I have refrained from commenting on the forthcoming UN Climate Change conference for the last few months, even as stories circulated of a collapse of negotiations, and the prospects for binding agreement have diminished. The reason for my silence is that all the news stories are simply editors seeking a story. They find it impossible to simply report what is happening, they need to unearth ‘the story’. So journalistically the conference has be ‘a triumph’ or ‘a failure’. The USA, the UK, or China have to have ‘succeeded’ or ‘failed’. And I just find this focus tiresome.
The UK Perspective
At the moment it seems the UK will be deemed to have ‘failed’ diplomatically because it seems the binding targets it pressed for will not be adopted. I am not concerned. These targets are nonsense. The targets are always for 10 years ahead and each government – with a 5-year mandate – can safely ignore them. If the targets specified results year by year, then they would be meaningful, because they would focus on what we needed to do now in order to achieve them. The targets are like those set by dieters to lose weight or alcoholics to stop drinking: sincerely meant at the time, but they just need one more drink to help themselves over a ‘difficult patch.
Things have changed
I think the magnitude of the changes which have occurred, and those yet to come has been underestimated.
- Firstly, since we started Protons for Breakfast six years ago, public consciousness (as we sample it in Teddington) has been transformed. I think this will continue.
- Secondly, we are at a unique point in history: we believe (sort of – and with caveats) that we know what is going to the happen to the climate many years in advance. WOW! This is a stunning achievement. There is uncertainty in these predictions – and skepticism on the part of many – but nonetheless, most people would accept that the endeavour of predicting the Earth’s climate is at least conceivable; and possibly feasible; and has possibly even been achieved already!
- Thirdly, we are on the edge of a global agreement between the many tribes of humans on the planet, that we need to act together. Even contemplating such an agreement is an achievement. As the science progresses, and events on the ground and on the seas and the atmosphere unfold, I think we will eventually come to some kind of global agreement. But the idea of giving up current wealth for future shared security is pretty radical and agreement will take time.
So in the context above I am reasonably happy that whatever ‘story’ gets told about Copenhagen, that it is a step on the road.