After Copenhagen: What’s Next?
By Mathis Wackernagel
I have just come back from Copenhagen COP15. While it was a thrill and privilege to participate, it also made evident how far we still have to go to meaningfully address climate change and resource degradation.
I was touched to see the buzz and interest of 40,000 participants engaging at the official conference, and of many more participating in side events and demonstrations. Most paid their own way to Copenhagen, showing incredible commitment to making this world work for all, now and later. There is tremendous public will to make a difference, beyond the 193 country delegations and possibly over 130 heads of state who attended.
But much about the climate talks was quite puzzling as well:
• The negotiations reflected a blindness to the link between climate change and resource constraints overall. The fact is, without a strong Copenhagen regime, the pressure on ecological services will intensify more rapidly, and the world will get more volatile more quickly. If leaders were to recognize this, their approach would be the opposite of what it is now. They would arrive to Copenhagen with the mind-frame of: “We have a big incentive to make this deal work, because without it we will have to work harder to prepare our economies for an ecologically-constrained future.”
• The obvious was missing: Keeping climate change within two degrees Celcius means reducing carbon emissions at least 80 percent from 1990 levels, according to the IPCC. This essentially requires moving out of fossil fuel. But hardly anybody admits this mathematical truth.
• Further, if we accept the G-20s intentions (which was confirmed in even more strict parameters by the Copenhagen Accord of December 18) and its mathematical consequences of moving out of fossil fuel, then consider this: Why is it that we haggle so much about access rights to emissions? What we are talking about is close to zero emissions (after 2050). Why would anyone spend efforts and time on negotiating access rights to zero?
• We are still addicted to outmoded concepts like that of “developing” and “developed” countries. These terms embody the linear development model that is not only becoming physically impossible, but is also the one that got us into the climate problem in the first place. Essentially, this model is based on accepting the unintended consequence of liquidating our resource base. In its essence, it is becoming a negative sum game where individual success is only possible at the cost of the collective demise. What we need is green prosperity, or green development, that works with, rather than against, the budget of nature. And what we need even more badly is the recognition that such green prosperity serves each country much better than the current liquidation game.
• Perhaps most striking is that the great majority of leaders ignore their nation’s self-interest in acting boldly and quickly. After all, it takes decades to prepare countries, cities and economies for a resource-constrained future. Those countries that can retool their economies and make them healthy and robust while staying within ecological limits will be best positioned to meet the future. On the other hand, waiting for a global climate consensus will limit, if not jeopardize, countries’ ability to retool their societies in time, and succeed in the face of ecological constraints.
But there were also quite a few achievements:
• Many local initiatives – cities, pro-active businesses, regions - are already moving ahead even without global agreements. The United Arab Emirates’ Masdar City is a prominent example.
• REDD+ (United Nations’ collaborative programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) represents a solid recognition that land-use and biocapacity are keys to the global carbon cycle. REDD+ may still be too limited in scope, and difficult to operationalize, but it points in the right direction acknowledging the biosphere as the source of any activity. Ultimately, we run out of biosphere, not climate. Therefore, many solutions to climate change will come from carefully managing our use of ecosystem services.
• Delegations showed their level of commitment, negotiating through the night and working tirelessly towards solutions – all encouraging signs that we are at a historical crossroads. Sustainability is certainly no longer a sideshow.
In the coming weeks, we will be reporting to you with further details on how we will help shape climate action, and how this can go hand in hand with securing well-being for all.
With growing interest in resource degradation and climate change, Global Footprint Network will play an even more significant role in 2010. We are both excited about this prospect, and immensely thankful. We are grateful to you, our partners, and for your ongoing trust and interest.