We have hit the iceberg and our politicians continue to dance in the hall. With small island in the pacific or even big countries as Bangladesh starting to go under water the deal last Week’s deal in Poznan was to postpone decisions (and action) one year more; to Copenhaguen 2009.
Having been in Poznan the first impression that I have is that, among the political leaders such as ministers or heads of environmental policy of the various countries, there is no consciousness about the gravity of the climate problem. They all know the problem exists but their reactions and proposals do not reflect the gravity of the situation. For example, they talk of reducing emissions by 20% by the year 2020 and 50% by 2050. But the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that, in order to have a 50% probability of keeping global temperature rise to 2C (after which there would be true environmental catastrophes), we would have to stabilize the concentration of CO2 equivalent gases in the atmosphere below 450ppm (parts per million). The problem is that in 2005, the concentration of CO2 had already reached 379ppm (before industrial revolution it was 280ppm). In other words, we are already past the limit for a scenario where we have only a 50% probability of holding the temperature below dangerous levels, and even so we are not acting with the necessary urgency.
This goal that so many politicians mention, of not passing 2C seems to be merely wishful thinking since we have already increased 0.8C; as the British scientist Bob Watson said: “…we have to try to keep the temperature increase to 2C but we also have to prepare for an increment of 4C…and of course if it rises by 4C most probably there will be a series of feedback mechanisms such as the escape of methane from the permafrost of Siberia, the Canadian tundra and ocean clathrates, as well as the destruction of the Amazon and the melting of the glaciers, which will push the temperature rise above 5C, then to 6C and then… ?”
To see the gravity of the case, we only have to remember that less than
8 months ago there was a tropical cyclone in Burma that left more than 150,000 dead, the equivalent of 2 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs together.
And this is before the temperature has increased even 1C. I wonder, what will be these catastrophes that the IPCC speaks of if the temperature rises more than 2C? Millions of dead in one single climate event?
In spite of all this, the principal polluters (the countries of the
North) want to continue polluting, and in order to do so, we want to give the Southern countries money to plant trees, capture the methane from landfills or put up wind turbines. This we call carbon trading, clean development mechanisms, joint implementation – we have plenty of creativity to continue inventing names when an intelligent and honest analysis of the problem demands an immediate halt to any additional CO2 emissions. The problem is complicated because many Southern countries agree with this approach, as it provides them with funds.
On the other hand, although the historical responsibility for the current problem lies with the industrialized countries, since we have produced 70% of all greenhouse gases emitted since the start of the industrial revolution (in spite of having only 17% of the global population), the problem is that, in the last decade, the situation has changed. Those countries called “developing countries” now emit more than the “developed” countries. For example, China has passed the US as the world’s principal emitter of CO2. This means that, in order to solve the problem, the Southern countries must also embark on an effective program of emissions reductions; this could be done if the industrialized countries recognize their historical responsibility of having caused the problem and provide the necessary capital and technology to do so. Some estimates of the necessary investment run on the order of US$200 billion per year; but the industrialized world seems not to be prepared to put in more than 10% of this amount at best.
The final decisions will be taken in Copenhagen in one year, but everything indicates that, if the decision makers of Northern and Southern countries do not change their positions, we will soon face climatic situations never before seen in the history of humanity. In the face of this challenge, only a citizen movement can steer the humanity into salvation. Our politicians can’t.
Now, I don’t doubt of the abilities/skills/preparation of our politicians (at least of not all of them 😉 ) but in the current system it is just impossible that they will take us out of this mess. Why? Because it is not their job; they are in this to defend their national interests and nobody is there to defend the world’s interests!
If the organization of Small Pacific Islands turned up to be the most progressive in Poznan it was because their survival is at stake. If Saudi Arabia or the US block any kind of deal is not because their citizens are better or worst than those of Spain or Bangladesh, it is because their representatives have to defend the national interests (oil, weapons…).
The current system of intergovernmental negotiations at world level is doomed and time will show the price we are about to pay for having internationalised everything but democracy. Only by building world institutions, which would have as main interest the protection of the interests of human kind, we will be able to address global problems.
The continuous failure of Climate Change negotiations only show how good our representatives are doing their job of representing national interests. The problem is “who represents the interests of all of us, citizens of the world”?
Lester Brown, from the Earth Policy Institute, claims that the danger we are in is so big and urgent that we don’t have time to build world institutions to deal with the problem. We don’t have time to plan, only time to act, he says. The problem is that the reality shows that we are not able to act. Since Kyoto not much has moved and Poznan is only one more chapter of the drama. The representatives of the governments are not agreeing on the minimum measures to save the planet and something needs to be done.
Building the supranational structure of the EU has taken 50 years and we just don’t have this time. However, we might be about to witness a new way to build supranational institutions; from the bottom-up.
Al Gore and many others agree that the only way we can use our possibilities of survival is by creating a citizens movement that works beyond borders and that can put the interests of the earth before the interests of the nation-states.
This would be the first stone in the creation of World Institutions; the creation of a self-appointed world-demos.
I believe the only way we will get something out of the next meeting in Copenhaguen is by having a massive pressure from the world citizens who will have to face, once again, the fierce opposition of the nation-state.
Margaret Meade once wrote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”, we have no other chance.