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Archive for December 6th, 2009

‘Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation’

The following editorial appears in many newspapers around the world. It would appear that the Toronto Star is the only Canadian paper to carry it. I have therefore decided to reprint it in full here.


Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial will be published tomorrow by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Likethe Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Impact of Climate Change

Tagged with

Beyond Copenhagen: The Harsh Realities of Canadian Politics

with 3 comments

A guest post from Andy Shadrack


Saturday December 5

Love her or hate her consistent polling shows that a majority of Canadians think that Elizabeth May would be a welcome addition to the House of Commons. Recently a group of NDP MPs approached their Leader to request the Party not run a candidate in Sannich-Gulf Islands. Jack Layton declined to act on their request because Provincial NDP Leader Carole James wants no accommodation with the Green Party in BC.

The fact that the NDP placed a distant fourth to the Green Party candidate’s 3rd place finish in 2008 and that polls have consistently showed the Green Party could actually beat Conservative Gary Lunn in a two way fight is never acknowledged by the NDP leadership. So Elizabeth May is finally running in a seat she could actually win and the NDP want to act as spoiler, just like Jack opposed the Green Party being in the tv debates in 2008.

In Guelph the Green party obtained one in five votes and came 3rd and in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, Ontario, more than one in four and came second. In contrast in Australia the Green Party recently won a by-election in Fremantle, Western Australia, when the second placed Liberals (read conservatives) stepped back and chose not to run a candidate. The same policy was recently undertaken again in the seat of Willagee by the Liberals where the Green Party is expected to achieve 39.5% of the final vote count.

At a federal level two Australian by-elections were held today in New South Wales and Victoria States where this time the Labour Party stood down so that the Green Party could take on the Liberals and again they are achieving a healthy 36% and 42% respectively. Imagine a Canadian politics where the desire for diversity and public discourse is so healthy that both the federal Conservatives and Liberals would step aside to try and assist the Green Party to get into the House of Commons.

In Germany and Austria the Green Party is now so respected for its contributions in government that both the christian centre- right and social democratic centre-left offer them coalition status in cabinet. In France the main social democratic party, running in a two round majoritarian system, goes so far as to back Green candidates in the first round in certain seats and then persuades the communists to back the Greens if they make it to the second round run-off.

Why? In New Zealand under a multi-member proportional system the Green Party has obtained from 6 to 9 seats in parliament since the mid-1990s. On one occasion the minority Labour government introduced a health bill that Green Party MPs wanted to amend, but Labour refused to bend. So the Greens went to the opposition National Party (read conservatives) and obtained their support, not to defeat the bill but to amend it. At that point the Labour Party Prime Minister directed the Minister of Health to strike an all party committee to see if parties in the house could write a bill that every MP could support.

Imagine a Canadian Parliament in which an all party committee sat down and wrote an effective climate change bill!! For that to happen activists on this list would have to make common cause with some pretty strange bedfellows and accept some unpalatable compromises, on road that would lead us back from the brink of climate change disaster.

It could happen under the right leadership. During WWII both Chinese and First Nations people volunteered to fight for Canada, even though they had no real citizenship rights. Those who did this argued that by fighting for democracy, they in turn would persuade the Canadian people to grant them democratic rights. In 1949 Asian Canadians won back the right to vote and First Nations the right in 1960.

On the Murmansk run to supply war material to the Soviet Union many of the merchant seaman who volunteered to serve were card carrying communists and other sympathetic leftists. In other words, even though they felt little allegiance to the Canadian State, the parties in power, and in some instances were actually let out of jail or internment camps to fight, a very broad majority of the Canadian population found a way to make common cause with those they had often seen as political enemies and oppressors in peace time.

New Democrats in British Columbia and Canada should be writing to their Leaders, Jack Layton and Carole James, outraged and demanding that they reverse this self-interested policy in Saanich-Gulf Islands. Just like federal Liberals should be hanging their heads in shame over the fact that their Leader Michael Ignatief refuses to return Jack Layton’s requests to discuss policies and options they have in common.

If ever we are going to bring the people together to reverse our industrial policies that impact the climate, it will only come about when politicians from all parties exercise due diligence in showing how they can work together for the common good.

Respectfully submitted
Andy Shadrack

Written by Stephen Rees

December 6, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Green Party, politics