The outcome is the possibility of massive rainforest collapse, extinction for 20-50% of the species on the planet, and a water crisis affecting up to a billion people
As the UN conference wraps up in Copenhagen, things are not looking
particularly sunny. A leaked memo from The UN Secretariat is making its way
around the web today, which adds up all the commitments made by the various
governments around the world. The current best case scenario for a deal
seems to leave the planet heading towards 550 parts per million (ppm) of
CO2, with a related temperature rise around 3C.
A week ago, the debate was over whether to target 350 ppm (1.5 C) or 450 ppm (2 C). But when you do the math, as they did in the memo, it turns out that the commitments are a few gigatons off, a quantity so large that it is difficult to think of a creative way to express it. How about the equivalent of burning 80 Million acres of rainforest - an area the size of California?
You'll probably be hearing many calls to acknowledge and celebrate that significant progress has been made in Copenhagen (after all, the 'do nothing' scenarios are 700 ppm or more.) But if you believe the predictions of what this 550 ppm scenario will mean (such as those published by Lord Stern in The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change ), the outcome is the possibility of massive rainforest collapse, extinction for 20-50% of the species on the planet, and a water crisis affecting up to a billion people. And that is if the delegates are able to get a deal done.
To think of this another way: Picture scientists identifying a large meteor hurtling towards earth, with an Impact date in the next 30 years or so. The longer they wait, the harder it will be to throw the meteor off course. Those who don't believe the scientists will choose to do nothing. Those who do will start working on building rockets to knock the thing of course as soon as possible. What no one will do is to agree to work on a plan which simply chips off a piece, and lets the rest make impact (unless it is the best they can do.) But that is exactly what the delegates seem to be working towards in Copenhagen.
So, is what is on the table the best they can do? What is being put together now is a bizarre King Solomon like proposal to split the baby in two. In that tale, the proposal was a test to reveal the truth about the two women who came before the king. Either the UN delegates believe that greenhouse gasses are a planetary threat or they do not. Perhaps it is time for each of them to stand up and be counted.
Let's all hope for more progress. And let's also hope that Lord Stern is wrong.
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