A turning point in human nature
BY COLIN BLAKEMORE
Until this year, if you had said “Copenhagen” to the average scientist, they would probably have responded: “Bohr.” Niels, of that name, was the father of the Copenhagen School of quantum mechanics — a fairytale land in which things could be in two places at the same time, things changed when you looked at them, and cats could be both alive and dead.
Now, the significance of “Copenhagen” might have changed forever — like an electron that has been peeked at. The headlines are screaming about chaos and failure, disappearing island states say they have been betrayed, and even US President Barack Obama admits that a legally binding treaty will take “some time” to achieve. But, depending on the outcome of the political shenanigans, Copenhagen could still be a name as important for environmental science as it already is for physics.
However things turn out, Copenhagen deserves a different sort of credit, perhaps even more significant than a step toward saving the planet. Copenhagen might mark a turning point in human nature: when the global village acquired a global mind.
What we have just witnessed is delegates from 193 countries talking about making sacrifices, slowing development, constraining industry and taxing citizens in a collective bid to stifle climate change. Those nations included virtually every race, every religion, every style of government — from monarchy to dictatorship, from constitutional democracy to communism.
For the past 5,000 years, agreements between nations have been determined by military or economic power, by political ideology or religious dogma. What Copenhagen has established, even if the final agreement fudges and procrastinates, is that a new force is at work in international diplomacy. A force that does not speak in terms of faith and conviction, and that is not even absolutely certain about what it has to say. That force, of course, is science.
Globally, the average temperature has risen by about 0.7oC since pre-industrial times. That’s a statistically significant shift (as the boffins would say), but it is not this evidence that has driven the unprecedented move toward global cooperation in Copenhagen. Rather, it’s predictions of future events — events long after the terms of office of elected representatives and even the lifetimes of monarchs and dictators.
The developing nations are unhappy with the offer of financial compensation from the affluent powers. But the amounts over the coming decades are staggering. All of this, and the policies, laws and taxes that will be needed to implement a real agreement, have been driven by the opinions of people of no specific race, creed or politics and very little personal power — the scientists who have made the doomsday predictions.
What’s surprising about nations acting together to avert a common threat is that it runs counter to so much of what we know about human nature.
A simple interpretation of Copenhagen would say the delegates were motivated by altruism and shared concern, reflecting a dispassionate assessment of risk and rational decision-making. But neither humans nor other animals normally behave like that.
Assisting the survival of others who share your genes makes sense in evolutionary terms. When once asked whether he would give his life to save a drowning brother (who shares half his genetic makeup) the great British biologist J.B.S. Haldane replied: “No, but I would to save two brothers or eight cousins.”
What is remarkable about Copenhagen is that individuals of such diverse genetic background could talk as they did about making sacrifices for each other.
In his first major speech after winning the presidential election, Obama said of the value of science: “It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient — especially when it’s inconvenient.”
And in his inaugural address, he promised “to restore science to its rightful place.”
Even with its flaws, what Copenhagen suggests is that the rightful place of science is at the heart of policy for a threatened world. The oceans are already rising. Either we sink separately or swim together.
Colin Blakemore is professor of neuroscience at the universities of Oxford and Warwick.
THE YOUTH VIEW
Obama handcuffed by politics
BY JESSY TOLKAN
As much as I thought I felt the urgency around the need for solutions to global warming, my memory is now imprinted with the faces and stories of the true frontline communities of this impending catastrophe. It is the survival of my young colleagues from Kenya, the Maldives and other small nations that will propel me to fight harder.
A fair, ambitious and binding deal failed because of the US’ inability to take action domestically on climate. The president’s position seemed handcuffed by the political mess back home. And without US leadership and willingness to put aggressive targets, long-term financing or a legally binding option on the table, other nations were able to hide behind the US’ position. It is a shame. As an American, I can see no more fitting role than going home and revving up the American people to action in more significant terms than we’ve ever seen.
This may require us to be a more creative and less insular movement. While many of us thought we might be in a better position coming out of Copenhagen, we must now be focused in our approach and priorities. Washington found US$700 billion to bail out banks. We cannot defer our responsibility on funding a global climate deal.
The world needs to come up with US$200 billion a year to help the most vulnerable nations. It is an embarrassment that while the African and island nations were calling for reductions in carbon to ensure we don’t go above 1.5oC in the warming of our planet, the US refused even to use the most recent science to come up with its target.
