‘School report’ on saving the planet (Day 130)

Barack Obama and Ban Ki-moon - Frederic Legrand - Shutterstock.com

Barack Obama and Ban Ki-moon. Photo credit: Frederic Legrand – Shutterstock.com

Earlier this year, I went on record as saying that: ‘We are sleep-walking into a catastrophic climate change future’.

It was a statement I made in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

My perception was that ‘short-term energy policies and ‘political fiddling’ were failing to provide the solutions needed – and fast enough’.

With these thoughts in mind, I was very interested in the outcomes of the United Nation’s Climate Change Summit 2014 held last week. Further down, I’ve ‘graded’ the summit in the form of a school report.

At first glance, the Chair’s Summary includes a lengthy and impressive list of ‘announcements’. In fact, I counted 35 announcements. On paper they look fantastic and include:

  • Leaders committed to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels;
  • European Union countries committed to a target of reducing emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030;
  • Leaders expressed strong support for the Green Climate Fund and many called for the Fund’s initial capitalization at an amount no less than $10 billion. There was a total of $2.3 billion in pledges to the Fund’s initial capitalisation from six countries.
  • Seventy-three national Governments, 11 regional governments and more than 1,000 businesses and investors signalled their support for pricing carbon. Together these leaders represent 52 per cent of global GDP, 54 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and almost half of the world’s population.
  • Leaders from 19 countries and 32 partners from Government, regional organisations, development institutions and private investors committed to creating an 8,000 km-long African Clean Energy Corridor.
  • A new coalition of more than 160 institutions and local Governments and more than 500 individuals committed to divesting $50 billion from fossil fuel investments within the next three-five years and reinvest in new energy sources.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, seemed fairly happy with these outcomes. After all, it is an herculean task to get all nations pulling together again after what appears to be years of coordinated inactivity.

In fact, it is five years since a similar event was held – a worryingly long period of time.

And some commentators have pointed out that ‘the leaders held back on making new commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions or to give significant climate finance to developing countries, leaving it to business, cities and campaign groups to produce the real action on climate’.

The widow of Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, also punctured the self-congratulatory mood of the UN summit on Tuesday, saying world leaders had failed to rise to the challenge of climate change.

Graça said: “There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today. “The scale is much more than we have achieved.”

So here is opinion, in the form of a ‘school report’, from the latest major summit on climate change:

Attendance: ExcellentReport card
Attitude: Good
Effort: Good
Progress: Average
Financial investment: Average
Commitment: Inconsistent
Grade: C+ (average)
Comments: Very talkative. Tries hard. Does not always listen. Avoids conflicts. Often procrastinates. Fails to foresee consequences of actions. Has potential, but needs to work hard over the next two years. At risk of failing the tests in Lima later this year and in Paris next year.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris, France, from 30 November to 11 December 2015. Its objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.

France’s President Hollande has already taken a swipe at world leaders who had been voicing their concerns about climate change for decades – without taking decisive actions to cut emissions, or aid poor countries which will bear the brunt of climate change.

In his words: “We can’t just limit ourselves to words, expressions of regret and exercises in stock-taking”.

Let’s hope for a lot more.