Chewing On The Copenhagen Summit

I had my hopes up leading to the Copenhagen summit, thinking that, at last, an ecologically-sensitive agreement is forthcoming. Barack Obama, this year’s Nobel Peace Laureate, did say a very poignant remark on climate change that raised my optimism to the roof. To quote, he once said:

The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we’re contributing to the warming of the earth’s atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe.

World politics seems to be too complex for his words to gain track in Copenhagen. After 15 hours of negotiations, a visibly exhausted Obama described the outcome as a “fundamental deadlock” between poor and rich countries. The logic being that developing nations need greater energy consumption to fuel their development and reach the level attained by developed countries. Thus, reducing carbon emissions is viewed as inimical to these nations’ economic growth. Yet, the Guardian was right in pointing out that the rich versus poor polemic is hollow and belies the fact of economic (inter)dependence. The Guardian in its December 7-18 editorial posits:

Stating climate change was a frightening fact, the president (read: Obama) pronounced his determination to act. Soon, however, he broke his own rhetorical spell by following his eloquent overture not with a magnanimous announcement, but with some none-too-subtle pointing of the finger at China. He may have been technically accurate in implying that it nowadays emitted more than the US, but this cheap point distracted from the reality that much of China’s – in any case low – per-head emissions are incurred in serving western consumers.

The climate change issue is a shared responsibility that should have transcended national boundaries. Admittedly, this responsibility is a tough one considering that much of the world economies follow a development track anchored on fossil fuel addiction. When world leaders measure economic growth in terms of the volume of carbon emissions (or the number of coal plants established), then the Copenhagen summit really was doomed to fail right from the start. Looking back, it comes as no surprise that world leaders found it easier to ratify the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) than to make a substantial agreement in Copenhagen. After all, the WTO opens up economies more in order to hasten commodity production and consumption (thereby, increasing fossil fuel dependence).

The Copenhagen summit reveals a yawning gap between scientific knowledge and public policy or, conversely, how science is indeed a strange bedfellow to politics. While leading scientists have been warning of the disastrous results of climate change, politicians are still debating whether this is a mere politically-motivated myth. It would have been best for politicians to view scientific evidence as it is then act because the consequence of climate change is all too real. Species are fast disappearing because of climate-induced habitat loss. Bournemouth researchers, for example, reveal that “populations of monkeys and apes in Africa that depend largely on a diet of leaves may be wiped out by a rise in annual temperatures of 2°C…(and) the species most at risk are the already endangered gorillas and colobine monkeys.” To add, the disappearance of Lohachara island in the Pacific, once home to 10,000 people, is a stern warning of what is to come.

World leaders need not look too far for an alternative development paradigm. The collective wisdom found in western science and indigenous cultures is a rich treasure trove for the formulation of ecologically-sensitive measures. Alas, this also calls for a different brand of politics.

Well, I need that treaty before my island sinks.

For more info on the outcome of the Copenhagen Summit, please go to:


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