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

Argyll Scott International: Financial Accounting Manager

£300 - £400 per day: Argyll Scott International: I am currently recruiting on ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Based Sales Surveyor - OTE £40,000

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Field Based Sales Surveyor is...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI Designer/ User Interface Designer (UI, User Flow, Design)

£6000 - £60000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: UI De...

Investigo: International Finance Analyst

£270 - £300 per annum: Investigo: An exciting opportunity to join an internati...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Are we really to believe that the mansion tax would stop Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie moving here?

John Walsh
 

Daily catch-up: stupid questions in opinion polls, in the House of Commons and in job interviews

John Rentoul
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?