The world is getting hotter, and the main cause is greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity. Enormous damage has already been done, and we will have to live with the consequences of past emissions for decades, perhaps even centuries. Unless we rapidly and drastically cut emissions, the existing damage will turn to catastrophe.
Anyone who denies that is either lying or somehow unaware of the huge mass of compelling scientific evidence.
Many publications regularly publish articles summarizing the scientific evidence and outlining the devastation that we face if action isn’t taken quickly.
But I do want to draw your attention to an important recent development. Last month, more than 2500 climate scientists met in Copenhagen to discuss the state of scientific knowledge on this subject. And the one message that came through loud and clear was this: it’s much worse than we thought.
What were called “worst case scenarios” two years ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change actually understated the problem. The final statement issued by the Copenhagen conference declared: “The worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized …”
Nicholas Stern, author of the landmark 2006 study, The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change now says, “We underestimated the risks … we underestimated the damage associated with the temperature increases … and we underestimated the probability of temperature increases.”
Seventeen years of failure, with one exception
Later this year, the world’s governments will meet, again in Copenhagen, to try to reach a new post-Kyoto climate treaty. Will they meet the challenge of climate change that is much worse than expected?
The politicians’ record does not inspire hope.
Seventeen years ago, in June 1992, 172 governments, including 108 heads of state, met at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
That meeting produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the first international agreement that aimed “to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a low enough level to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” In particular, the industrialized countries promised to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels.
Like the Kyoto Accord that followed it, that agreement was a failure. The world’s top politicians demonstrated their gross hypocrisy and their indifference to the future of humanity and nature by giving fine speeches and making promises -- and then continuing with business as usual.
But there was one exception. In Rio one head of state spoke out strongly, and called for immediate emergency action -- and then returned home to support the implementation of practical policies for sustainable, low-emission development.
That head of state was Fidel Castro.
Fidel began his brief remarks to the plenary session of the 1992 Earth Summit with a blunt description of the crisis: “An important biological species is in danger of disappearing due to the fast and progressive destruction of its natural living conditions: mankind. We have become aware of this problem when it is almost too late to stop it.”
He placed the blame for the crisis squarely on the imperialist countries, and he finished with a warning that emergency action was needed: “Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.”
After the 1992 Earth Summit, only the Cubans acted on their promises and commitments.
In 1992 Cuba amended its constitution to recognize the importance of “sustainable economic and social development to make human life more rational and to ensure the survival, well-being and security of present and future generations.”
The amended constitution obligates the provincial and municipal assemblies of People’s Power to implement and enforce environmental protections. And it says that “it is the duty of citizens to contribute to the protection of the waters, atmosphere, the conservation of the soil, flora, fauna and nature’s entire rich potential.”
The Cubans have adopted low-fertilizer agriculture, and encouraged urban farming to reduce the distances food has to travel. They have replaced all of their incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents, and distributed energy efficient rice cookers. They have stepped up reforestation, nearly doubling the island’s forested area, to 25 per cent in 2006.
As a result of these and many other projects, in 2006 the World Wildlife Federation concluded that Cuba is the only country in the world that meets the criteria for sustainable development.
By contrast, the countries responsible for the great majority of greenhouse gas emissions followed one of two paths. Some gave lip service to cleaning up their acts, but in practice did little or nothing. Others denied that action was needed and so did little or nothing.
As a result we are now very close to the tomorrow that Fidel spoke of, the tomorrow when it is too late.
Ian Angus is an Ottawa-based writer who maintains the Climate and Capitalism blog. He was a featured guest at the World at a Crossroads: Fighting for Socialism in the 21st Century conference, in Sydney Australia, April 10-12, 2009. This article is excerpted from his speech to the plenary session, and is reprinted here with permission.