Climate Change: Top Global Priority?

It’s been several months since my last posting wherein I spoke of the 7/7/07 LIVE EARTH concerts. As it happens, they coincided with my father’s 100 birthday, so my attentions were distinctly divided on the occasion. I did video 6 hours of the event and, having watched most of it, was more impressed by the promotional ads for green gismos than anything else. Though pop music is no longer really my thing, I do hope they helped reach the youth at which they were aimed. Regrettably, it barely registered in the grand old USA where it played opposite the Wimbledon Finals. But I understand several hundred folks gathered in the Universal Hall here at Findhorn to watch and celebrate the occasion.

As I’m sure you all know, climate change, global warming and ‘peak oil’ are all ascending the international priority list. Sir David King, chief scientific adviser to the UK government has proclaimed climate change to be the TOP global priority, and Britain is now in the process of forging a major Climate Change bill in the UK Parliament. Likewise with the Scottish Parliament. The former seeks to reduce CO2 emissions 60% by 2050, the latter 80%. Even the top scientific adviser to the US government, John Marburger, was recently quoted to the effect that man-made climate change is a top global priority, though he is still ‘uncertain’ about what specific target time or date to aim for, as apparently is his chief advisee, George W. Bush. But at the ASEAN summit in Sydney, Australia several weeks ago, President Bush, Australian premier John Howard and their counterparts from China, India and other developing countries all committed themselves to ‘aspirational’ goals to cut CO2 emissions in coming years, so long as economic growth was not seriously compromised.

And therein lies the proverbial rub. All these ‘leaders’ are trying to find a way to be SEEN to be combating climate change WITHOUT compromising economic growth. It’s about ‘squaring a circle’ which arguably cannot be done. I must say that I sympathise with them. According climate change priority over economic growth entails re-writing the political playbook, and democratic voters are not great at choosing ‘sacrifice’ over promises of material well-being. But until or unless a global agreement is forged that creates a level playing field, climate change will be a tough sell ‘where the rubber hits the road’. The best hope is to emphasise, as does Al Gore and others, the promise of new technologies, especially renewable energies, forming the basis of the ‘new economy’.*

So the obvious question is what would such an agreement look like? Findhorn played host this week to a CIFAL-Findhorn gathering for local authorities on ‘Climate Change & The Sustainable Energy Revolution’. It featured a presentation by Aubrey Meyer, formulator and principal advocate of the ‘Contraction & Convergence’ framework for responding to global warming. Aubrey is a remarkable man who has spent the last 20 years in a nearly obsessive pursuit of a ‘rational, equitable, and flexible’ solution to this issue. He first engaged with it publicly at the UN Climate Change talks in Geneva in 1990, was part of the Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997, and has stuck with it ever since. In essence, he calls for contractions of greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries to a mutually agreed safe limit, permitting developing countries to continue their wealth creation processes for an agreed period, and eventually ALL countries converge to a point where global emissions, calculated on a per capita basis (where EVERYONE has a right to burn an equal amount of carbon) will continue ONLY within safe limits. It includes a ‘carbon allowance’ dimension wherein richer individuals and/or countries will effectively subsidise poorer ones by paying for their own excess emissions. (For details, see http://www.gci.org.uk) Though this formula is admittedly a bit complicated, it does, I believe, offer the best hope of shifting from a carbon based economy to a post-carbon era. It also offers the basis for a post-Kyoto agreement that will assure the planet continues to be habitable for human beings for the foreseeable future and beyond, not least because it’s the only formula which developing countries are prepared to embrace.

Happily, Angela Merkel, the current president of Germany, agrees. In her also current capacity as Chair of the European Union, she is advancing a ‘Contraction & Convergence’ like framework as the basis for UN climate change negotiations in Bali this December. I encourage us all to stay tuned as this process unfolds and do whatever we can to assure its adoption by world leaders.

* Intriguingly, there are still significant numbers of both scientists and other skeptics who believe either that global warming is a hoax or that carbon dioxide does not drive temperature increase (or both). In response to this point, Aubrey showed graphs derived from ice cores dating back 400,000+ years. They clearly display a direct correlation between temperature and both methane and CO2 concentrations over the entirety of this period. As to which is the cause and which the effect, Aubrey asks this: given that there’s been an obvious warming period for at least the past 30 years, no obvious increase in solar activity and dramatic increases in CO2 concentrations, what other explanation of temperature rise is there? And in response to the same point, Dr. Gary Campbell of nearby Moray College says, even if it’s still impossible to demonstrate definitively that CO2 drives temperature, the kinds of lifestyle changes that global warming evokes are also going to be required by ‘peak oil’ if and when it hits (and it will). So what’s to lose by making the necessary changes now?

Roger Doudna
Findhorn
September 2007

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