Climate change will soon become a bigger security threat to humanity than that of nuclear proliferation, and it has taken a long time for the international political community to realize that climate change is real, and that man is largely responsible for it.
Already, we are witnessing the consequences of our inaction to curb excess greenhouse gases being emitted in the atmosphere: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record; the Arctic ice cap is melting; oil and food prices are soaring, and we are experiencing more and more extreme weather situations across the globe. The sustainability of our planet is at stake, and world leaders must recognize that the Copenhagen Summit is one of the most important gatherings of our time.
Above all, now is the time to set aside narrow national interests and political differences to see the greater goal — working to secure the future of our planet, by agreeing to a multilateral deal based on equity and justice.
Kyoto was not enough — and the United States needs to be on board
During the Kyoto negotiations in 1997, the EU originally proposed a 15% cut in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2010. The United States ensured that these cuts were lowered dramatically to 5.2%, even though President Bill Clinton later failed to ratify the Protocol, paving the way for President George W. Bush to pull out altogether.
In addition, China, India and other developing countries were not included in any emission limitations in the Kyoto Protocol because they were not main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the pre-treaty industrialization period, although China is now the major greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
These new realities underscore that future emission cuts will have to be more dramatic than those set in Kyoto, because global greenhouse gases have rapidly increased in recent years. Abstract reduction targets cannot happen again.
The Small Island Agenda
The Group of Least Developed Countries has asked the world’s major economies to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperature by 2050.
In order to reach the 2°C mark by 2050, developed countries must cut emissions to 25-40% below the 1990 levels by 2020, and 50-80% below 1990 levels by 2050. And while negotiations show that ambitions have been raised about emissions cuts in each country, these cuts are still not enough, particularly for small Islands.
The Alliance of the Small Island States (AOSIS) cites UN based scientific climate change studies, which state that rising temperatures must be limited to 1.5 °C above 1990 levels by 2020. UN Ambassador and Chair of AOSIS, Dessina Williams, claims that the 2°C proposal is ‘unacceptable because this temperature exceeds safe thresholds for protecting small islands.’ The UN also reacted negatively to the 2 °C negotiations in September; stating this temperature rise would damage the world’s coral reefs, affect small islands, low-lying areas and African countries already susceptible to drought and desertification.
Copenhagen agreements must not keep less developed states in a state of underdevelopment
Coincidentally, the countries which are most vulnerable to climate change tend also to be those with the most economic vulnerability. The Copenhagen Summit therefore must discern what different peak global emissions imply for developing countries in respect of meeting the needs of their people. A proposal that leaves developing countries unable to grow is not only unwise, but also extremely detrimental.
The current US proposal for the Copenhagen Summit means that Africa would have negative economic growth – an unacceptable position which is ignorant of the fact that developing countries must have developing space. Copenhagen’s focus should therefore be directed at helping emerging countries generate economic growth based on a low carbon output. The CO2 emission rates for China are the highest in the world, with India trailing close behind. Yet per person, these nations have small carbon footprints with millions still living in extreme poverty. In India, for example, over 400 million people live without electricity.
Other parameters of the agreement must include how the emissions reductions targets will bring about a temperature rise of less than 1.5 °C as recommended by UN Climate Change Studies and affirmed in the AOSIS Climate Change Declaration. A mere temperature goal is not enough. We must frame specific targets that must be quantifiable, measurable and transparent. The higher a country’s per capita emissions, the higher its reduction targets should be.
Heads of government need also to understand what the necessary percentages in reductions of CO2 emissions in the next 40 years will mean in terms of energy consumption, energy technologies and how to get there. Firm and aggressive emission reductions must be developed, all while combating global deforestation, a human activity that causes over 40% increase in CO2 emissions.
The agreement must also include sustainable development, and a commitment to the financing of technology transfers to mitigate the adaptation to a low carbon economy. If a treaty is not developed at the Copenhagen Summit, we must at the very least, have a strong political commitment where participants are bound with a legally binding agreement to follow within months, not years.
Lastly, there must also be a transformation on an individual level. Many of us, especially those in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles dramatically. It is now time for each person in every country to start doing his or her part to kick the carbon habit, because the sustainability of our planet is at stake, and our quality of life with it.