Carbon test: The PM must seize initiative at climate change summit


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Even by the alarming standards to which climate change-watchers have become accustomed, the latest report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) is disturbing. For the first time, it raises concerns that the world’s oceans and plants – major carbon sinks absorbing half of mankind’s carbon emissions between them – may be reaching saturation point.

Experts are not ruling out a worst-case scenario in the coming years in which plants and oceans cease to function at all as carbon sinks – an eventuality that would double the rate of carbon emissions into the atmosphere and ratchet up the impact of climate change. But even a modest reduction in their capacity to absorb carbon would exacerbate a situation that most scientists agree is already dire.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the WMO study concludes that over the past decade the oceans have acidified at a rate that is unprecedented over at least the past 300 million years, thanks to absorbing 4kg of CO2 a day for every person on the planet.

Against this backdrop, the pressure on global leaders to agree dramatic and legally binding targets to reduce their countries’ emissions at a crucial Paris climate change summit in December next year is more pressing than ever. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has invited world leaders to a summit in New York on 23 September to lay some foundations for a successful outcome in Paris next year. The meeting is expected to be attended by a host of world leaders, most notably President Barack Obama. David Cameron is also going. He should make it his business to seize back the green initiative and attend what could come to be seen as an historic meeting.