(Pic by Spekulator / sxc.hu)
COP15 was a failure. Does this mean Planet Earth is doomed?
No. Planet Earth will survive even if we cross our climate system’s tipping point and trigger runaway climate change. In tackling climate change, it’s not the earth we’re trying to save. It’s ourselves and other species that could possibly go extinct together with us.
Does that mean humanity is doomed? Honestly, it really depends on what we do collectively in the next five to 10 years. Instead of pointing fingers at one another, governments, businesses, and civil society need to engage and work with each other.
Global emissions can only peak until 2015 before it must start falling if we are to limit global warming within 2°C compared to 1900 or pre-industrial levels. However, global emissions are still on the rise, and if we allow ourselves to continue with business as usual, it is unlikely we will be able to cap emissions in time.
So what if global temperatures increase by a few degrees?
This may not be the most accurate analogy but should be close enough: compare the earth to our human body. What happens to us when our body temperature increases by a few degrees Celsius?
A few degrees increase to the global temperature may not sound like much, but according to scientific predictions, it is enough to cause catastrophic changes to our climate, severely disrupt food production, increase water stress, and result in significant extinctions worldwide. Definitely not a world we would want our children to live in.
Click for bigger view (Source: International Projects People Consulting, ipcc.ch)
For more details, check out the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report released in 2007.
What is the relationship between the Kyoto Protocol and COP15?
The story began with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which aims to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. Ratified by 192 countries to date, it came into force in 1994. The first Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC was held in 1995.
Subsequently, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at COP3 in Japan in 1997. Recognising that industrialised nations are primarily responsible for the climate crisis, those who have ratified the protocol are legally bound to reduce their emissions. So the Kyoto Protocol was the UNFCCC’s first child.
At COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009, governments were supposed to finalise the targets for industrialised nations for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. The protocol does not expire in 2012, as has been frequently misreported in the media; it is the first commitment period under the protocol that will be expiring in 2012.
More importantly, governments were supposed to come to an agreement on how to effectively implement the UNFCCC based on the Bali Road Map adopted in 2007. Key issues such as technology transfer, finance, deforestation, etc. were supposed to be resolved at COP15. As we know, that didn’t happen. We can hope that a deal will be sealed at COP16 in Mexico in 2010, but how sure are we that world leaders will not let us down again?
Obama (Public domain / Wiki
commons)Has the US signed the Kyoto Protocol now that Barack Obama is president? Why not?
No, it is unlikely that the US will sign the Kyoto Protocol even though its current president Barack Obama recognises that, “Rolling back the tide of a warming planet is a responsibility that we have to ourselves, to our children, and all of those who will inherit God’s creation long after we are gone.“
During a diplomatic visit to Turkey in August 2009, Obama said, “It doesn’t make sense for the United States to sign Kyoto because Kyoto is about to end [in 2012].”
The truth is, the US is unlikely to ratify any treaty unless China is also on board on equal terms. Under the Kyoto Protocol, China was not required to commit to any legally binding targets as it is a developing country.
What happens now that COP15 is over?
The negotiations will resume at COP16 in Mexico in 2010.
As for civil societies and citizens who were disappointed with the outcome of COP15, they need to pick up the pieces and start moving on. More needs to be done; it’s too early to give up and believe we are doomed.
What can citizens and concerned groups do about climate change since political leaders globally failed to find real solutions?
Before COP15, over 5,200 actions were organised in 181 countries on 24 Oct 2009 to call for strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis. In the midst of negotiations, people again organised vigils and rallies worldwide to remind leaders about the need for a strong deal out of COP15. More than 100,000 people took to the streets in Copenhagen on 12 Dec 2009. Malaysians have organised actions both on 24 Oct and 12 Dec in solidarity with the global community.
The public pressure was there, but it was insufficient to sway political will. Swiftly after the disappointing closure of COP15, global climate alliance TckTckTck and its partners, including 350.org, Greenpeace and WWF, announced that they were “not done yet“. Indeed, we need to keep the pressure on our political leaders.
Protest in Cophenhagen on 12 Dec 2009
Additionally, we can pressure businesses to go green by boycotting products with too much packaging, which are not energy-efficient, not reusable or not recyclable. Write to the companies to voice out your concerns so they may improve. There are so many things citizens and concerned groups can do: rethink our way of life, change our own lifestyle and mindset, remain informed, spread awareness.
As philosopher James Garvey argued: “Maybe the solution never was a deal at Copenhagen — who really thinks that climate change has just one big answer? What we need are a billion different solutions, perhaps billions of little revolutions in thinking and acting all over the world. The good news is that such things do not depend on a handful of negotiators sitting around a table. What matters are people like you and me who see the world for what it is and do something about it. There’s room for a little hope still, the hope that even though our leaders fail to do the right thing, the rest of us will either push them into action or get on with it without them.”
Gan Pei Ling was in Copenhagen for COP15 in December 2009. Her trip was made possible by sponsorships from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Selangor government, and the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated in her writings are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsors.
For related stories, see In the Spotlight: Climate Change