climate change politics

Climate change: looks like the ball’s back in our court

For two years, every climate change campaign group has focused on securing a deal at Copenhagen. The endless petitions, rounds of lobbying, and protest marches have all come to a head over the last couple of weeks. There must be a real sense of deflation in the offices of the campaign organisations, and it’s not just the environmental groups either. On the climate march a couple of weeks ago were development charities and poverty campaigns, religious groups, conservationists and businesses like the Cooperative. With the talks more or less failing, the ‘what now?’ question looms pretty large.

So were the talks a failure? Mostly. There is some new money on the table. We saw the US step up to a leadership role for the first time. I was pleased with the UK’s contribution, with Ed Milliband doing a great job, and Gordon Brown upping the ante by being the first world leader to announce he would attend in person. The commitment to 2 degrees of warming was preserved, and the wording at least hints at the idea of climate justice, mentioning “the right to equitable access to atmospheric space.” Something was signed, rather than nothing. Otherwise there’s little to celebrate.

In what the head of Friends of the Earth Andy Atkins describes as “a toothless declaration”, a breakaway group of the US, China, India and South Africa argued through a brief compromise last night. The text, known as the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ was adopted this morning by the rest of the conference. You can read it here.

Reading through it, nothing appears to be declared that we didn’t already know before the conference. The accord begins with the words “we emphasise our strong political will to urgently combat climate change”, but of course that’s why the conference was held in the first place. Ditto “we agree that deep cuts in global emissions are required”, and that “international cooperation on adaptation is urgently required.”

So it goes on. Funding will be ‘adequate’, without specifying any actual numbers. Things should be done ‘as soon as possible’ – everything is urgent but there are no deadlines. Countries should ‘strengthen’ their emissions cuts, but there’s no agreed target. Financial accountability will be ‘rigorous’, but no mechanisms for doing it are mentioned.

We have a deal, but really they might as well have signed a post-it note with the words ‘must do something about climate change’. It may even be worse than no deal, because Kyoto ends in 2012 and with it ends the agreed emissions targets. We have nothing to replace it, meaning the world’s worst polluters get away scot free.

Having read enough international agreements and G20 statements, I’m not remotely surprised by any of this, but I am still disappointed. It might have happened. We might have, just for once, shown some boldness and common purpose. I guess not. Where it leaves us is a different matter. If governments aren’t taking responsibility, perhaps it’s back to us to get on with it ourselves, in our homes, streets, and towns.

Here’s what some other people are saying:

Corporate profits and political expediency have proved more urgent considerations than either the natural world or human civilisation.
George Monbiot
, Guardian

Every day, practical, intelligent solutions that would cut our emissions of warming gases have been offered by scientists, developing countries and protesters – and they have been systematically vetoed by the governments of North America and Europe.
Johann Hari, Independent

Given that almost everybody present was in basic agreement with the premise on which the conference was called — that mankind must curb its carbon emissions — some may have expected rather more consensus.
The Times

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