibility over damage already done.

His main worry: that promises will be made while 'fingers are crossed behind backs'.

'People realise that things have to be done, but no one wants to take on a cost that would get them thrown out of office,' he said.

His ideal outcome: an agreement based on a 'principle of fairness' and per capita entitlement, where everyone has the right to energy as long as they are willing to pay for it.

But that ideal may not go down well with certain big, developed countries, he said, though he still holds out hope that a 'meaningful' agreement can be reached.

Asian giants India and China could play a major role in averting disaster, he said.

'If they go forward in a selfish way they will destroy the world,' he said.

The outcome may end up being in the hands of the man on the street, who is increasingly aware that the environment is in trouble, thanks to efforts by the likes of former United States vice-president and Nobel laureate Al Gore, himself a student of Dr Khosla.

It is when they start choosing - and voting - greener that pressure will mount, said Dr Khosla, adding: 'In the next eight to 10 years, I think there will be an intolerance of bad social behaviour... We are at the beginning of a major change in mindset.'

Related articles on Singapore: general environmental issues
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