On December 7 environmental ministers and officials from 192 countries meet in Copenhagen for the United Nations climate conference to establish a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. With UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon arguing "the future of the entire humanity" rests on the outcome of the talks, five prominent environmental experts and activists share their thoughts on the summit.
Caroline Lucas MEP, Green Party leader
As we head towards the UN summit in Copenhagen, key decision makers are already playing down expectations that an ambitious agreement can be reached, with Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, calling the talks only a "crucial start" in the fight against climate change. Yet it’s vital that we maintain a much higher level of ambition.
At the very least, the summit must provide clear foundations for a global deal, firmly based on the principles of the Kyoto Protocol: binding emissions reduction targets, uniform accounting rules, strong compliance mechanisms and common but differentiated responsibility – recognising different historical contributions to environmental degradation, so that equity is at the heart of any new deal.
A new agreement must also be based on the science. To have even a 50/50 chance of keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees, the industrialised countries need to adopt binding targets to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2020, based on 1990 levels. Importantly, these reductions should be made domestically – not ‘outsourced’ to poorer countries.
Leaders must also establish significant funding for climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. This could prove to be a real sticking point, as the scale of financing needed for this purpose has so far been vastly underestimated.
Finally, governments need to recognise that investing in the alternatives to polluting, finite fossil fuels, together with a shift to a more sustainable economic model, will actually benefit society and the economy as well as the environment – and therefore have the courage to be more ambitious.
Mike Hulme, Professor of climate change, University of East Anglia
Expectations for the Copenhagen climate negotiations have, sadly, been raised far too high; the rhetoric calls them ‘the last chance to tackle climate change’. This atmosphere is not conducive to considered and realistic negotiating. And it is a task not helped because so many issues troubling the world today have been dumped into the climate change bucket: the loss of biodiversity, inequity in patterns of development, tropical forests, the rights of indigenous peoples, intellectual property rights, etc. The list grows by the month. We have presented ourselves with a Rubik’s cube puzzle of just too many dimensions.
There will be some modest symbolic agreement to come out of Copenhagen. But I hope that the yawning gap between well-meaning rhetoric and political reality will convince many that we are going down the wrong track in thinking that climate change can be defused through a single multilateral treaty. It can’t. Instead, we need to start disaggregating the many interwoven threads which we have stitched together into the climate change banner and find more diverse, less ambitious and more tractable political means for addressing them. For example, HFCs can be handled by the Montreal Protocol, emissions from tropical forests through a separate Forest Protocol and methane, black soot and carbon dioxide should each be attended to quite separately. And the elephant in the background – the need for massive redistribution of wealth from North to South – needs to be tackled head-on, as a primary issue of global security and not hitched to the contested scientific and energy agendas of climate change.
Barry Wilton, Activist, Plane Stupid
I fear a Copenhagen summit where faith is put in bankers to protect our futures. A future that will justify airport expansion on the grounds that the extra pollution will be traded and speculated on for profit. A sub prime future but without the possibility of a bailout. A future where the people most adversely impacted by decisions won’t be able to question them, let alone implement alternatives.
In this future communities will be tarmacked over ‘for the sake of growth for growth’s sake’. This motto of the cancer cell will dominate figuratively and literally as those left standing gradually have their clean air, health and peace eroded by the extra planes overhead. I fear that the McJobs used to justify expansion will be short lived as the end of cheap oil bites. As the McJobs give way to McDole queues we’ll wish we’d listened to our fears and followed our hopes in Copenhagen.
Plane Stupid will be in Copenhagen and we’ll be joining the many other hopefuls that are putting their faith in people, rather than markets. The Climate Justice Action mobilisation will be challenging the exclusive claims of bankers to save the planet and proposing that instead it’s up to all of us to directly implement the just solutions and necessary changes. We’ll be taking direct action in our communities and workplaces needed to stop the cancerous growth of our airports, roads and centralised power systems. Using systems of direct democracy and mass participation we’ll create healthy and resilient communities. Communities that won’t be bullied by Big Carbon Inc. Communities capable of creating a future worth fighting for.
Charlie Kronick, Senior climate change analyst, Greenpeace UK
This is crunch time for the negotiations. Unless we get a good deal at Copenhagen we run a very real risk of exceeding a two degree increase in global average temperatures. This deal should include global emissions peaking by 2015, in turn requiring 40% cuts in carbon emissions by 2020 from developed countries, plus a halt to deforestation by 2020 and a solid financial package, and at least $160 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries both adapt to climate change and get on to a low carbon development pathway. Exceeding two degrees would take us from merely ‘dangerous’ climate change to potential catastrophe, with increases in disease, and to water and food shortages, especially for poor communities in the developing world.
Right now the key sticking points between developing world and the rich countries are the low level of ambition from the developed countries – the EU 20% cuts by 2020 are at half the required level of ambition, and the failure to put anything like an adequate amount of money on the table to fund both adaptation to climate change and to support the move to a low carbon economy.
Despite the attempts at expectation management from the UK government over the past weeks, anything less than a legally binding agreement to reduce emissions will be a disaster and not just for the climate. Uncertainty and delay now will mean that businesses will lack certainty on the future, and will encourage investments into anything from new coal fired power stations to the Canadian Tar sands, the biggest and dirtiest oil project on the planet.
Paul Noon, General Secretary of Prospect and co-chair of the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee
The transition to a low-carbon future will not only change the industrial landscape but has the potential to create new jobs and skills.
In the past, significant periods of economic restructuring have often happened in a chaotic fashion, leaving ordinary people, families and communities to bear the brunt of the transition. A just transition would help to avoid this kind of injustice by ensuring that the huge changes that new climate change policies will have for our whole economy are implemented fairly, with those who would otherwise lose out being helped.
In particular, we are calling for:
consultation between government and key stakeholders, including representatives from business, unions, local government and regional bodies and voluntary organisations;
green jobs: investment in new low-carbon technologies and green jobs so that those who stand to lose their existing jobs have the opportunity to move jobs; and
green skills: a government-led, active skills strategy for a low-carbon, resource efficient economy, to help people changing jobs make the transition.
While there has been some recognition of the just transition call, it is imperative the issue receives more than lip service as these challenges cannot be ignored. Therefore Prospect, along with other UK TUC-affiliated unions, is calling on the UK government to reiterate its support for the concept of a just transition as an integral part of the Copenhagen agreement and for ministers to sustain that support right through to the close of negotiations.