A Few Things Ill Considered

Guardian’s editorial on Copenhagen

The Guardian has run a front page editorial on the Copenhagen summit along with 56 papers in 20 languages.

I read it at Real Climate who “takes no formal position” on its statements. I suppose it is to avoid the acusation of being political…

Well, I have rarely read an editorial I agree with more. And I say that with the utmost formality!


It was released under Creative Commons license, so I will reproduce it here in its entirety:

Copenhagen climate change conference: Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

Comments

  1. #1 mandas
    December 10, 2009

    Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed here, I am also pragmatic enough to understand it is far easier to demand political action; it is quite another to achieve it.
    There is no doubt – despite the protestations of the flat-earth society evident here and in other places – that the science is largely settled. The globe is warming and humans are the cause. There may be disagreement over some of the finegrain detail – but that doesn’t change the overall facts; and facts they are.
    However, poltical solutions are another thing entirely. There is no doubt that equity demands that the richer nations shoulder much of the burden for climate change amelioration, for they are the ones that have grown rich by polluting the atmosphere and overusing the available resources. It is completely inequitable and hypocritical for rich nations to point at countries like China and demand that they reduce their emissions, for that is akin to demanding that they cannot do the same as we have been doing for decades if not centuries.
    Unfortunately, shouldering the burden costs money, and voters and interest groups will resist paying the higher taxes necessary for the programs needed to reverse climate change. And when voters object, politicians listen. Any politician who stands up and promises to not raise taxes or who denies climate change and the necessity to fundamentally change the economy will receive a sympathetic if not enthusiastic hearing from the lowest common denominator – and there are a lot of them out there.
    That’s where we are at now. The problem of climate change is that it will only reach crisis point when the causes are irreversable – and humans have demonstrated a remarkable inability to act proactively to prevent problems before they occur. Unfortunately, by then it will be too late.
    To be quite frank, I am extemely pessimistic about the whole issue. I am frustrated with continually attempting to have the flat-earth society see their noses in front of their faces. These stupid people – and they are stupid, there is no other word for it (morons maybe??) – are likely to be the cause of untold misery and suffering. And they will blame everyone but themselves for the predicament they cause.
    I implore politicians to make the right choice as well. I just don’t have any confidence that they will.

  2. #2 michael
    December 11, 2009

    Oh….. My…. Gawd!
    Did everyone see the video sequence that was shown at the opening of the summit?
    This “landmark editorial” reads just the same!

    I ask you honestly, (you know who you are) do you really believe this?
    I mean really and truely?
    We have all seen the news footage of the politicians from The Maldives and the girl from Fiji saying how the sea levels are rising, the sea levels are rising…..
    I live in Brisbane Australia, where we share an ocean with Fiji. The sea levels of the islands off the coast of Brisbane are not rising.
    Is it possible that the ocean is rising in some places and not in others?
    Can it be that the lack of human emitted CO2 over Fiji and the Maldives (as undeveloped nations) is causing the sea to rise there but not here?
    So far, the Copenhagen “love-in” is looking like a meeting of Orcs and Uruk Hai.
    (oh, I really hope that makes sense!…. It’s late….. There’ve been a few wines)

  3. #3 michael
    December 11, 2009

    Oh….. My…. Gawd!
    Did everyone see the video sequence that was shown at the opening of the summit?
    This “landmark editorial” reads just the same!

    I ask you honestly, (you know who you are) do you really believe this?
    I mean really and truely?
    We have all seen the news footage of the politicians from The Maldives and the girl from Fiji saying how the sea levels are rising, the sea levels are rising…..
    I live in Brisbane Australia, where we share an ocean with Fiji. The sea levels of the islands off the coast of Brisbane are not rising.
    Is it possible that the ocean is rising in some places and not in others?
    Can it be that the lack of human emitted CO2 over Fiji and the Maldives (as undeveloped nations) is causing the sea to rise there but not here?
    So far, the Copenhagen “love-in” is looking like a meeting of Orcs and Uruk Hai.
    (oh, I really hope that makes sense!…. It’s late….. There’ve been a few wines)

  4. #4 skip
    December 11, 2009

    Oh . . . My . . . Gawd!

    Did everyone read the last post–that was duplicated apparently to make it doubly true? It reads just like a million others that end up on this forum! How the poster cites something *other* than the document in question to prove that the document in question is silly? Does he truly believe this? I mean really and truly?

    Skip

  5. #5 michael
    December 11, 2009

    Whoops!
    Sorry for the ol’ double up.
    (I was writing from my phone)

    Hey Skip,
    Sorry, I didn’t think I needed to spell out that I thought this Guardian article was as calamitous and frightening as the COP15 video.
    Did you see it?
    What do you think of this article and the video?
    What do you think of what I’ve said about the sea levels?
    What do you think of the various cabinet meetings held in diving gear?
    I have been reading your posts, and I think you are a very clever writer and clear thinker.
    I’d really like to know what you think.

  6. #6 skip
    December 13, 2009

    Thanks for the compliments Mike but I’m trying to put to together an extensive response to Crakar right now. Its a crushing time sink especially at the end of the semester with grades and shit.

    What irked me here was the guilt by association reasoning: The video was stupid, and since the video is (you assume) “just like” the editorial, therefore the editorial is stupid.

    Maybe both are for reasons we can discuss. I have personally read/watched neither. I was just irritated by what I saw as a drive-by line of reasoning.

    Take care,

    Skip

  7. #7 mandas
    December 13, 2009

    Michael
    To answer your question about sea level rise in Fiji and Brisbane – yes.
    All oceans are connected – but that doesn’t stop them having different sea levels. The builders of the Panama Canal discovered this. The sea level of the Pacific is about 20cm higher than the Atlantic. And I suppose you have heard of tides? That’s where the sea level in one location is different to another.
    And I guess you have heard of winds as well – that’s where air moves from one location to another. As a consequence, the temperature and composition (trace gases etc) can be different in different locations. So the air above Fiji doesn’t always stay there, and with the easterly motion of the jetstream, the air above Australia moves out over the Pacific Ocean.
    There you go – lessons in oceanography and meteorology all in one post. You are smarter already just from reading this.