February 11, 2009
The unprecedented bush fires in the South-East of Australia should be an overdue wake-up call for Australia and humanity to dramatically step up the fight against climate change and adopt an effective international strategy to substantially reduce C02 emissions at the Copenhagen Climate Conference next December.
Climate change accelerates at a worrying rate, with more extreme weather situations across the earth.
2008 has been one the 10 warmest years registered by meteorological services. The Arctic Ice cover has never been smaller than during the summer 2008. Glaciers are receding globally at an alarming rate.
Australia witnesses the highest temperatures in its history, rising to more than 45° at the peak. The northern and central provinces of China suffer from one the most prolonged droughts, likely to cause a substantial decline of the wheat harvest.
Under the impression of these increasingly visible changes governments are waking up to the realities.
Australia, one of the biggest per capita C02 emitters- almost 20 tons per year, more than twice as much as the EU, has finally ratified the Kyoto Protocol and declared its willingness to reduce its C02 emissions.
China has adopted a Climate Strategy in October 2008, putting the emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable energies , and – for the first time – signalled a cautious readiness to get more actively involved in the global fight against climate change.
Brazil has realised the need to preventing the further destruction of the Amazon forests.
Last not least, the new US Administration has started to reverse the irresponsible energy policy of its predecessor, dominated by the interests of big oil, coal and automobile business.
But let us be under no illusion! The gap between what is needed to prevent a climate cataclysm and the concrete policy measures governments are ready to take to remains huge. Governments listen too much to the mostly exaggerated lamentations from their industries and have a natural bias for the present against the future.
The EU is not an exception. Its December climate package contains too many loopholes and concessions to industrial sectors. This is not encouraging for the outcome of the Copenhagen Conference.
For Copenhagen to be successful heads of government need to realise that humanity has to invest huge amounts in new energy technologies. These will only be forthcoming if governments either allow energy prices to rise steeply or- progressively- stop utilities, construction companies, automobile producers etc. from using fossil energies.
So far they have done neither with the necessary determination.
Since the signature of the Kyoto protocol in 1997 global C02 emissions have kept growing, largely due to the ultra-rapid economic growth of a few successful emerging countries – China, Brazil, India, Russia, GCC.
It is high time to get these on board in Copenhagen: not so much with abstract reduction targets that nobody will be able to police but with a comprehensive strategy of sticks and carrots inducing business and consumers to progressively change their use of energy.
Climate policy has to become concrete. Heads of government have to understand what the necessary 50-80 percent reduction of C02 emissions in the coming 40 years will mean in terms of energy consumption and energy technologies and how to get there. And they have to learn that the necessary changes of our energy systems will happen only very slowly.
From now to December, the international community should focus more on the most effective instruments of climate policy than on abstract targets that are difficult to relate to action.