Magazine article New Internationalist

Just or Bust

Magazine article New Internationalist

Just or Bust

Article excerpt

The Same Boat

Imagine 10 rabbits lost at sea, in a boat carved out of a giant carrot.

The carrot is their only source of food, so they all keep nibbling at it. The boat is shrinking rapidly - but none of them wants to be the first to stop, because then they'll be the first to starve. There's no point in any of them stopping unless everyone stops - if even one rabbit carries on eating, the boat will sink.

This is the international climate crisis in a (Beatrix Potterflavoured) nutshell: action by individual nations achieves little unless we all act together. Of course, reality is a little more complex. While it's easy to imagine the rabbits reaching a simple agreement where they all learn to dredge for seaweed instead, our situation involves massive global inequalities, differing levels of responsibility, and a history of exploitation and broken international promises.

Perhaps, then, we shouldn't be too surprised that the international climate negotiations - which began in earnest in 1990 with the talks that created the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - have not yet got us a workable global solution. The best we've managed so far has been the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, under which industrialized nations (known as Annex G countries) pledged to cut their CO2 emissions by a completely inadequate 5.2 per cent by 2012. The US famously pulled out of the deal, and most of those who remained in are unlikely to achieve even these small cuts.

A Fair Point

Meanwhile, no definite plan has been agreed for ensuring that the poorer nations switch to a climate-friendly development path. The US says it won't play unless, in the name of 'fairness', all non-Annex 1 countries also take on emissions reduction targets. Southern governments, however, point out that they've arrived late to the fossil fuel party: the industrialized nations got us into this mess by emitting, over the past 200 years, the vast majority of the greenhouse gases currently warming up the atmosphere. How can the Annex 1 countries demand that the South restrict its development with tough carbon targets when the North has mostly missed its own Kyoto goals?

At the same time, despite promised funds to support lowcarbon development, to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to transfer to low-carbon technology, the only real money flowing from North to South through the UNFCCC process has been via the highly flawed Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This has allowed wealthy nations to offset their domestic emissions with such clean development' projects as urban landfill sites, giant dams that were being built anyway, and slightly more efficient steel refineries. …

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