Politicians need to show greater courage and leadership if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a panel of eminent environmentalists said last night. Consumers, however, must acknowledge they are not only the "victims" but the "villains" of global warming and work towards a dramatic shift in life style. On the eve of the Cancun Climate Conference, The Independent hosted a debate in Manchester to ask if nations could realistically cut carbon emissions by enough to avoid a two-degree centigrade rise.
Independent Live!, co-sponsored by Channel 4 and Shell, was briefly interupted by protestors. Chairing the debate, The Independent's Environmental Editor Michael McCarthy acknowledged that last year's Copenhagen Climate Conference had been a spectacular failure in attempting to set a new legally-binding agreement for all nations to cut the emissions of greenhouse gasses and asked whether there was still hope that carbon emissions could be cut by 80 per cent over the next four decades. Tom Burke, of green think-tank E3G said: "We have no shortage of the technology we need to sort out this problem. This really comes down to politics. We are not getting anything like the political leadership we need."
Julian Rush, environment correspondent for Channel 4 News said: "If you are going to try and change social attitudes to energy consumption, you are on a very, very long-term project.
"People in Africa, India and China living very poor, very difficult, very rough lives, see our lives and think: 'I want some of that'. It is going to be very, very hard to convince them they should have a different ambition." David Hone, Shell's senior climate change advisor, spoke about its controversial exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. "The public questions why we go to oil sands, but it is also a public that demands more energy and lower energy prices," he said.
Mr Burke added: "[The public] are both victims and villains. We have to come up with complicated answers to what is quite simply a question of why are we doing something as stupid as tar sands." Tom Jackson of the Manchester Climate Action group said: "It is pretty outrageous that Shell is involved in this discussion at all... given its environmental track record."
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