Welcome to hell - climate talks and climate reality

Mike Childs

03 December 2012

Welcome to hell.

This could easily be the sign outside of the international climate talks - currently at Doha - which are characterised by painfully slow negotiations, political manoeuvrings and posturing, and limited steps both forwards and backwards. But, if the spate of recent research reports is correct, the sign could as easily be posted at the entrance to Planet Earth well before this century is out.

But despair not - although these reports make grim reading, as I show below, it is not yet too late to avert climate chaos, although the clock is ticking and time is beginning to run out.

The World Bank report – Turn down the heat, why a 4oC world must be avoided  – tells us that “even with the current mitigation commitments and pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20 percent likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100. If they are not met, a warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s”.

It goes on to warn that 4oC could see “the inundation of coastal cities; increasing risks for food production potentially leading to higher malnutrition rates; many dry regions becoming dryer, wet regions wetter; unprecedented heat waves in many regions, especially in the tropics; substantially exacerbated water scarcity in many regions; increased frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones; and irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems.”

And if that isn’t bad enough it states “a 4°C world is so different from the current one that it comes with high uncertainty and new risks that threaten our ability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs. The lack of action on climate change not only risks putting prosperity out of reach of millions of people in the developing world, it threatens to roll back decades of sustainable development.”

I told you it was grim reading, but there’s more:

  • The International Energy Agency, in their annual World Energy Outlook, tell us that in 2011 fossil fuel subsidies jumped by almost 30% to $523 billion and that renewable energy is only getting a fraction of the support it needs. They do say that “by 2035, we can achieve energy savings equivalent to nearly a fifth of global demand in 2010” but that “in the absence of a concerted policy push, two-thirds of the economically viable potential to improve energy efficiency will remain unrealised through to 2035”.
  • The European Environment Agency said “the average temperature over land in Europe in the last decade was 1.3 °C warmer than the preindustrial level, which makes it the warmest decade on record…snow cover has been decreasing, the vast majority of glaciers in Europe have been receding, and most permafrost soils have been warming.” And that “the migration rate of many species is insufficient to keep pace with the speed of climate change [and] many habitats of European interest (EU Habitats Directive) are potentially threatened by climate change over their natural range in Europe.”

To put icing on this rather miserable cake: 2012 saw record carbon emissions and it could be that we are underestimating how much the planet will warm for the amount of greenhouses gases we put in the atmosphere, as New Scientist reports. If this new research is right we are in an even deeper hole.

And, as all these reports say, it is the developing countries that have done least to cause the problem who will be hit hardest.

How in earth does one find glimmers of optimism amongst such grim reading?

·         Firstly, the fight continues, as evidenced by the continued campaigning by Friends of the Earth International and others inside and outside of the international UNFCCC climate talks, but also in villages, towns and cities across the globe.

·         Secondly, change is happening, for example, cities are going green, the price of renewable energy is plummeting, and the green economy is growing.

·         And thirdly, there is so much potential to save energy - as the IEA report mentioned above - which is the cheapest and fastest way to cut greenhouse gas emissions as economists continue to point out.

When the going gets tough the only response is to fight harder, because frankly the stakes are just too high to consider giving up.

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