Pledging to destroy the climate

What will it take for politicians to realise that time is running out?

Feature story - 1 February, 2010
The first milestone of the Copenhagen Accord came and went, and with it no sign of the kind of targets for cutting global warming pollution needed to steer the world off the path towards catastrophic climate change.

Activists called "Climate Shame" on Heads of State in as they fail to deliver a Real Deal in Copenhagen

The only way the Copenhagen Accord could possibly be a useful political declaration was if its January 31st deadline had been met with tougher new greenhouse gas emission targets. After all, its stated goal is supposed to be to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

But governments tried to greenwash their failure at the UN Copenhagen climate summit by merely repeating existing targets and dressing them up as action. So far, these targets will fail to hold global warming to below 3 degrees C; an increase which threatens to have horrendous consequences.

What will it take for politicians to realise that time is running out?

Masks off

It should be obvious to everyone - even those who tried hard to pretend the world was saved after Copenhagen - that the Accord is a document barely worth the paper it is written on. It was put together quickly by politicians hoping to pass for leaders.

Saving face - that was its purpose. Our climate was the least of politicians' concerns then, and obviously still is.

Summing it up, Bernhard Obermayr, Head of the Climate and Energy Campaign, Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe said, "Today is the day for an obituary about the Copenhagen Accord's ability to protect the climate."

Where we stand now

How do governments avoid the 2 degree C threshold from being breached?

It's no secret. By 2020, industrialised nations must cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels and developing countries need to reduce their projected growth in emissions by 15-30%. Further, the industrialised world needs to provide developing countries with new and additional funding of at least USD 140 billion annually to support clean energy and other mitigation activities, forest protection and adaptation. To give this package teeth, it must be set in a legally binding agreement.

A 3 degrees world

Polar bears have become a symbol of the consequences of climate change, and for good reason: if the world warms by 3°C, they will most likely disappear. zoom

In the run-up to Copenhagen, 15 million people called for a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. We're still waiting...

'Associating' - since the Accord is not legally binding and was noted but not adopted by the UN Conference, associated is the best they can do - with the Accord, the European Union repeated its target of a 20 percent emissions cut against 1990 levels - old news, and only half of what is required. The US is sticking by the meagre 17 percent of 2005 levels but making that dependent of domestic legislation.

In stark contrast to the absence of leadership by the rich industrialised world, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, one of the lowest-lying Pacific island nations last week said it's going to cut its emissions by 40 percent by 2020. Lying only 2 meters above sea level, the Marshall Islands is in danger of being washed off the map. In other words, the industrialised world has been shamed for its inaction by one of the most vulnerable nations on the planet.

Putting the "dead" in "deadline"

January 31st was a political deadline. We are approaching other deadlines though; ones that nature decides on and which politicians will not be able to talk their way out of. If global warming gets to the point where 'tipping points' are passed there will be no way for us to backtrack and undo the mess.

While three degrees of warming would likely be catastrophic. But even 2 degrees C risks possible partial, but irreversible deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet and even the West Antarctic ice sheet, that could eventually lead to sea level rise of several meters. Half-of-one degree more could lead to 20-80% loss of the Amazon rainforest and countless species that live in the rainforest.

Right-click to view image. Source: The Third Degree.

It is the poorest and those least responsible for causing the problem who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The fight for survival of millions of people around the world and countless species of plants and animals is the brutal reality as permafrost melts, sea levels rise, tropical storms batter continents and once-fertile lands battle with floods or drought. But climate change knows no borders - we will all feel its impacts. It threatens economies, environments, human society and welfare.

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The Amazon, the Marshall Islands, Arctic sea ice - we stand to lose so much. Tell world leaders what exactly YOU can't stand to lose.

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