The National – Tuesday, December 14, 2010
By ALAIN JUPPE
CLIMATOLOGY and its emphasis on global warming is a comparatively recent addition to science.
Yet, despite the relative youth of this research, a clear consensus has emerged: climate change – for which human activity is significantly, though not exclusively, responsible – now threatens our way of life, so we must develop the means to combat it.
But, I also believe that the fundamentalist approach, which can be sensed in certain circles, is skirting the limits of the acceptable.
How can fundamentalists advocate limiting economic growth as a solution to the problem of global warming when there are men, women and children in their hundreds of millions, all over the world, who still lead lives of abject poverty and are in desperate need of help?
People in poor parts of the world have a right to economic development so that they can produce their own food, gain access to clean water, live in adequate shelter and have all the benefits represented by hospitals and schools.
These are essential human rights, and they can be realised only through economic growth, not stagnation.
At the 20th century’s start, only one person in 10 lived in a town or city.
Today, that figure is one in two – 3.3 billion people, according to United Nations statistics – and the percentage of urban dwellers is expected to reach 70% by 2050.
Cities, then, represent the most important development challenge of all.
As cities continue to grow and spread across the world, reducing energy consumption and improving our quality of life require us to ensure their inhabitants can travel relatively short distances to work
The common expression in France that great rivers are created out of tiny streams captures the sort of strategy for countering global warming through sustainable development which, I believe, could be effective.
Local actions developed as part of an exchange between cities could have a global impact in the long term.
That is why I am keen to encourage local initiatives that have a global perspective.
Among the issues raised at the Copenhagen climate conference in December last year was the European Union’s member states’ failure to perfect a post-Kyoto international system for fighting global warming.
Fortunately, though, things have changed since then, with the 110 countries responsible for 80% of greenhouse-gas emissions – including India, China and Brazil – now giving their support to the Copenhagen agreement.
It is important not to stop there.
We must try to ensure future climate change meetings, like the Cancun summit this winter, are fully exploited as an opportunity to transform well-intentioned declarations into international agreements that apply to developed and developing countries alike.
The Copenhagen agreement envisages the world’s industrialised nations financing emissions reduction and other necessary adjustments in developing countries through a US$30 billion aid package, which will rise to US$100 billion between now and 2020.
The agreement fails to specify who will undertake what costs.
Instead, the agreement limits itself to responding to the widely accepted goal of keeping carbon-dioxide levels below 450 parts per million, and the rise in average global temperature below 2°C.
Are these targets realistic?
If not, we must bear in mind the warning of the Stern Report that failure to act now would make taking action in the future much more costly.
That all countries taking part in the political process on climate change should be treated equally has ensured that Europe still exerts a good deal of influence.
Things have clearly moved on from Copenhagen, when the priority was to reach agreement between those countries that have been chiefly responsible for global warming.
And if my own country, France, has failed to set a good example to developing countries by equivocating over the terms of a carbon tax, then perhaps the time has come for its national carbon footprint to be linked with
the European trading system for carbon dioxide.
The sad truth, though, is that the solution of mixing quotas and taxes will not deliver results quickly enough to bring about a genuine and immediate move to low-carbon or even carbon-free economies.
Ever since Copenhagen, a majority of the main greenhouse gas-emitting countries have been setting out ambitious goals – without hedging them with restrictive conditions.
At the same time, new mechanisms are being put in place to measure and evaluate emissions, which will allow much clearer comparisons between countries. – Project Syndicate
*Alain Juppe is France’s minister of defence.