350 parts per million carbon dioxide: anything more is unacceptable according to 350.org and a myriad of other stakeholders because of the likelihood of ecological and socioeconomic catastrophes and the risks of runaway climate change. Yet humanity continues to engage in a worldwide uncontrolled experiment. According to the IPCC, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now exceeds 390 parts per million. Arctic ice proceeds to melt at astonishing rates. Pakistan continues to recover from calamitous flooding. And 2010 appears as if it will be the “new” warmest year on record. “We’ve got to stop thinking about climate change in the future tense and accept that it is happening at an unbearable level already,” said Bill McKibben, a leading climate activist and founder of 350.org. “I saw a drowned polar bear the other day,” said Ronald Jumeau from the Republic of Seychelles. “What are we doing? Something is wrong here. A natural swimmer is drowning.”
The science of climate change is actually pretty straightforward. Human activities release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases alter the chemical makeup of the atmosphere, and increase the amount of solar power delivered to the earth by trapping additional blackbody radiation-a process known as climate forcing.
“People over at the Moon Palace spend a lot of time thinking about political reality,” said Bill Mckibben. “This is not to be underestimated. But this is nowhere near as important as the dilemma presented by chemistry and physics. Chemistry and physics are unlikely to budge on their negotiating position.” The science is clear, but the current state of the negotiations is precarious.
Japan recently declared that it would not agree to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol “under any circumstances.” The United States continues to lack any credibility in the discussions because of the ineptitude of its newly elected congress. Developing nations in Africa continue to demand financing for adaptation projects, small island nations face complete economic collapse from sea level rise and drought, and both groups balk at any commitment to repay climate financing.
“We are expected to pay for the damage they did to us,” says Jumeau “Where’s the justice in that? Where’s the justice in that?”
Additionally, the Copenhagen accord—espoused by the Obama administration—falls far short of the 350 parts per million target supported by Seychelles and other vulnerable nations. In fact, the accord puts the world on track for something closer to 650 parts per million. Thus, it would seem that developed nations are disillusioned. But Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, hints that everyone is disillusioned if they think that a perfect agreement can be reached in Cancun. “If we load Cancun with all of our collective expectations,” says Figueres, “we will sink the boat.”
The dilemma at the UNFCCC in Cancun is both immense and delicate. Yet the ultimate goal remains relatively simple. As Jumeau states, “If you save the island nations, you save the world.”
|State Senator Ellen Anderson, Representative Kate Knuth and a delegation of University of Minnesota students are attending the COP 16 conference in Cancun, and students will share the experience with TC Daily Planet readers through blog post from the conference.|