Prepare to be disappointed. The climate change conference in Bali will send world leaders home empty handed. This will not be the fault of ministers who went there. Some, at least, would have signed up to binding commitments on carbon reductions. The fault lies in the trough into which global summits themselves have sunk.

Summits have lost the visionary drive that founded the United Nations. They do not aspire to global transfers of wealth from rich to poor, nor offer a Marshall Plan for the ecological rescue of the planet. Scientists and visionaries sit outside the summit. Inside, the powerful negotiate with the vulnerable, haggling over how little is to be done. It should come as no surprise that these exchanges between the buyers and the bought should come up with very little. The rich pool their intransigences and re-present them as progress.

At best, Bali will come up with pledges to work towards a ‘framework’ agreement to supersede the Kyoto protocol in the next two years. It will not even begin to address the scale of changes called for in scientific warnings, given by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to them, we have perhaps six to eight years in which to make profound changes to how the planet works if we are to avoid a lurch from climate crises into climate chaos.

We cannot complain that the warnings are not clear. The IPCC report spelled out where the ‘business as usual’ scenario is taking us. It would see the Great Barrier Reef lifeless in little over 20 years, tropical rainforests turning into savannah grasslands, whole countries turning into deserts, coastlines being re-defined by a 30 ft. rise in sea levels as the Greenland ice sheet disappears.

Just to add spice to the pickle, the IPCC report tells us that carbon dioxide emissions are turning alkaline seas into dilute acids. It is the most profound change in ocean chemistry for 20 million years; affecting everything from plankton formation to the survival of shellfish and whole ocean breeding grounds.

This is change on a scale none of us has any grasp of. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, admits he finds the pace of global warming “very frightening.” But this has not stopped global carbon emissions from rising ever faster by the year.

Even major corporations that have amassed fortunes on the back of today’s market rules are coming to recognise that the game is up. In the privacy of boardrooms, they see the urgency of what the Stern Report and the IPCC scientists tell us about the time scale in which radical changes have to be made.

Leonard Cohen was nowhere near there boardrooms or the Bali Summit, but his warnings stalked corridors.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
won’t be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul

Scientists say we haven’t crossed the thresholdâe¦yetâe¦ but we are perilously close. Everything seems to hinge around what action we take in the next eight years. Even in Ban Ki-moon’s words it sounds alarming enough. The pace of climate change is becoming “so severe and so sweeping that only urgent, global action will do. There is no time to waste.”

If we are to make changes on this scale, we need to be brutally honest with ourselves about where we are now. For all the good intentions put into it, the Kyoto Protocol looks increasingly like the Munich Agreement. It was as much as could be wrought from reluctant world leaders at the time. But it was more of an illusion than an answer. Critics focus on the non-signatories — the U.S., Australia and China — but most of the signatory states won’t meet their targets either. Rather than cutting emissions, countries like Canada have dramatically increased their carbon impact. There is no chance that today’s rules can deliver the 50 to 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions we need by 2050. The order of the soul requires something profoundly different.

If ministers are to bring anything useful back from Bali, it is in the knowledge that countries have to make the changes themselves, and hope that others follow. The good news is that we don’t have to invest all of the changes ourselves. With a degree of humility, there is much that Britain can aspire to follow as well as aspire to lead.