By Stephen Leahy
DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 6 – South African President Jabob Zuma, leading British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, Nobel prize-winning scientists and leading policy experts have urged negotiators to act on the science of climate change at a special high-level event on the sidelines of the United Nations climate change conference here in Durban.
“We want to inject some positive energy into the climate talks which seem paralysed,” said Johan Rockström, Executive Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute and co-host of the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability. The brief invitation-only symposium was an unusual gathering of 35 high-level policy makers and experts from around the world.
“We cannot give up on the U.N. process. The pace of change needed to meet the climate and sustainable development challenge is so large we need everyone to move together,” Rockström told IPS in an interview.
“President Zuma called on delegates and their countries to set aside their individual interests to realize collective action,” said Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology.
“Only when we act globally can we respond to the climate change challenge,” Pandor said in a press conference.
Climate talks here at the 17 Conference of Parties as well recent past ones seem to be in a state of paralysis Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told IPS. That paralysis stems from political situation within and between nations said Pachauri.
Negotiators here must “get away from short term and narrow interests,” he said. “Leaders and the public need to understand there are huge co-benefits to reducing greenhouse gases — health benefits, energy security, more employment, ensure food security, and more.”
Several government ministers also attended the Symposium, which issued a “Durban Vision” statement. That statement calls on world leaders to “adopt a new mindset to listen to the voice of science…and address the unavoidable interconnections between global sustainability, poverty eradication, social justice and economic development in an environmentally constrained world.”
“The unsustainable growth path we’re on can’t continue forever,” said Stern.
Stern acknowledged that the current financial crisis is being used by some governments for inaction. “Finance can be raised using the right kinds of incentives to make the transition to a low carbon economy.”
Continuing along the same path makes no sense economically, agreed Pachauri. Extreme weather events cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars a year and it will only get worse. Already some small islands states suffer losses amounting to one to eight percent of their gross domestic product, he said.
“It’s time for some nations to wake up to this reality. We have the solutions to address climate change but lack the political will.”
Rockström also said emissions reductions alone aren’t enough for a safe climate future. “We now urgently need a world transition to global sustainability. Conserving biodiversity, sustainable management of our landscapes and seascapes, reduction of pollution … need to be integrated with our responses to climate change,” he said.
“Staying below two degrees Celsius global warming is not just an environmental goal but crucial development goal,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Schellnhuber told IPS that there is vital need for more dialogue between science and policy makers. Although he admitted that leaders in countries like the United States and Canada are not listening to their science advisors.
Symposium participants, including Canada’s Minister of Environment Peter Kent, broadly agreed the more than 400 billion dollars in annual subsidies for fossil fuels need to eliminated and there is a need for a price on carbon said Lena Ek, Sweden’s Minister for the Environment.
“When we feel sense of urgency then we make changes. We must bend the growth curve (of carbon emissions) downwards by 2015. That is very little time,” Ek said.