Published in An Phoblacht on August 27, 2010
THE deadly extreme weather and natural disasters that have hit Pakistan, China and Russia in the past two months sound an undeniable warning – we’re rapidly losing a safe climate.
In Pakistan, the worst flooding in the state’s history has killed more than 1,200 people, left 20 million homeless and submerged more than one-fifth of the country. The monsoon rains caused flooding and landslides that killed more than 1,400 people in the Chinese province of Gansu on August 8th.
The Russian Meteorological Centre said Russia had not gone through a comparable heatwave as that experienced in July/August in 1,000 years. The wildfires and drought will cut Russia’s wheat harvest by one-third this year, which has caused a sharp rise in world grain prices.
Global temperature records have been smashed repeatedly this year. Seventeen countries – which combined make up one-fifth of the Earth’s land surface – have reported record-high temperatures so far in 2010. The first half of 2010 was the hottest six-month period on record in the hottest year on record in the hottest decade on record.
The human cost of climate change is mounting, with 10million people now affected by hunger as a result of a severe drought in western Africa. The Global Humanitarian Fund estimated in May 2009 that climate change was already causing the deaths of 300,000 people in the global south each year.
These unprecedented extreme weather events are happening when the Earth has warmed on average by 0.75°C on pre-industrial levels.
In September last year, the British Met Office warned that the planet would warm by a catastrophic 4°C by mid-century if carbon emissions were not immediately cut by at least 3% per year – which would cause millions of people to become climate refugees due to rising sea levels, among other effects.
But despite the Kyoto Protocol aiming to achieve an average 5% reduction in global emissions on baseline 1990 levels by 2012, carbon emissions have continued to rise during the 2000s and are now at an all-time high.
The Copenhagen climate summit held in December was supposed to agree a legally binding international climate treaty on carbon emission reductions that would replace Kyoto, due to expire in 2012. It fell dismally short of achieving this due to the appalling role played by the United States at the negotiations.
The most up-to-date climate science tells us that a 40% cut in emissions in industrialised countries is required by 2020, and an 80-95% cut by 2050. But at Copenhagen, the US pledged only a 4% reduction in its emissions by 2020 – just one-tenth of what climate scientists believe is required! The EU pledged a 20% cut by 2020 – half that required by the science.
The US has continued to play the role of climate renegade at the negotiations in Bonn this year in the lead-up to the Cop16 summit in Cancún, Mexico, in November – refusing to up its 4% pledge.
In the recriminations that followed Copenhagen, western politicians denounced China for throwing a spanner in the works. But what actually happened was that the rich countries, led by the US, tried to force the poor into agreeing to abandon the Kyoto Protocol’s key principles – that targets must be legally binding, that rich countries have a greater responsibility to cut emissions, and that developing countries must be provided with adequate finance for adaptation and mitigation.
The outcome of the Copenhagen summit was that 130 countries “took note of” a non-binding accord which contained no actual emission reduction targets.
Analysis commissioned by Bolivia and released through the UN at the Bonn climate talks in June showed that countries’ current pledges amounted to just 12% to 18% reductions below 1990 levels by 2020. When all the loopholes and ‘carbon market mechanisms’ in the text were taken into account, global emissions could actually be allowed to rise by 9%!
Bolivia’s Ambassador Pablo Solón said: “The new data shows a frightening chasm between what the science says, what the people have asked for and Earth needs, and what rich countries are saying they are willing to do.”
At the June talks in Bonn, more than 100 poor countries demanded that the ‘safe climate target’ of 2°C warming be reduced to 1.5°C or lower. A large body of climate science, including reports from the world’s leading climatologist, NASA’s James Hansen, supports the 1.5°C figure as a safe climate target.
The 2°C target is set out in the Copenhagen Accord and arises from the UN’s 2007 IPCC report. The developing countries called for a review of the science, saying the 2007 report has been superseded – but this won’t happen until 2014.
The bloc also stated that the Copenhagen Accord’s goal of providing US$100 billion in climate aid annually by 2020 was insufficient.
The mainstream media pushes the line that any deal is better than none – that the bloc of poor countries should ‘get real’ and accept the terms being pushed on them.
But the laws of physics and chemistry cannot be bargained with, stalled or tricked. The developing alliance between the poor countries, progressive forces in the industrialised states, and the growing global climate justice movement is up against hugely powerful governments and business interests who are determined to prioritise short-term profit over the survival of the planet. Public pressure and mobilisation is clearly the key to changing this balance of forces and ensuring action is taken at Cancún.