Opinion: Still searching for a climate change agreement
A recent whirlwind of political activity, speeches, pledges and scientific reports is circling the globe in the inevitable march of time leading up to the start next week of the crucial United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.
While different in scope, tone and style, most developments reported last week all shared one common goal: at the very least the world’s policy makers must commit in Denmark to a drastic and near immediate reduction in global greenhouse gases followed by a legally binding agreement signed sometime next year.
On the scientific front came the latest affirmation of alarming news suggesting global warming is occurring much faster than previously thought. In a report called The Copenhagen Diagnosis, more than 25 of the world’s top climate scientists have found that global temperature could increase as much as 7°C by 2100 without significant mitigation.
While the majority of scientists currently believe that humans would be able to manage if our atmospheric temperature does not increase more than 2°C, The Copenhagen Diagnosis notes that glaciers and sea ice are melting faster that previously expected.
As a result, the report also indicates sea-level rise is expected to be much greater that thought just a few years ago and could exceed one metre by the end of this century, an event that would devastate numerous island nations and low-lying areas.
“Global emissions must peak then decline rapidly within the next five to 10 years for the world to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the very worst impacts of climate change,” the report concludes.
A reminder of the economic costs of global warming was also released last week in a study funded by the European Commission which found climate change could cost Europe between €20 billion and €65 billion annually.
Looking only at agriculture, river flooding, coastal systems and tourism, the Joint Research Centre studied temperature increase for 2080 of between 2.5 and 5.4°C and sea level rise scenarios varying between 48 and 88 cm.
Noting that damages would occur mainly in southern and central Europe, the study said the total annual cost of climate change could be much higher than the top level of €65 billion since the report doesn’t consider nonmarket impacts such as biodiversity and ecosystems or natural disasters, which would add much more to the cost.
The dangers of unchecked climate change continued to loom large in the world of politics last week as well.
US President Barack Obama gave hope to the seemingly-stalled climate change negotiations when he said he would be attending the Copenhagen conference after all, even though domestic American legislation to tackle global warming has yet to be voted on by the Senate.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Port of Spain convened a special session to discuss “profound concern about the undisputed threat that climate change poses to the security, prosperity, economic and social development of our people.”
Saying that a new legally binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions must be signed no later than 2010, the heads of state, who represent a third of the world’s population, noted that the latest science indicates humankind must act now to find a solution to catastrophic global warming.
Even China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, finally waded into the climate change foray with an opening position. The most populated nation said it would set in place a 40-45% reduction in its economy’s carbon intensity by 2020. While its overall emissions would actually increase, the rate of potential increase would be slowed down.
Wind power — a dependable, sustainable, affordable and local emissions-free electricity generator — also injected itself into this supercharged atmosphere of anticipation with an announcement last week about the world’s biggest wind turbines.
The five of 11 planned Enercon E-126 wind energy converters already completed at a wind farm in Estinnes, Belgium are the largest turbines ever used to generate electricity. When all 11 are in place, they will provide enough power for the equivalent of 60,700 people. Enercon is expected to increase the power of the huge 6 MW machines up to an astounding 7 MW over the next year.
The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) reminds policy makers and negotiators attending next week’s potentially transformative conference in Copenhagen that the massive machines are yet more proof that wind power is both a proven technology and already a significant solution to the impending global warming crisis.
EWEA also believes reaching a new politically and legally binding agreement that marks the end of humankind’s destructive love affair with burning fossil fuels will result in a healthier, greener, more transparent future that wind power is already successfully embracing.
Chris Rose, EWEA