Monday, August 31, 2009

The Gathering Storm: Climate Chaos in Distant Future

We need to prepare for the gathering storm today. Time is running out. After Copenhagen, what?


DANIELBLOOM said...,8599,1919420,00.html

Bryan Walsh at TIME magazine

If you happened to walk into the Temple of Earth in Beijing — the nearly 500-year-old monument where Chinese emperors once prayed for good harvests — on Aug. 28, you would have noticed a steady drip. The environmental group Greenpeace placed ice sculptures of 100 children — made of the glacial meltwater that feeds China's great rivers — inside the temple to symbolize the risk that climate change and disappearing ice poses to the 1 billion–plus people in Asia who are threatened by water shortages.

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But there was another side to that symbolism. Friday marked 100 days before the beginning of this year's U.N. climate-change summit, to be held in Copenhagen, which is emerging as the world's last good chance to craft a new global-warming deal. With time running out, global negotiators still seem far apart, and there's a growing fear that the world could fumble the opportunity. "Negotiations are moving much more slowly than they need to be," says Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a veteran of past climate talks. "If we're going to get a climate deal by Copenhagen, we're going to need political will injected into the process — not just rhetoric."
(Read "Can Steven Chu Win the Fight Over Global Warming?")

Rhetoric is one thing that the stop-and-start global diplomacy over climate change has never lacked. It's the strength of political principle that has been the truly threatened resource. For eight years, that was largely the fault of the U.S. Under former President George W. Bush, U.S. diplomats played an obstructionist role in climate-change talks, and even before Bush's arrival, the country failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol — the international treaty intended to curb global warming. The U.S. Senate rejected the pact by a cool 95-0, and Bush later pulled it off the table for future consideration.

But with the election of President Barack Obama, who has made climate change one of his priorities, there was hope that the path could be cleared to a more equitable and effective global-warming deal. The timing is right — Kyoto expires in 2012, which means that a replacement treaty needs to be in place soon.
(Read a Q&A with Yvo de Boer, the "Flying Dutchman" of climate change.)

With little more than three months till the U.N. summit, however, things are in doubt. To be sure, the Obama Administration is pushing for a global-warming deal, and a cap-and-trade bill that was passed by the House and is now up for debate in the Senate would finally commit the U.S. to real carbon reductions. But under the new law — if it passes — U.S. emissions would fall only 13% from 1990 levels by 2020. The European Union, meanwhile, has pledged to make cuts of 20% from 1990 levels by 2020, meaning there is still considerable daylight between what seems politically feasible in the U.S. and E.U. And while governments at last month's G-8 meeting pledged to keep the global-temperature increase from climate change to 3.6°F (2°C) or less, that would require emissions cuts from developed nations of as much as 40% by 2020. No leader in the world seems willing to go that far. "There's no doubt we can and should be doing more," says Meyer.


That means environmentalists will need to make the most of what time does remain. U.N. chief Ban is leading the way, organizing a one-day summit for world leaders on climate change during the General Assembly meeting in late September. "We want them to talk with each other, interact with each other," says Pasztor. That's key; climate-change policy has become far too important to be left up to the environment and energy ministers of the world, whose influence tends to be limited.

But civil society has a role to play as well, by mobilizing the public to push politicians ahead. The Climate Group — a global nonprofit — is sponsoring events in the U.S. and China in the lead-up to Copenhagen, trying to build a wave of public support for more-ambitious carbon cuts. "This is the moment," says Steve Howard, the Climate Group's CEO. "If we lose this chance, we may not get it back." That dripping sound could be our last opportunity to fix the climate.