Friday, 26 September 2014

Now is the time for action on Climate change - no more hot air please.

The world is hotting up and that's a fact

A few thoughts on the UN Climate summit in New York.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said - "Climate change is the defining issue of our times and now is the time for action."

The purpose of the 2014 Climate Summit was to raise political momentum for a meaningful universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015 and to galvanize action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.

So what’s the problem?

The world emitted 28 billion tons of carbon in 1992 when many world leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro and agreed to do something about it. This year we are likely to emit 40 billion tons.

The Arctic ice cap had an average thickness of 16.6 feet in 1976, but now it averages 2.6 feet.

The distance from the North Pole to the sea is now just 350 miles – the shortest distance ever recorded.

Sea levels are expected to rise between 7 and 23 inches by the end of the century.

Seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1995.

97% of climate scientists—the experts in their field—agree that human activities are causing the current warming.

Very rarely would I quote an actor on a subject such as this, however, I thought that Leonardo DiCaprio made an interesting point in his speech at the Summit. ”As an actor I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems. I believe humankind has looked at climate change in that same way: as if it were a fiction, happening to someone else’s planet, as if pretending that climate change wasn't real would somehow make it go away”.

So with these sorts of words and facts being bandied around – has this summit really come up with something that the world leaders can work towards, sign and act upon at the Paris summit next year?

Well, you might imagine that Scott Barrett, a natural resource economics professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute and a former lead author of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, might be the person to ask.

 Unfortunately, he is not convinced anything concrete will come out of the Paris climate conference, despite the enthusiasm on display in New York. "The real problem is at the global level," said Barrett. "We have not found the means to change the incentives to get the countries to actually adopt limits, essentially on emissions."

"Unfortunately in the climate area, strategy is the last thing that anyone is ever thinking of as far as I can see, because they keep coming up with ideas like pledges which imply that you can, by some kind of central planning, ordain a collective outcome and the world doesn't work that way," he said. 

"We've been doing this for 25 years and we've failed for 25 years," he said. "We need to come up with newer approaches, people don't want to repeat the past mistakes."

There is one bright spot, he noted however, in the effort to fight climate change — the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty to protect the ozone layer by phasing out chemical substances that deplete it. 

Those substances — chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) — are also powerful greenhouse gases. The power of the Montreal Protocol lies in the ability to ensure signatories follow the rules by prohibiting certain trades with other member parties.

Since its implementation, the Montreal Protocol has reduced CFCs by the equivalent of 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

So it can be done! I hope that there is no play acting at the Paris summit in 2015 – but some real life, far reaching decisions made, which are then consequently acted upon. We shall see.


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