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

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Should America pay ISIS ransom money to free hostages like Jim Foley?

Kim Sengupta
 

The Malky Mackay allegations raise the spectre of Britain's casual racism

Chris Maume
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home