Leading article: Three degrees is at least one too many

Share
Related Topics

It is fittingly ominous that 2010, year of the next big climate change conference, has been the hottest in recorded history. The heat rises inexorably yet the world dithers and looks away. None of the excitement that surrounded the opening stages of the climate summit at Copenhagen last year looks like materialising this November at Cancún in Mexico.

Developing and developed countries continue to trade blame over what went wrong at the last summit. There are few signs of sleeves being rolled up in serious preparation for the kind of binding agreements that might, at this near-midnight hour, contain average global rises in temperatures to around 2C – the maximum manageable. The lack of fervour is deeply worrying. When so little was achieved at Copenhagen under the expectant eyes of millions, what hope for Cancún if the surrounding mood is already one of apathy?

This week, the climate change secretary, Chris Huhne, travels to Berlin to try and forge a common European approach on what might be achieved at the summit before it opens. We must hope he succeeds in his goal, which is to persuade the European Union to unite round a new, ambitious pledge; to raise levels of cuts in CO2 emissions by 2020 from the 20 per cent already agreed to 30 per cent. An EU agreement of this sort would not, on its own, prevent the world from drifting towards what the overwhelming majority of scientists agree is a looming catastrophe. We need a global deal for that, including China and India. But it would inject some much-needed adrenaline into a movement that has lost much of its former momentum and optimism.

The failure to agree on binding commitments at Copenhagen was a moment of deep disappointment for the environmental movement. The faint but plausible hope that the world might unite against a common threat faded rapidly. Tragically, in Denmark, the poorer south proved unable to divest itself of a suspicion that climate change was an idée fixe of the rich north, and that Western calls for emissions cuts were an artfully packaged suggestion that they should remain undeveloped for eternity.

The result was not the binding agreements that almost all experts believed essential but looser pledges to meet voluntarily undertaken targets. And as we report today, those voluntary cuts, even if executed to the letter, which looks unlikely, are not enough. To slow the rise in warming to within 2C, the various voluntary targets would collectively need to stack up to an overall cut in global emissions of at least 25 per cent – preferably much more. Instead, analysis of the pledges shows they would cut global emissions by between only 11 and 19 per cent.

The differential is crucial. The consequence of a gap that big is that world emissions of CO2 will continue to increase rapidly, nudging the global rise in average temperatures over this century up from 2C to well over 3C. One degree more might not sound much, especially to us living in the cool north. But massive regional variations in warming – strongest in parts of the globe that are hot already – mean that significant parts of the world would become totally uninhabitable through desertification, while much land elsewhere would disappear under seawater as a result of the melting of the poles.

Whether these dismal predictions have a substantive effect on the delegates of the 200 or so nations meeting in Mexico this winter remains to be seen. They ought to. Meanwhile, it is possible that if some richer industrialised countries raise the bar by agreeing tougher commitments on emissions – as Mr Huhne wants us in Europe to do – at least some developing countries that said "no" to an agreement in Copenhagen might be sufficiently impressed to come on board. It would be a start.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions