I will be here, in Warsaw over the next seven days, for what is called the “High Level Segment” of the 19th Conference of the Parties under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is not “high level” in relation to the discourse, but in reference to the presence of ministers leading their national participation. Last week, as is COP tradition, was negotiations led by civil servants. So as of tomorrow, we can expect the Canadian negotiation to be led by newly minted Minister of the Environment Leona Aglukkaq.
The Harper administration continues its outrageous practice of sending delegations to international meetings, not representing Canada, but representing the Conservative Party of Canada. Only Jim Prentice as environment minister did what all previous governments have done and include opposition MPs in the delegation. As far as I know, other than Minister Aglukkaq, I am the only Canadian Parliamentarian attending. I am here with my way paid by the Green Party of Canada and I will receive my U.N. credentials through my membership in the Global Greens. There is a chance a national delegation other than Canada may want my assistance. I sure hope so as “national government” credentials will allow me to be in every room where negotiations take place, and not solely in plenary.
Expectations for progress at COP19 are low. These negotiations work up to a deadline. With the disaster that was Copenhagen in 2009, the new deadline is COP21, to take place in Paris in 2015. The COPs fill in the years to the deadline with mind-numbing work on pieces of a future treaty that will matter – but only matter when and if governments around the world are prepared to be serious about slashing GHG emissions. And on that, we are moving in the wrong direction.
Canada’s latest statistics (from Environment Canada earlier this month) make it clear we are losing ground in meeting the Copenhagen target – a target already rejected by climate scientists as far too weak to avoid the more meaningful Copenhagen goal of avoiding a two degree C global average temperature increase. Harper committed to 607 MT of GHG by 2020. In 2012 Environment Canada said we would be emitting 720 MT. Now the projection is up to 734 MT. The Conservative talking point is to take the number they invented last year (over 800 MT and call that “business as usual” or what would happen if no level of government does anything) and torque that number to call it “what would happen under the Liberals.” They are really devoid of shame.
With low expectations when COP19 opened, a wake-up call was issued by the lead Philippine negotiator, Yeb Sano:
“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw. Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action.”
And he announced he was going on a hunger strike for the duration of the conference. Many other participants are joining in, as am I. So the COP19 email traffic about “join us for dinner…” is punctuated with “even if you are fasting, can you join us for conversation…”
I will try to get a few words into a blog every day to keep you updated.
What I wanted to write today is that the world’s scientists are beginning to give up all hope of sufficient action from politicians to avoid entering very dangerous levels of climatic disruption of the world as we know it. Scientists are beginning to move to the language of triage – who can we save? what parts of the world will be habitable? Can we adapt to climatic disruption on a scale that will make parts of the world uninhabitable?
Many of those most aware of the climate threat, citizens and activists, are beginning to think we are misleading others if we continue to talk about avoiding a two degree global average temperature increase. They say this knowing that we run unacceptably high risks of losing world civilization if we go above two degrees. Over two degrees, human society will increasingly be playing Russian roulette with whether we cross tipping points to run-away global warming.
Here’s a warning from a summary on the Climate News Network, released Nov 16 in Warsaw:
“UN bodies and health authorities are being advised to prepare for a world temperature rise of 4°C because scientists no longer believe that politicians are capable of holding the temperature rise below the internationally agreed limit, 2°C above pre-industrial levels.”
Quoted in the story was Prof. Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College in London:
“We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that. We are just not tackling the enormity of the task we face to keep it below the agreed 2°C danger threshold.
“If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level. But there is no evidence at the moment that we have that quality of politicians, so we all have to be prepared for the most likely scenario, which is a 4°C rise in temperature. If we do not prepare to adapt we simply won’t be able to.” (Emphasis added).
The key to staying below two degrees global average temperature increase is to insist that those same politicians who committed to a weak political cop out of an accord in Copenhagen actually be expected to live up to it.
We know the current levels of commitments are too weak to avoid two degrees. We knew that from IPCC number crunching within weeks of the commitments being made in Copenhagen. What we cannot afford to do is give up on political action. The science won’t budge. The technologies to solve the problem are available. We have to stop enabling our political “leaders” to walk away.
It’s time to stop enabling politicians by allowing them to live up to our low expectations for them. We enable them by expecting them to be useless. It’s time to start demanding — through our votes—through our protests and marches and petitions and unrelenting pressure – that they make good on their promises.
Climate activists must not give up on demanding that we stay below 2 degrees. While doing so, we can and must, be clear that on current commitments, we will blow right by two degrees. So our work must be more urgent, more direct, less sugar coated. What we cannot do is give up on our own and our children’s future with a collective shrug.