: CLIMATE TALKS ARE DEAD, NOW IT'S TIME FOR ACTION
Tue, 28 Nov 2000 14:16:42 -0000
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OPINION: CLIMATE TALKS ARE DEAD, NOW IT'S TIME FOR ACTION
By Mark Lynas, The Hague
November 25th 2000 is a day that will go down in history. Not as a day to
be celebrated with flags and songs, but as a day of mourning. For today is
the day when the world failed to face up to the challenge of climate change.
It's also the day that government negotiators, blinded by political inertia
and commercial interests, watched years of meticulous work collapse around
The final plenary session of the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change gave few clues as to the reasons for
this failure. Desperate to salvage some credibility from the ashes of this
long and complex process, delegates queued up to deliver heart-felt
statements of regret and willingness to resume in the near future. But the
reality of the situation is that Kyoto is dead, that The Hague talks killed
it, and that if the challenge of impending climate catastrophe is ever to be
seriously dealt with policy-makers will need to start all over again.
The real criminals - yes, criminals - here are the United States. In full
knowledge of the urgency of the situation, and presented only two weeks ago
with concrete evidence that global warming in this century alone could
exceed a deadly six degrees celsius, they riddled the Kyoto treaty with
holes and then had the gall to complain when the Europeans wouldn't sign.
Now Bill Clinton, who many thought would buckle at the last moment in order
not to be remembered as an environmental villain, has lost the game. "How
will he face Chelsea?" asked one baffled journalist. Although optimists say
that the COP6 splits could be tackled further at a resumed session in May
2001, by then an oilman will be in the White House - and all bets on a US
compromise will be off.
Many environmental groups, although publicly decrying the failure here at
The Hague, are privately relieved that they won't have to carry out the
dirty work of supporting an agreement that stinks. As it stood late last
night, the text would have allowed logging companies around the globe to
devastate tropical forests and establish pine plantations - then claiming
financial credits for 'soaking up' carbon. It would have allowed the United
States and other rich countries to meet their Kyoto targets of reducing
greenhouse gas emissions, while behind the scenes giving them free license
to do exactly the opposite. And it could even have provided cash for
nuclear power and coal plants across Eastern Europe and the developing
In the longer term The Hague could turn out to have been a blessing in
disguise. Nothing has been agreed, but at least now no-one can pretend
otherwise. That's surely better than fake 'cuts' behind a green
Instead, it's time to move on. Now that governments have failed, it's time
for the world's people to stand up and be counted. In truth COP6, like all
previous COPs, was an obscure process understood only by a few thousand
international policy-makers and lobbyists - all operating in a political
vacuum without the participation or even the interest of the people they
claimed to represent. Now that our leaders have failed, it's time for us
citizens to act. Rather than being decided behind closed doors at the UN,
strategies for dealing with climate change should be decided on the streets.
As the world continues to warm at an escalating rate, and more powerful
storms batter coastlines and flatten whole towns, people in rich countries
will have no choice but to wake up to the need to radically change their
lifestyles and economies. At the moment, jobs, health and education always
come top in any list of immediate political priorities. But as the death
toll mounts, more and more people cannot fail to realise that climate change
is an issue of basic human survival.
We can only hope - and hope against most of the current scientific
evidence - that by then it won't already be too late.
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"The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be
resolved sooner or later is The People v. The Banks."
Lord Acton: Lord Chief Justice of England, 1875
"It is easier and less costly to change the way people think about reality
than it is to change reality."
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