Did Montreal Talks Avert Climate Catastrophe?

News from Radio Ecoshock.

As the climate shifts, animals and plants are being displaced. Humans also suffer from severe storms, drought, and heat. New evidence proves the ocean conveyor currents, including the Gulf Stream, are weakening, due to arctic melting.

So we all need to know: Did the world avoid climate catastrophe, in last week’s climate negotiations in Montreal? Nature’s jury is still out.

[the audio podcast contains three quotes from Margaret Beckett, the UK Environment Minister, from EU press conferences in Montreal. She warns about false euphoria and false despair, but thinks the UN conference was a success – if only because the world’s nations agreed to keep on talking. According to her, that was the most the negotiators could expect. No action, just talk.]

Most environmentalists are positive, even jubilant. Here is a press release from Greenpeace International:

“How often does one walk into one of these things and come out at the end of it at 6 in the morning with just about everything you asked for coming in? Not very often.” That was Greenpeace climate campaigner Steve Sawyer’s reaction at the end of the Climate summit in Montreal.

“The Kyoto Protocol is stronger today than it was two weeks ago. This historic first Meeting of the Parties has acknowledged the urgency of the threat that climate change poses to the world’s poorest people, and eventually, to all of us. The decisions made here have cleared the way for long term action,” said Bill Hare, Greenpeace International Climate Policy Advisor in Montreal.

The meeting agreed the following:

To start urgent negotiations on a new round of emission reduction targets for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2017). A special group has been established to ensure that these negotiations are concluded “as soon as possible”. This is necessary to ensure the continuity of carbon markets, and to allow governments to put policies and measures in place to ensure that the new, deeper emission reduction targets are met

–To start now to review and improve the Kyoto Protocol. Mandated under the existing treaty, this review will formally begin at next year’s meeting.

–A Five Year Plan of Action on Adaptation, to assist least developed countries to cope with the impacts of climate change. This programme will begin to address the fact that climate change already impacts the world’s poorest, and that it will get much worse in the coming decades. It is the ethical, political, and legal responsibility of the industrialised countries to provide for this.

As expected, the Bush administration attempted to derail the process, at one point even walking out of the negotiations, but the rest of the world showed a resolve to move ahead regardless. For once, the Bush administration was forced back to the table and into agreement with the international community. No doubt the overwhelming presence of U.S. civil society at these talks has had a positive effect.

The US has continued to attempt to lure countries away from the UN multilateral climate regime with its international emission trading to an ineffective approach based on voluntary actions and “partnerships”.

Today, however, governments have agreed to hold substantive talks beginning in May 2006 on the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, sending an unmistakable signal that we are on the road to new and more ambitious targets.

According to Sawyer, “What will be remembered is that this was the moment when the future of the Kyoto Protocol and legally binding emissions reductions and the cap and trade system was secured…Australia and the US are isolated as never before, and the overwhelming presence of US state governments, cities, trade unions, businesses, churches, youth and many other parts of civil society gave the rest of the world confidence that Americans do care about climate change, and that the Bush administration’s intransigence will sooner
rather than later be remembered as an unfortunate historical footnote.”

That was from Greenpeace, at www.greenpeace.org

Other environment groups, such as Friends of Earth, are equally enthusiastic. Canada’s Elizabeth May, from the Sierra Club, was teary eyed as she commended, quote, “a series of agreements that may well save the planet.”

So are the government negotiators.

Canada’s environment Minister, the host for the United Nations conference on climate change announced the final compromise just after dawn on Saturday morning, following more than 48 hours of intense negotiations, saying: “We delivered.”

What did they agree on? The Toronto Star sums up two main accomplishments, quote:

“Canada and the 39 other developed countries already bound by the protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions by an average, and ineffective, 5 per cent by 2008-2012 established a process to negotiate deeper cuts to follow. Efforts to include a firm deadline for those negotiations failed; the countries agreed only that they “shall aim” to finish the work in time to ensure there is no gap between the current round of cuts and the next.

All of the countries at the conference will begin a “dialogue” about any and all possible measures to cut emissions. This “non-binding” process, watered down several times to overcome American objections, has neither deadlines nor specific objectives.

But the Star continued:
“On the face of it, any action that flows directly from these and other conference decisions seems certain to be too little and too slow to head off climate catastrophe.

Some scientists say the world has no more than a decade to get things on track.

So, some are disappointed.

“The negotiators seem to operate in their own world, largely divorced from the science,” John Stone, a Canadian climate scientist who holds a key position with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said in an interview yesterday. “There doesn’t seem to be any understanding that time is running out.”

Back on earth, the natural world has little to celebrate. Essentially, the humans have agreed there is a problem to their carbon economies, and maybe, someday, they will have to do something about it. In reality, none of the big polluters in the Kyoto deal, in Europe or anywhere else, has reduced carbon pollution. Everyone continues to pump out more CO2 each year, setting records for consumption of fossil fuels and forest destruction.

Since all this carbon stays in the atmosphere for at least one hundred years, every oily day adds to the century sentence we hand our children and grand children. Our great leaders have only agreed to agree.

The Montreal conference will not save the world, but you can succeed where they failed, by burning and consuming less.

This has been news from Radio Ecoshock at www.ecoshock.org