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Climate justice and Copenhagen

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

If not Copenhagen, if not a political solution, then what?

Political leaders at the recently concluded Copenhagen climate summit failed to reach a legally-binding, fair and ambitious agreement to reduce global  greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, the leaders of four countries (out of the 192 represented at Copenhagen) negotiated what is being called the Copenhagen Accord, which is at best a face-saving effort that commits countries to nothing but further negotiations and some general platitudes about the importance of climate change.

For all intents and purposes, Copenhagen has failed and the finger-pointing will begin. Was it a lack of political will? The interference of vested, special interests (i.e. big oil)? Or was it perhaps the impossibly unworkable negotiation process itself, in which 192 countries with different, often conflicting interests tried in vain to reach a mutual agreement?

Whatever the culprit, Copenhagen provided an excellent example of what happens when political leaders, blinded by self-interest, put national concerns ahead of the common good of the planet and the well-being of future populations. There is not a single national or international scientific academy and/or science society in the world today that disagrees with the fact that climate change is happening, that humans are to blame and that the implications could be dire without swift action. Clearly most politicians must understand the gravity of the problem, but they are unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Making their job even more difficult, the public’s willingness to believe the science of climate change has plummeted, never mind public support for actually taking action to confront the problem. In the wake of the so-called climategate/swifthack “scandal” (more on that in a future post) and a relentless, insidious campaign by the fossil fuel industry and climate skeptics to undermine climate science, many politicians are simply not willing to expend the considerable political capital needed to convince a confused public about the desperate need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fundamentally change the way we use energy and structure our economy.

As Time magazine recently reported in an excellent analysis of the hacked email controversy, a survey published on Dec. 3 by the conservative-leaning polling group Rasmussen Reports found that 52% of Americans polled believe there remains significant disagreement within the scientific community over global warming, and that 84% of Americans believe it is at least somewhat likely that some scientists have falsified data to support their theories on global warming. “Unfortunately, scientific truth matters less than public perception — a doubtful public is that much less likely to support tough caps on greenhouse-gas emissions.”

So as we charge ahead on a business-as-usual emissions trajectory, we may now well be on our way to world that is 4 degrees warmer than today’s global average. As Gwynne Dyer points out in his speech on this blog and in his latest book ‘Climate Wars‘, this level of warming would be an unmitigated disaster that could lead to a 40% fall in world wheat and corn production and a 30% fall in rice production by 2060 – by which time there will be 2 billion more mouths to feed. “There would be mass starvation, and waves of desperate refugees trying to move to some country where they can still feed their kids.”

Climate wars indeed.

The problem, of course, is that while there may well be astronomical costs if no action is taken to confront climate change, these will be borne by future generations and poor countries, whereas the costs of taking concrete action must be paid now, by us. It seems many of us would much rather believe the problem is not real or will simply go away, despite all evidence to the contrary, than make changes in our own lives, pay (slightly) more for our energy or sacrifice even a small amount of economic growth.

But how much more would we really have to sacrifice? In Canada, the costs, while not insignificant, may not be as high as some would believe. In their recent report ‘Climate leadership, economic prosperity’, which was funded by the TD Bank and used economic modeling provided by the highly-regarded M.K. Jaccard and Associates, the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation found that Canada can meet or even go beyond its 2020 emission reduction targets at a modest economic cost, while still maintaining a strong, growing economy in every province, with Alberta continuing to lead the nation in economic performance. Yet upon its release, the report was widely condemned as being, among other admonishments, “severely damaging to the West and all Canadians” and economically “perilous”.

I spoke with Pierre Sadik of the David Suzuki Foundation to find out more about the findings of their report. Would it really lead Canada to massive inter-regional wealth transfers and economic ruin, as some pundits claimed? Far from it. Click on the audio player above to hear more.

Although many people are bemoaning the failure of Copenhagen, it was never going to bring about the kind of emissions reductions that scientists say is necessary to avert the worst impacts of climate change. So where do we go from here?  If political negotiation is not the answer, perhaps now is the time for the real climate wars to begin. Not those of which Gwynne Dyer speaks, namely between nations, but within nations – in communities and on the streets. The climate justice movement is building and direct, non-violent action on a massive scale may now be the only feasible course of action.

Environmental and social justice advocates are coming together like never before, in the recognition that climate change is as much about human rights, global inequity and economic justice as it is about saving the planet. More and more people around the world are coming to the realization that our current economic path is not only unsustainable and destructive to the planet’s ecological life support systems, it is failing to meet even the basic needs of millions, perhaps billions, of people.

To be sure, Copenhagen was a profound disappointment but could its failure represent the tipping point for a new, more integrated and cooperative movement in response to the climate crisis?

Categories: Climate breakdown
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