22 December 2009

Hopenagen or Nopenagen?

So where are we after Copenhagen? Was it Hopenhagen or Nopenhagen? Is the glass half empty or half full? Is it the beginning of the end or the beginning of the beginning?

There were promising signs. The conference brought together the largest gathering of heads of state in the history of the UN. There was general recognition that we are indeed warming the planet, that deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are "required according to science," and even recognition of the scientific view that we must keep the warming to within two degrees. The developing countries agreed they too must slow emissions, and the developed nations accepted a responsibility for helping them fund adaption to climate change.

Still, it was nowhere near enough. No binding agreement. Commitments were vague. No agreement on goals for emission reductions in the long term. Not even agreement on whether significant items such as aviation and shipping should be included.

Nonetheless, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was optimistic. "It may not be everything we hoped for, but this decision of the Conference of Parties is an essential beginning ... The importance will only be recognized when it's codified into international law ... We must transform this into a legally binding treaty next year," he said. Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, was less enthusiastic, commenting, "We need to be clear that it is a letter of intent and is not precise about what needs to be done in legal terms. So the challenge is now to turn what we have agreed politically in Copenhagen into something real, measurable and verifiable.”

And that will be quite a challenge indeed. It is now a race against time. The scientists tell us the threat now isn't a greenhouse gas effect, it's a runaway greenhouse gas effect. We are approaching the point where we can't stop it regardless of what we do. Copenhagen indicated a general realization of the problem but not of the urgency. So I remain pessimistic. I don't yet see that people have the will to do what is necessary and I see leaders doing more following than leading.

As a species we have the intelligence to save ourselves. We know what the problem is and we know how to solve it. We have the intellectual capacity. What we lack is the moral capacity. We are too selfish, too tribal. The other guys should make the first big move, we all have a good reason why it shouldn't be us. And that attitude could prove fatal.

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