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Food for Thought: UNFCCC wrap up issue: A New World

A New World
Felix Dodds Executive Director Stakeholder Forum

20th January 2010, wrap up issue on UNFCCC COP9

As we are still experiencing the aftermath of Copenhagen perhaps all of our comments should have come with a public health warning “Please be aware it was very very cold in Copenhagen, we had to wait in long lines for hours, not many of us realised that the US has a different system than the rest of us where their President came to Copenhagen without an ability to set targets (and by the way will probably not be able to do it to enable a deal for Cancun in 2010), it’s far too complicated negotiating with so many countries, none of us had a real end game plan and we thought other people were doing that and there were far too many NGOs dressed in polar bear outfits.” Some people have questioned if multilateralism has been shown to have failed in Copenhagen. That maybe it is time for the G20 to move us forward?

 

However one could say that the G20 did have the chance to take front stage and move us all in a positive direction and failed in doing this in any meaning full way. Maybe what Copenhagen did show was just how difficult it is really going to be, to move forward in a positive way.

 

If the industrialised countries had done what they should and could have done after Rio in 92 then the world economy would have refocused on a low carbon one before China and India started their huge development advances. Clearly if the world had infinite resources and ability to grow exponentially, then one could extrapolate 30 years from now when China and India would no longer be classed as developing countries, all the peoples of the world would be removed from poverty and there would be no destruction to the environment . But unfortunately the world is not infinite and we are seeing is that the development model that is active now is unsustainable and unsustainable in a very short time span, perhaps even 10 years.

 

Andrew Higham, Richard Sherman and I edited a book on Climate and Energy Insecurity published just before Copenhagen which identifies the increasing nexus of climate and energy policy and also security. A companion book will be coming out this year looking at Biodiversity and Ecosystem Insecurity which is if anything, even more worrying.

 

The publication “Nature” last year for instance published a review by a group of scientists who looked at nine areas where they feel we need to recognise limits, all of which are intrinsically interconnected.

 

The nine areas that were studied were: climate change, stratospheric ozone, land use change, freshwater use, biological diversity, ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans, aerosol loading, and chemical pollution

 

They say that three have already been exceeded are:

Climate change - Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations not to exceed 350 parts per million; the current concentration is 387 ppm;

Biodiversity loss - Biodiversity loss should be no more than ten times the background rates of extinction;

currently species loss is between 100  and 1,000 times the natural rate; and,

Nitrogen concentration – Reduce the flow of new reactive nitrogen into watercourses and oceans to 25 percent of its current value, or about 35 million tonnes of nitrogen per year.

 

Looking at this means that in essence we are returning to the framework outlined in the first Earth Summit in 1971 – limits to growth. It is perhaps therefore fortunate enough that while things were going the wrong way in Copenhagen the UN General Assembly under the leadership of Brazil agreed to a new Earth Summit in 2012 to address:

 

·         the Green Economy and poverty

·         emerging issues

·         review of present agreements and

·         reform of the institutions of sustainable development.

 

I do love new years because they allow me to put a line under what happened in the previous year and start dreaming and planning for a great new year. So here we are in 2010 a special Issue of Outreach and everything is possible.

 

Rio+20 offers as Maurice Strong says:

 “... perhaps the best and the last chance to address how we live together sustainably on this planet.”

 

A t last we have the chance to change the economic model that is at the centre of why we are. If we can change it then many of the roadblocks to delivering Stockholm, Rio and Johannesburg will be undone. A good thought for the beginning of 2010.

 

Stakeholder Forums 2012 site can be found at: www.earthsummit2012.org