by Mike Lowe
Well, COP 15 is over, and along with the turkey and Christmas pudding we’ve had time to digest what it all means. This is my own take, having read a lot of different views. I have posted this on the IofC global website, along with a report from Jennifer Helgeson of her reflections from Copenhagen.
Early last year somebody forwarded me a message from Tom Burke, an influential British climate change campaigner, saying that 2009 would be the most important in human history – more significant than 1989, 1917, 1776, 1066 or any other important date you can think of. The reason, Burke argued, was that 2009 would largely determine whether our grandchildren live in a stable and enhanced world, or whether they toil in a kind of hell plagued by wars, starvation and disease.
He was, of course, referring to the Copenhagen climate summit. Over the year a steady momentum for change built up, helped enormously by internet-based campaigns such as avaaz.org (which collected 13 million signatures and presented them in the midst of Copenhagen) and 350.org (which globally championed a target of 350ppm CO2). The Parliament of the World’s Religions, which I attended in Melbourne shortly before the summit, sent a 60 metre scroll of messages to Copenhagen, and many other messages calling for a moral response to care for the earth and the marginalized who will suffer the most.
Given the passion, the care and the creative energy that went into these campaigns, it is not surprising that the results of the Copenhagen summit, couched in ambiguous diplomatic language, were a grave disappointment to many. This is not the strong binding global agreement that will set the world on course to recovery. It may be, however, a start. There are seemingly as many different perceptions of the Copenhagen summit as there are pundits willing to write them. Fingers of blame have been pointed in various directions – though this is usually an unhelpful exercise because it does not lead to change.
The blogger at The Economist wittily referred to Danish quantum physicist Niels Bohr’s ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ which says, in effect, that reality is a jumbly mess of multiple conflicting possibilities which only solidify into something definite under the act of observation. Bohr, trying to make sense of the sub-atomic world in the 1920s, would probably turn in his grave, but I rather like the analogy: 2009, the most important year in history, is now almost over. Whether it will be the year that our grandchildren look back on with gratitude or with curses remains to be seen.
On the positive side, nobody in Copenhagen who had real power questioned the science. The few climate sceptics who did go, such as Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, found it hard to find anyone who would take them seriously. The debate was between a target of a rise of two degrees (which will spell the end of many low-lying island nations) or 1.5 degrees. Even to achieve a maximum two degree rise will require major emission cuts and will almost certainly spell the end for coal.
The summit may also spell the beginning of the end of the UN process to limit climate change. This might not necessarily be a bad thing. 85% of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by a relatively small group of countries. If this group can come to an agreement then that is enough. Some of the leaders pushing the G77 revolt against the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ were Robert Mugabe from Zimbabwe and Hugo Chavez from Venezuela who may be motivated as much by anti-US sentiment as anything else. The UN will, however, have an important role in working out how to spend the ‘Copenhagen Green Climate Fund’ – funds from developed countries to assist developing countries adapt to climate change.
But most positive is the growing army of activists – grandmas, businessmen, nuns, students, parents and children – who are prepared to get out on the streets and fight for change. These will be the people who will determine the future. History is still calling us to put aside selfish dreams of more and more material possessions and to recognize our solidarity with those present and yet unborn who inhabit this beautiful blue and green planet.