Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Climate report passes the buck

Even vetting by the US government could not prevent the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from opening its synthesis report with the stark statement that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal". The United Nations agency has, however, once again passed on identifying the main cause and fails to come up with any solutions to climate change that might challenge the status quo.

A jump in GHG emissions has not only resulted in rising temperatures but also been responsible for the increasing number of heat waves (such as the one that caused the deaths of thousands in France in 2003) and droughts (currently causing major problems even in developed countries like Australia and in Tennessee in the United States). Rising emissions are also behind rising sea levels and has affected tropical storm systems (the cyclone which hit Bangladesh last week claimed over 10,000 lives).

IPCC scientists also warn that the consequences of allowing temperatures to rise un-checked could expose up to 250 million people to increased water stress in Africa alone, where rain-fed agriculture yields could be halved. The synthesis report admits that GHG emissions will continue to rise even with current "climate change mitigation policies" and "sustainable practices". These could result in changes to climate systems even greater than already experienced and could lead to abrupt or irreversible impacts (such as oceans rising several metres if polar ice sheets are lost). Up to a third of all the planet's animals and plants face extinction as temperatures rise.

While the IPCC report admits that adaptive capacity is unevenly distributed both "across and within societies", a recent Christian Aid report, Truly Inconvenient: Tackling poverty & climate change at once shows that for millions of the world's poor “safe” levels of climate change have already been exceeded. Christian Aid rightly points out that "industrialised nations" (aka global capitalism) have been responsible for causing the climate crisis and it is they who should start to put it right. It even recognises the need for a debate about the "very nature of development".

The IPCC report does confirm that global warming is due to the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from the activities of the society we live in and that these have increased by 70% since 1970. As this is the period that has seen the rapid growth of global capitalism, it appears to leave little room for argument as to the real culprit for the climate crisis we are facing.

Yet the solutions proposed by the synthesis report, however, are firmly wedded to the status quo. The only “solutions” are market-led, with the IPCC seeing "substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions". It still supports the use of nuclear power for generating energy and biofuels for transport despite the dangers of radioactive pollution and increasing food prices for the world’s poor from farmers diverting to more profitable biofuel crops. The IPCC still sees industries trading in carbon as "an effective carbon-price signal” which could “realise significant mitigation potential”.

What the report fails to recognise that to truly tackle this crisis, a fundamental change in how society is organised will be needed. This is the very question that Running a Temperature addresses published by AWTW addresses, providing a clear and alternative framework for dealing with the climate crisis beyond capitalism.

Stuart Barlow

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