Another update from our "Post-Copenhagen" climate campaigner - Paul Horsman:
It is 21 years since the first scientific assessment of climate change was published; 18 years since the Rio Earth Summit at which the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed. Twelve years have passed since the Kyoto Protocol was agreed and two years since the Bali Action plan. Each of these passing milestones has been variously described as ‘first steps’ and ‘ways forward’, demonstrating commitments to protect the climate. And with each passing milestone we have moved further up the curve of growing greenhouse gas emissions heading inexorably towards catastrophic climate change.
Six weeks have gone since the December climate summit where the Copenhagen Accord proposed a deadline of January 31 by which governments were to pledge how much they were going to take action to protect the climate. And as this latest milestone passed on Sunday, we see again the size of the gap between the action needed to protect the climate and the willingness of politicians to take this action. Politicians clearly are still listening more to the false honeyed whispers of industrial lobbyists and bankers than they are to the clamour of the millions of people calling for leadership and action.
Some would have us believe that because countries are making pledges it means that the governments are taking action. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that all they have done is to dust-off previously stated commitments, dress them up in letters to the UN and make believe they are doing something to protect the climate.
The pledges will not even achieve one aim of the accord – keeping global temperature rises well below 2 degrees. The combined pledges of governments commit the world to at least 3 degrees of warming and beyond according to the UN’s own assessment and takes us on an unstoppable pathway where emissions will peak well after 2020 date (in order to stay well below the 2 degree threshold, emissions need to peak by 2015). And so the Accord fails its first test.
The reality is that to stay below a warming limit of 2 degrees C requires industrialised countries as a block to agree to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40%by 2020 and developing countries to agree to reducing future emission by between 15 and 30% in the same time-frame. The pledges made by industrialised countries mean a reduction of only between 11 and 19%. Even worse, if credits for protecting forests are taken into account then emission cuts from burning fossil fuels fall to between 6 and 14%. It could almost be business as usual for these industrial interests if uncertainties in economic forecasts are taken into consideration.
The accord was always a weak political agreement and now we see what governments have pledged – the weakness is all the more obvious.
And what would a 3 degree plus world have in store? Average global temperatures are now 0.8 degrees C about pre-industrial levels and there are already significant climate impacts. From the melting permafrost and glaciers, inundated islands and deltas, drought damaged farms, and storm battered continents. The world in the grip of global climate change is stark indeed.
The survival of tribal communities in Russia is already under threat from global warming as the ancient permafrost melts. © Greenpeace / Will Rose
In the face of such mounting evidence, thousands of credible scientific reports, even statements from world leaders about the dire threat which climate change poses - how and why such inaction?
For over 20 years an un-holy alliance of fossil fuel interests, climate deniers and some governments has been working consistently to derail the climate talks. And the knives are out again as the science is attacked by perverse vested interests and governments run scared of taking the courageous stand needed. Before, during and since the Copenhagen climate summit, the climate change deniers, those who put profits before people, those who would fiddle while the planet burns have kept up pressure against any deal to protect the climate. And now commentary again seems to be gearing up to reducing further out expectations for a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement.
The ground is shifting markedly. Many governments have used the need for a global agreement to tackle this issue before taking their own steps as an excuse for national inaction. Now some of these same governments trash the global process and say national interests are more important.
But while national legislation is needed to cut emissions, the global framework is essential to ensure fairness to the most vulnerable, the appropriate ambition for targets and a global legal framework. The global framework is the only place where vulnerable countries can have their say. Simply leaving it to the wealthier countries – whether in the G8, the G20 or Major Emitters Forum – is like asking Dracula to share out the blood.
Copenhagen was a point where millions made their voice heard. The clamour is unstoppable and no matter what the politicians say is practical, no matter what the commentators advise is realistic, and no matter what industrial interests say is affordable – the growing voice will not be silenced – it will be turned into action – direct action to protect the climate....
Now – more than ever – we need to take action and change the future!
Image (above): Sea level rise is already causing serious problems for the people of the Sundarbans. Ajit Das lives in Ghoramara island. "We cannot stay here because of the flooding. We don't know where we will go or what we will do. We cannot bring our grandchildren up here."© Greenpeace / Peter Caton
Top Image: Greenpeace activists protest in Chapultepec Lake by creating a mock climate disaster scenario. Several cars are covered by water, representing floods that result from climate change. The activists also display a sign "Bienvenido - Welcome. Mexico" Mexico will be the venue of the 16th UNFCCC meeting (COP-16) in 2010. © Teresa Osorio / Greenpeace