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What is sought in Copenhagen

This editorial in The Guardian – reprinted in 56 newspapers around the world – says it all. The science of climate change is clear and the stakes are huge. Significant cuts to global emissions are needed and this requires a reorientation in energy planning and in current and planned lifestyles around the world.  Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

4 comments to What is sought in Copenhagen

  • I’m always searching for brand-new blogposts in the WWW about this issue. Thx!!

  • observa

    Nice of management to put out the official company line Harry. Now if they can just keep their pesky employees in line-–Russians-admit-DID-send-them.html
    As I pointed out, with the scent and bleatings of stricken lambs about, the wolf pack media instinct has kicked in and none of them can afford to be left behind if there’s a chance of a kill in the offing. Before Jones took a self imposed sabbatical to contemplate how to best spin the old dog ate the homework line, he divulged the previous week had been the worst week of his life. Just who is going to tell him that was the good news?

  • observa

    With the news from Copenhagen that China is leading the LDC charge against the MDC bloc, the latter’s hopes of their vision splendid are fast evaporating. The former group are taking no prisoners with their demands MDCs live up to their Kyoto promises, pay ‘sorry’ money, drop patents on technological transfer and butt out of their emission affairs. With the MDCs hoping to turn a buck earning carbon offsets in the LDCs they can’t possibly sign on to that now with all these inscrutable Maoists and Nigerian businessmen-

    That leaves our ‘Friend of the Chair’ Mr Rudd in a most invidious position, some would say with egg all over his face and having to face the angry music back home-
    Those severe one way comments similar to banker articles tell the story now. While the locally protected graduazzi are always in a magnanimous mood, with rising interest rates, a doubling of food prices due to past carbon offset policies and continual outsourcing of the battlers’ jobs to China and the like, they’re in no mood to subsidise India’s call centres or China’s factories now. Far from it and waiting in the wings to heed their call will be an Abbott led Opposition to remind them all, just as Climategate is breaking all over the MSM after another ‘PR stunt’ and ‘Munich Agreement’ is over. A week or two is a long time in politics they tell me.

    There’s another factor that will fuel ‘Abbotts Army’ that’s lying in wait under the surface as they discover they may well have been had by Jones, Mann, et al and all the subsequent limousines and caravan of taxes at Copenhagen. For a long time now they’ve been Bullied, badgered, scolded, proslytised down to and had guilt trips laid on them via the scandalous abuse of their children, nowhere better illustrated than their national broadcaster giving air to one Clive Hamilton’s despicable diatribe and the polls were beginning to show that. But there’s more to it than just that lying under the surface waiting to erupt. That will be the great legacy of Jones and Mann, et al as they turn on academics and science in general for the way so many have degenerated into the intrusive, banal, wankery so many of them have engaged in, nowhere better illustrated than the illustrious Edinburgh academic with- “Dr Dave Reay, a world-renowned expert on carbon emissions, has calculated that filter coffees pump 50 per cent more carbon into the atmosphere than cheaper instant coffees” World renowned indeed and rest easy Galileo, Darwin and Einstein, your legacy is in good hands. Not so easily rested will be the objects of this perpetual drivelling, the moment the opportunity presents itself. In that I get a sense all the planets are about to align.

  • observa

    Perhaps the folk at MIT with ‘The Great Climategate Debate’ on video get that feeling too-
    Not a bad roundup of the issues after you’ve waded through the intros to get to the panellists but I dropped off with the first questioner and the mic problems. Might be worth persevering with for some questions and the roundup. I still can’t better Michael Crichton’s profound warnings from the grave though.

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