Editorial: Climate change is back on the agenda, at last

Warnings of the economic risks of global warming should help focus minds at Davos

Share
Related Topics

There is certainly much to talk about at Davos this year. Under a characteristically banal official title – "resilient dynamism" – the five-day World Economic Forum meeting that began tonight will take in such meaty matters as lacklustre global growth, the euro crisis, and the outlook for the Middle East.

So far, so predictable. Less expected – and to be warmly welcomed – are the signs that climate change is heading back up the agenda. About time, too. Policymakers have lost much of their environmental urgency as the exigencies of recession have distracted public attention and a "pause" in the rise of global temperatures has given succour to the sceptical and the complacent. Yet the risks from increasingly unstable weather patterns are more evident than ever, from the unprecedented melt-back of Arctic sea ice, to the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, to Australian temperatures so high that the Bureau of Meteorologists had to add an extra colour to its heat scale.

Indeed, the WEF's Global Risks report, published in the run-up to Davos, judged the three biggest dangers to world stability to be government debt levels, the growing gap between rich and poor, and rising greenhouse gas emissions. It can only be hoped that so stark an assessment will focus the minds of the 2,500 world leaders, central bankers, business people and lobbyists now gathered at the Swiss mountain resort.

That the UN Secretary General this week ranked climate change alongside the war in Syria as his top priorities will help. As will his stated intention to use Davos to bang the drum for the UN's efforts to tackle global emissions. And if there was any lingering doubt as to what it will take to cut our carbon intensity, it will be dispelled by the Green Growth Action Alliance. The WEF-backed group led by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón estimates that some $14 trillion will need to be spent on low-carbon industry and infrastructure between now and 2030.

Mr Calderón does not pull his punches, warning of "a climate crisis with potentially devastating impacts on the global economy" and, rightly, observing that the upfront investment is a bargain compared with the cost of dealing with extreme weather. His message chimes closely with the priorities of the Davos delegates at whom it is aimed. And the implications could hardly be clearer: there is no time to waste.

It is encouraging, then, that Monday's inauguration speech from Barack Obama also put the environment firmly on the US priority list. The President talked explicitly of the need to "respond to the threat of climate change", stressing both the moral responsibility of protecting the environment and the "new jobs and new industries" that are being established. Rhetoric alone will not be enough; Mr Obama must now act with equal decisiveness. At home, the priority is to get to grips with emissions from power plants and motor vehicles and to significantly boost renewable energy. But there is also a crucial role for the US President on the world stage.

At the UN climate conference in Durban two years ago, there were real advances: the world's three biggest carbon-emitters – China, India and the US – agreed, for the first time, to be bound by the next global treaty. At Doha in November, however, progress was negligible. With just three years left to negotiate the deal, high-profile international leadership would make all the difference. Now is the moment – if only Mr Obama will take it. Perhaps all the talk of climate change emanating from Davos will help focus the President's mind, too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering