Monday, 20 July 2009

Climate change- any old deal is not enough

The G8 leadership came to an understanding of sorts on climate change in L'Aquila. The 2°C target is kind of progress. What is needed in this year's UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is not just any old deal, however. The right deal that is going to have some chance of hitting that target and reducing the risk of catastrophic climate change.

As reported in the New Scientist this week, the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Climate Change (try saying all that while eating a bowl of Rice Krispies) believes that even if the developed world manages to reduce its emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050 there is still only a 4-5% chance of staying within the 2°C limit. We have already churned up the environment to the extent that we will find it desperately difficult to turn back.

Of course, climate change deniers have a full array of excuses and bogus science at their disposal. A good deconstruction of their arguments can be seen on YouTube through Peter Sinclair's Climate Denial Crock of the Week series. A taster is below:

The harsh reality is that we are taking increasing, multiple, and layered risks with our world that could well have catastrophic consequences. Why take the risk? Using science, markets, and political will we can build a world where we are not taking those risks. We are up to the task so let's get to it.

This is why the G8 was so disappointing. The glacial pace with which the governments are moving is simply not good enough. In the case of the UK government- one of the exceptions- the Low Carbon Transition Plan published last week was exceedingly well received and rightly so. As the environmental guru Jonathon Porritt pointed out, it was the first time that a coordinated plan of action that will have a measurable impact on carbon emissions has been produced. Ed Miliband and his department deserve credit for that. It will have legs as it matches environmental improvements with economic opportunity and jobs. That is the golden mix.

The Prime Minister also deserves credit for forcing the pace of agreement with Mexico's idea for a $100 billion a year green fund. However, developed countries are still not doing anywhere near enough. Far from all have made the type of commitment that the UK and a few others such as Sweden have made. We built our prosperity on pollution and so have a moral responsibility to ensure that the developing world does not have to choose between the environment and growth. Finally, our consumption- and this is where the government still falls short- means that others pollute on our behalf. An 80% cut in emissions by 2050 is in the emissions we produce not the emissions we consume is not enough. We have a broader responsibility.

So amidst all the self-congratulation of the G8 there is still a very long road to travel down. As for those climate change deniers: it is very unlikely you are right so why on earth should we take ever increasing risks with our world? If you have the vast bulk of scientific evidence saying one thing that predicts disaster, why would you choose just to ignore it or cry conspiracy? It's bizarre.

I argued that a more radical approach needed to be taken in my LabourList column a couple of weeks ago (see comments also.) That article concluded with a quote from Thomas Homer-Dixon which is the strongest riposte to those in denial:

“Driving fast in the fog is, of course, not sensible. But it’s exactly what we’re doing today.”

And the world's leaders have to take more responsibility in order to slow us down.

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