Friday, December 18, 2009

Climate change: Our leaders are lying to us

World leaders are gathering in Copenhagen in an effort to hash out a deal to control greenhouse gas emissions. A core part of the deal will be a pledge to restrict the global temperature rise to less than two degrees. But a leaked UN draft shows that the emissions cuts offered so far are inadequate - and that unless they are raised, we are on track for 3 degrees:

The paper was drafted by the UN secretariat running the Copenhagen summit and is dated 11pm on Tuesday evening. It is marked "do not distribute" and "initial draft". It shows a gap of up to 4.2 gigatonnes of carbon emissions between the present pledges and the required level of 44Gt, which is required to staying below a 2C rise. No higher offers have since been made.

"Unless the remaining gap of around 1.9-4.2Gt is closed and Annexe 1 parties [countries] commit themselves to strong action before and after 2020, global emissions will remain on an unsustainable pathway that could lead to concentrations equal or above 550 parts per million, with the related temperature rise around 3C," it says.

This is serious. According to the Stern Report [PDF], that extra degree means an extra 160 million people flooded out of their homes, an extra half billion suffering from famine, and an extra 5% - 10% of the world's species going extinct. Plus of course a much greater chance of "abrupt changes" such as the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. That's the price of our leaders' greed and selfishness - and its not a price we as a planet can afford.

The dishonesty of this is appalling. Our leaders are lying to us, promising something while working to ensure that they cannot deliver. But this only works if we are ignorant. And now that we are not, we must tell them clearly: be honest, keep your promises, make meaningful emissions cuts that keep temperature rise below 2 degrees - or be de-elected.