Friday, May 18, 2007

Planetary emergency warnings mount

New scientific evidence of the multiple mounting effects of global warming had little visible impact on the 2,000 representatives of 166 countries at two weeks of United Nations talks in Bonn now drawing to a close. Janos Bogardi, director of the United Nations University's Institute for Environment and Human Security said that increasing global temperatures and land degradation are forcing more people to migrate, creating a wave of environmental refugees. And a new report from Christian Aid predicts that at least 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050 as the effects of climate change deepen an already burgeoning global migration crisis. Birds, disoriented by erratic weather, are also changing migration habits and routes to adjust to warmer winters, disappearing feeding grounds and shrinking wetlands. "Species that adapted to changes over millennia are now being asked to make those adaptations extremely quickly because of the swift rise in temperatures," said Robert Hepworth, executive secretary of the UN’s migratory species convention. And a report from the Global Canopy Programme shows that deforestation is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse emissions worldwide. This puts this activity second only to electricity generation in its contribution to global warming.

The most optimistic result expected from Bonn is that the UN delegates will all gather again for a new round of talks in Bali in December. This “decisive” meeting is intended to launch negotiations on a new set of rules for controlling greenhouse gas emissions. But many delegates in Bonn say they have become gloomier about the chances of a start of formal negotiations in Bali. The Kyoto Protocol is the only global accord on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but it lapses after 2012 and was rejected by the United States in 2001 as economic suicide because it is not binding on booming emitters China and India. Experts say negotiations on the post-2012 agreement are expected to take at least two years, and must start this year to avoid any gap between Kyoto and the new regime. In response to the snail’s pace discussion, top scientists called this week for leaders of the world's rich nations to cease squabbling over global warming and take urgent action instead. The science academies of the Group of Eight (G8) - Britain, the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy - as well as five major developing nations South Africa, India, China, Brazil and Mexico made the call ahead of a G8 summit in Germany next month. But in advance of the June meeting, the US has requested changes to the draft declaration on climate change to eliminate targets for reducing greenhouse gases and delete language stressing the need for urgent action.

With the world’s diplomatic negotiators relying on capitalist solutions to a planetary emergency resulting from the profit-driven growth of that very same capitalist system of production, it seems easier - to paraphrase the contemporary philosopher Slavoj Zizek – to contemplate the end of the world than consider a small change in the political system. Frustrated citizens in the UK and elsewhere are taking the initiative into their own hands. A lengthening list of towns, villages and cities are joining the Transition Towns movement setting out to design a lower energy and more resilient future. Its inaugural conference is set for 31 May. But they too will need to confront the relentless logic of expansion that drives global corporations if the unraveling catastrophe is to be curtailed. A World to Win’s Running a Temperature offers a programme for doing just that.

Gerry Gold, economics editor