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An issue in search of political leadership

There is one more shot,in Peru next year,at a successor agreement to Kyoto before the 2015 Paris conference.

November 26, 2013 3:27:53 am

By Kofi Annan

The last-minute deal at the UN Climate Conference in Warsaw keeps hopes for a comprehensive successor agreement to the 1997 Kyoto protocol alive. But let us be clear: Much more decisive action will be needed if we are to stand any chance at fending off the dangers of climate change. We now have just one more shot,next year in Peru,to make more substantive progress towards a successor agreement before the crucial 2015 Paris conference. Even before then,it will be crucial for governments to put aside narrow national interests in order to ensure that the pledges made at the 2009 Copenhagen conference — to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius,or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit,compared to pre-industrial levels — are met.

The unprecedented walkouts at the Warsaw climate talks — first,by representatives of most developing countries on Wednesday,and then by green groups and NGOs on Thursday — reveal a growing level of frustration with what many perceive as a lack of political leadership at a time when it is needed most. It is essential that governments start phasing out fossil fuel subsidies,which currently account for about $485 billion a year,and are far greater than the global investment in renewable energy. While cutting subsidies is an issue for developed and developing countries alike,it remains true that the G-20 countries accounted for 78 per cent of global carbon emissions from fuel combustion in 2010.

What now? If governments are unwilling to lead when leadership is required,people must. We need a global grassroots movement that tackles climate change and its fallout. In Australia,one initiative aims at getting one million women to take small steps in their everyday lives to cut emissions. In India,there is a project to bring solar energy to slums,which also creates green jobs. In Guatemala,women farmers are planting trees to sequester carbon and improve cultivation techniques. In Mexico,the “ecocasa” programme is unlocking funds to build energy-efficient housing. Despite these encouraging initiatives,citizens need to press their governments to come up with ambitious sustainable solutions,not just makeshift ones. Climate change must inform any new policy,whether in the development or the energy sector.

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The science behind climate change,after all,is clear. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,the leading global body for the assessment of climate change,has unequivocally stated: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,and since the 1950s,many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed,the amounts of snow and ice diminished,sea level has risen,and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.” To those who argue that global warming is just the way of nature and not in any way related to human activity,the panel responds,“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” The dominant cause. Not just one among many.

Eventually,all of us,whether from the industrialised or developing world,will feel the consequences.

Annan was UN secretary general from 1997 to 2006 The New York Times

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