Act Now to Save The Planet

Posted on 11 December 2009 by editor

Danish children planting trees. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

Danish children planting trees. Credit: Ana Libisch/IPS

By Mohan Munasinghe*

COPENHAGUE (IPS/TerraViva) The climate is changing faster than forecast only two years ago: 2,700 experts at the IARU Climate Congress in March 2009 warned that the IPCC predictions made in 2007 are already out of date, for example 3 degrees C global temperature rise by 2100. The latest information indicates more severe warming exceeding 4-5 C.

Rising temperatures are already penalising the poor most, who ironically contributed least to the problem. Global warming is impacting global food and water supplies, raising sea levels, melting ice sheets and increasing the number and intensity of severe weather events.

The increase now predicted exceeds what scientists and the EU have identified as the upper limit of warming the world can afford in order to avert catastrophic climate change – i.e., a maximum of 2 degrees C temperature rise and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations of 400-450 parts per million (ppm).

Humanity already faces multiple threats that will destabilize the global system, like the ongoing economic collapse, persistent poverty and inequity, emerging resource shortages (including energy, food and water), conflicts and social polarisation, environmental damage, pandemics.

Climate change would become the ultimate risk multiplier that will worsen existing problems and trigger catastrophic outcomes. All these problems can and must be addressed together – piecemeal solutions have proved ineffective.

Given the underlying trends that science has revealed, shying away from an effective agreement in Copenhagen will be a major setback. And yet, the international climate negotiations are being carried out on the basis of what is politically viable as opposed to what nature requires and what new science informs.

The most effective method of tackling climate change is to incorporate adaptation and mitigation responses into an overall sustainable development strategy. The Sustainomics Framework shows how this can be achieved today, through empowerment and action based on existing knowledge that will make development more sustainable.

The three critical elements of sustainable development, economic, social and environmental must be given balanced consideration. Civil society and business must work together with governments to solve the problems.

We need to teach our young new ways of thinking, and give up unsustainable values of the past, such as greed. Finally, full life cycle analysis using integrated tools will help to make production and consumption more sustainable.

For example, re-examining the entire value chain from raw material extraction to consumer end use and disposal, identify areas where innovation can improve production sustainability and encourage sustainable consumption patterns among the 1.3 billion people who constitute the highest 20th percentile by income and account for over 80 percent of consumption.

The outlines of an agreement that reconciles both development rights and climate concerns, should include four key points:

•    Industrial countries (already exceeding safe per capita emission limits) should mitigate and restructure their development patterns to delink carbon emissions and economic growth, thereby making their continuing development more sustainable without undermining the quality of life.

•    The poorest countries and poorest groups who will suffer the worst impacts must be provided an adaptation safety net, to reduce their vulnerability to climate change impacts.

•    Intermediate countries could adopt innovative policies to “tunnel” through sustainability to prosperity, using technological and behavioural leapfrogging that learns from past experiences of the industrialized world.

•    Developing countries should be encouraged (with technical and financial assistance) to continue to make their development more sustainable, by following a growth path that not only addresses urgent development issues like poverty and hunger, but also is less carbon-intensive and reduces vulnerability to climate change impacts.

The key challenge now is ensure that the ever widening gulf between science and politics is bridged decisively. What politics simply does not understand is that weaker targets increase the risk of crossing irreversible tipping points that will lead to global instability.

Copenhagen must produce a global survival pact that maintains atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses at safe levels. To get the ball rolling, the rich (Annex 1) countries need to cut back emissions 40 percent or more by 2020 the latest, but their best offers so far are falling well short.

We are facing a planetary emergency that now threatens the survival of our civilisation and the habitability of the Earth. All human beings are stakeholders when it comes to sustainable development and climate change.

Everyone must strive to make development more sustainable -economically, socially and environmentally. By acting together now, we will make the planet a better and safer place for our children and grandchildren.

* Mohan Munasinghe is Chairman of the Munasinghe Institute of Development, Colombo, Director General of the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester, and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace 2007, as vice-chair of IPCC-AR4.

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