The world is using a 1990 base and the US has disguised our proposed 4 percent reductions in carbon by calling it a 17 percent to 20 percent reduction and using a 2005 baseline. This shows a lack of sincerity in actually wanting to address the problem. The administration should work to ensure that we are not only in a place to get a binding agreement in Mexico, but that we have the votes in the Senate ready to ratify it as well.
This is a pivotal moment and the president has the opportunity to stand up for a generation around the world and fight for our future. Once we recover from our disappointment, we will realize that we now have some ground on which to build. Not to mention a bursting-at-the-seams, pulsating climate movement that has been strengthened by this setback. On the precipice of a new decade in which that generation will come to fruition, there is no choice but to forge ahead. We are prepared for the struggle and we will win.
Jessy Tolkan is executive director of the Energy Action Coalition.
Copenhagen: inevitable failure
BY BENNY PEISER
I hate to say I told you so, but I predicted the failure of the Copenhagen summit to agree to binding commitments for over a year.
The Copenhagen fiasco was not just foreseeable, it was inevitable. The inability of the international community to break the climate deadlock reflects the incompatible national interests and demands that divide the West and the rest. This is now a permanent feature in what is likely to become an indefinite moratorium on international climate lawmaking.
In light of the Copenhagen non-agreement, there will be increased pressure by EU member states to water down unilateral emissions targets that are conditional on an international treaty. Just like Japan, it will be impossible for Europe or, indeed, the UK to continue with policies that are burdening national economies with huge costs and damaging their international competitiveness.
Climate politics face a profound crisis. Revolts among Eastern European countries, in Australia and even among Obama’s Blue Dog Democrats are forcing lawmakers to renounce support for unilateral climate policies. In the UK, the party-political consensus on climate change is unlikely to survive the general elections as both Labour and the Tories are confronted by a growing public backlash against green taxes and rising fuel bills.
The biggest losers of the Copenhagen fiasco, however, appear to be climate science and the scientific establishment who, with a very few distinguished exceptions, have promoted unmitigated climate alarm and hysteria. It confirms beyond doubt that most governments have lost trust in the advice given by climate alarmists and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Copenhagen accord symbolizes the loss of political power by Europe, whose climate policies have been rendered obsolete.
It is a remarkable irony of history that when the leading voices of the radical environmental movements of the 1960s and 1970s occupy governmental power in most Western nations, their political and international influence is on the wane. The weakening of global warming anxiety among the general public and the marked decline of Western influence and authority on the international stage is a clear manifestation of the green slump.
Benny Peiser is the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
A stride ahead of Kyoto
BY JOHN PRESCOTT
I came home from Copenhagen and picked up the newspapers. The headlines read: “Talks end in failure”; “Deadlock”; “Copenhagen fails the test”.
The “test” for many journalists and NGOs was whether there’d be a legal agreement, which was never a possibility, just as we didn’t get one at Kyoto.
No. The real headline is that Copenhagen has become the first global agreement on climate change. The Copenhagen accord reaffirms the science that we shouldn’t allow the temperature to rise more than 2oC, establishes a green climate fund providing US$30 billion from Jan. 1 and a new form of verification.
This isn’t failure. It’s not as good as it should have been but as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, it’s another important step to control climate change.
And it’s certainly not “genocide,” as the Sudanese delegate said. Perhaps he should try to tackle genocide at home first before preaching to the rest of world.
My five days at Copenhagen reminded me so much of Kyoto. In 1997, when I was negotiating for the EU, I coined a phrase. When journalists followed me between meetings trying to get updates, I’d say: “I’m walking and talking.”
Twelve years on in Copenhagen and I’ve been doing the same, this time for the Council of Europe as its rapporteur on climate change.
We’ve been calling for a fairer deal for developing nations based on social justice. China may be becoming the world’s biggest emitter, but if you look at carbon dioxide emissions per person, each American emits 20 tonnes a year, a Chinese person just six and an African less than one.
When I launched the Council of Europe’s New Earth Deal campaign, which rejected the EU’s limited proposals, I predicted three things. First, there wouldn’t be a legally binding agreement. That will come later.
Second, that Copenhagen would be 10 times more difficult than Kyoto. In 1997, we were trying to find agreement among 47 developed countries. Copenhagen needed consensus from 192.
Finally, the deal would come down to the G2 — China and the US. It’s at the conference when you really get that chance to press home the message. I lobbied John Kerry, Al Gore and Chinese Environment Minister Xie Zhenhua (謝振華), telling them they had to “wriggle more” to get a deal. The translator fell silent, but when I mimed a wriggle to Xie, he smiled and understood what I meant.
