An important gathering of about 2,000 climate scientists has just wrapped up in Copenhagen. They’ve been meeting this week to talk through latest science, in order to have some concrete recommendations to give negotiators at the final UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December. Several interesting things came out of the meeting. First is the level of consensus and conviction among scientists that a) the science is clear b) it’s worse than we thought and c) inaction at this point is inexcusable.
Also interesting was the observation among some pre-eminent scientists that New Zealand is liable to become the "Cuba of the South Pacific” (i.e. a quaint and loveable place with hopelessly outdated and inefficient technology) if we continue to retreat from strong participation in a global climate regime and the energy technology revolution that it entails. So much for punching above our weight.... So much for being clean and green and smart.
The congress heard from Lord Nicholas Stern, Professor at the London School of Economics and author of the 2006 “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change”. Stern said that based on the most recent scientific findings, that 2006 report had probably underestimated the damages and risks from climate change. He said that recent advances in science had made the economic case very clear, and that emission reductions of at least 80% below 1990 levels were required from industrialised countries by 2050 to address the risks of climate change.
Regarding the current economic crisis, Lord Stern said that it would be “confused analysis” to postpone action on climate change due to the recession. Investment in low-carbon technologies could provide additional employment and make use of reduced labour costs to invest in new infrastructure. Such green investment could address both climate change and provide an economic boost for sustained future growth. The alternative of pursuing a conventional high-carbon path would “kill itself” through the rising cost of fossil fuels and increasing climate change damages.
Scientists have been trying for some time now to convey the urgency of the climate crisis. Now it’s up to the politicians. The gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves is crystal clear. What’s lacking is political will and leadership. The Copenhagen congress this week has shown that it is economically and technically possible to bring the world back from the brink (which make no mistake, we’re on). But governments must act now.
.At the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit in December, governments must commit to:
• Global greenhouse gas emissions peaking by 2015 and then declining rapidly, so as to reach as close to zero as possible by mid-century
• Legally binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction obligations for industrialised countries like New Zealand of at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. At least three quarters of these cuts need to be met through domestic action.
• Enhanced action by developing countries such as renewable energy targets to reduce emissions by 15-30% compared to “business as usual” growth scenarios by 2020, in return for the binding financial commitments from industrialized countries.
• A funding mechanism to end deforestation and associated greenhouse gas emissions in all developing countries by 2020, and to achieve zero deforestation by 2015 in the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and the Paradise forests.