Panama Canal & Poznan Cannel

Panama Canal & Poznan Cannel

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panamacanalThere could not have been a more appropriate place than Panama City for the workshop on “illegal trade” in environmentally damaging commodities, i.e. Ozone Depleting Substances-ODS. Panama City is the symbol of a ‘historic passage’ that allows trade of goods transported by ships and cuts down a long and time consuming journey by about 12,000 kms.

Not very far from the banks of the Panama Canal, were representatives of 20 countries discussing the mechanisms to prevent illegal trade as per the control measures of the Montreal Protocol. I was, on behalf of UNEP as organizer, facilitating discussions. Even as we discussed, we saw ships approaching and leaving the Canal. A perfect setting for a workshop of this kind, I thought.

The Customs Authorities and the National Ozone Units of 20 countries shaped up, during the meeting, regional cooperation to enhance the sharing of information and intelligence on ODS smuggling. Another 12 months and then these substances will no longer be produced in the world. Their demand, however, will continue as they would be needed for servicing in the existing equipment. The illegal trade by smugglers could risk the success achieved so far under the Montreal Protocol.

‘Canal’- as per one of the definitions in the dictionary – is ‘water-ways’ that allows water to flow from one end to the other. In that sense, the Panama Canal is not a canal! This 80 km stretch of water body connects the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. But it links the water only in a ‘figurative’ sense! The Panama Canal is a mechanism that brings ships from one water body to the other by using buoyancy of water. Simple school-taught principle of buoyancy is used to raise ships from one ocean to a freshwater lake called ‘Gatun Lake’ – 28 meters above sea level and then lowered again to the sea level of another ocean. In the whole process, water from the lake is drained down into the two oceans. To my engineering mind, it is evident that the sea water from two oceans never meets and surely does not flow into each other.

The water from the rainforest comes into the lake and then into the oceans through the Canal, as the huge ships move from one end to the other. Such operation requires additional water from the rainforest to feed the lake. By 2015 the canal would be expanded. ‘Re-circulation’ of fresh water has been planned in case water in the lake is inadequate for the expanded canal. . A long-term planning for shortening the trade route!

Sitting on the banks of the Canal in the evening, my mind hovered over the history of the Canal construction and human struggle to use nature for trading. Nature is used in a most sustainable manner to trade between East and West. Water from the rainforest is used creatively for transport. Have we ever calculated how much carbon dioxide emissions from a ship’s engine are avoided in such short cut trips by using natural and renewable resources? Had the Panama Canal built today, it would have been eligible for CDM under the Kyoto Protocol. It is important to make an assessment of water transport to avoid long journeys and save fuel as well as reduce emissions. IPCC should assess such mitigation option.

At the same time of the Panama workshop a much larger global meeting took place in Poznan, Poland on Climate Change. As I surfed the internet to read latest developments there, I felt, that the ‘climate-ships’ in Poznan were raised and lowered by using buoyancy of negotiations. There was not much of a forward movement though and climate-ships appeared to be stagnant. Short sighted arguments inhibited a long-term vision. In contrast, the discussions in Panama were highly action-oriented, ready to go, moving forward with a long-term vision.

In my chemical engineering study, I learned a term ‘cannel’. Cannel, as per the dictionary is a bituminous coal burning with a bright flame. It emits lots of carbon dioxide. ‘Poznan cannel’ was quite visible due to its bright arguments. I looked up across the Panama Canal as the sun was setting into the ocean. Another day was over.

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