25 June 2012

Scientists warn, politicians ignore

The Global Network of Science Academies, representing 105 science academies around the world, issued a press release last week highlighting what they referred to as "two of the most profound challenges to humanity—population and consumption," and went on to call for "urgent and coordinated international action to address them." They emphasized that, "current patterns of consumption, especially in high-income countries, are eroding the planet’s natural capital at rates that are severely damaging the interests of future generations, and should consequently and urgently be reduced." They offered a range of actions that need to be taken to deal with the challenges.

They went on to mention the "extraordinary opportunity" that policymakers had at the Rio+20 international summit "to take the sound, evidence-based advice of their own academies of science as they make decisions that will affect the future of the planet.”

So, did the policymakers of the 192 countries represented at Rio take the advice of their science academies? One might hope so considering carbon emissions have increased 40% and biodiversity loss has risen 30% in the 20 years since the first Rio conference. But such was not the case. On Friday, the delegates did little more than  rubber-stamp a draft agreement that essentially provides no new commitments to fight climate change.

Most of the G20 leaders didn't even bother to show up at the conference. France's new president, Francois Hollande, was there, but Barack Obama, David Cameron, Angela Merkel and, needless to say, Stephen Harper were no-shows. Their excuse is the deepening financial crisis, but that's a bit weak. They could have, if they were interested, taken a flight from Los Cabos to Rio after the G20 conference ended on Tuesday. 

Canada's delegation was there making its usual mischief, working to weaken commitments on biodiversity of oceans and fossil fuels and blocking financial commitments to developing countries. When Peter Kent, Canada's Environmental Minister, says he was "very happy, very satisfied" with the outcome you know it was a failure.

Ironically, by ignoring the environmental crisis, world leaders are threatening the long term health of the global economy, precisely the thing they claim to be concerned about.

"We are living beyond the planet's means. That's scientifically proven," says Gisbet Glaser of the International Council for Science, "We're now at a point in human history where we risk degrading the life support system for human development." Do our leaders not recognize the futility of dealing with current economic issues while allowing life support systems for human development to degrade? Are they blind to the big picture? I'm becoming afraid to ask the question.

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