But the atmosphere was soured by the US, first by its climate change special envoy, Todd Stern, who said emissions “isn’t a matter of politics or morality or anything else, it’s just maths,” which completely ignored the per capita argument. Obama’s speech blaming China didn’t help either.
The US has pushed the Chinese hard on emissions cuts. Fine when you’ve had your industrial revolution. But China and the other developing countries need that growth. Understandable when more than half of the planet is living on less than US$2 a day.
But one world leader stands out for me. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who made a brilliant speech, has shown once again real leadership in finding global solutions to global problems, just as he did at the G20 on finance. He was the first leader to commit to go to Copenhagen, successfully lobbied for others to join him and got the fast-track fund off the ground. Yet again, he’s proved he’s a big man for a big job.
So let’s keep walking and talking to the UN climate talks in Bonn in May and the next UN climate change conference in Mexico next December. That’s when the fine detail will be hammered out, just like we did after Kyoto.
John Prescott is the Council of Europe’s rapporteur on climate change and a former deputy prime minister of the UK.
China was a useful scapegoat
BY AILUN YANG
This was not the result China wanted. China’s intention was to be seen as a good guy at this historic climate conference. That is, a good guy, but not yet the leader.
The foundations had all been there — the domestic revolution in clean energy; intensive negotiations with all the major players, especially the US, over the past year; the big announcement of its targets on emission growth 10 days ahead of Copenhagen; the setting up of the first-ever China Communication and News Center.
However, two things caught China by surprise. First was the cry of the most vulnerable developing countries for China to take more responsibility. All of a sudden, the hat of “developing country” was no longer such a convenient fit. Second, China was beaten by the US negotiation strategy.
For the first time in history, China was sitting at the negotiation table with the US as an equal player, but there was still a long way for China to go to master international diplomacy skills.
The fact that the US could spin the issue of China’s data transparency as the “deal breaker” for the whole Copenhagen meeting was the saddest thing in the past two weeks.
Long before the real ending, the game became blaming China. Desperate world leaders need to provide an explanation to their people why Copenhagen would end in such a mess. Well, who more convenient to blame than China?
But China only deserves so much sympathy. It was merely acting in its own interests, while Copenhagen was supposed to be the place to secure a global climate rescue plan. China failed to recognize and embrace the international role it ought to play in this global fight against the biggest threat to humanity.
From Copenhagen, China has had to learn an important lesson — she could decide to be a leader or the bad guy. There can be no such thing as being the good guy when you’re the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.
Ailun Yang (楊愛倫) is head of climate and energy at Greenpeace China.
The need for local action
BY JULIAN HUNT
Post-Copenhagen, we may be heading toward a future in which no comprehensive successor to the Kyoto regime is politically possible. It is therefore crucial that the center of gravity of decision-making on how we respond to climate change moves toward the sub-national level. The need for such a shift from “top down” to “bottom up” is becoming clearer by the day.
Over the last decade, records of weather and climate trends have revealed larger and more unusual regional and local variations — some unprecedented since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. Among such warning signs are more frequent droughts in wet regions (such as the 2006 drought in Assam, India, previously one of the wettest places in the world) and floods in dry regions (as with, recently, the worst floods in 50 years in northwest India).
Such extreme events threaten sustainable development around the world as natural environments are destroyed irreversibly and economic growth is slowed. Forming loose collaborative networks enables regions, their experts and decision-makers to learn from one another and draw upon national and international resources, including the growing number of consortiums linking major cities, local governments and the private sector.
Experience shows that this “bottom up” approach works very effectively as it is only when smaller areas learn how they will be specifically affected by climate change that widespread grassroots action can be mobilized.
Although regional variations in climate change are approximately predicted by IPCC global climate models, what is now needed are more local measurements and studies for government, industry and agriculture to better understand their climatic circumstances and develop adaptive strategies.
Hence, increasing numbers of regional monitoring centers are contributing toward local adaptation plans. In China, for example, many provinces require targets for power station construction, while regional environmental and climate change centers are now well developed.
Experience also shows that local actions can only be truly effective if measurements of climate and environment are widely publicized, as well as information about targets and projections of emissions. Such transparency is needed on what is happening, what is planned and how every individual can be involved — as the Danes have shown with their community investment in wind power. Localization of action must be the post-Copenhagen priority if we are to tackle global warming.
Julian Hunt is a visiting professor at Delft University and a former director-general of the UK Meteorological Office.
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