The road from Copenhagen

The following address was made by Alexander Likhotal, the President and CEO of Green Cross International at the Sustainable World Congress in Vienna on 23 July, 2009. 

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Copenhagen is another step on the journey to address climate change. The scientific community has said that by the middle of the century we need to reduce global emissions by 50 per cent. I don’t think that Copenhagen is going to give us the final answer on how to do that. So I am sure that Copenhagen will be followed by two things: one, I hope there is action to address climate change; and second, a next round on international negotiations will take more comprehensive steps in this journey. Therefore I believe it’s time to think about post Copenhagen road map.

The question is do we have enough time?
20 years after the end of the cold war, we seem to have moved from a MAD (Mutual assured destruction) situation to one that can be characterised as NUTS (Nature Use-up Triggered Suicide). The fear of the finger on the nuclear button has now transformed itself into one where the foot is on the gas pedal.
Climate change poses an increasing threat to global security and stability. It cannot be reduced to just an environmental agenda. To avoid catastrophic consequences, the main economic and social drivers need to change. But even as climate change takes a front seat, there are a number of concurrent challenges that demand urgent attention. Major life-supporting ecosystems are in a state of collapse. Poverty and inequality are on the rise. The end of the global economic meltdown is not yet in sight. Food and energy prices remain volatile. Threats of unprecedented migration fraught with the dangers of social and political destabilisation and conflict are looming over the horizon.
These issues are complex, systemic and interconnected. They cannot be resolved separately through ad hoc, sectoral and incremental measures. A short-term optimisation may lead to long-term disaster. But our political processes remain locally focused, nationally based and dominated by electoral, budgetary and financial considerations. Special interest groups still leave their stamp on policies. The political scene is glued in place. The overriding paradigm is that conventional economic growth can, and must, continue, and that this is achievable with incremental changes to “business-as-usual”, an approach that is fundamentally flawed.
As a result we have a dangerous situation of diverging interests along with converging threats.
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What are we going to do about it?

In the search for solutions, most eyes are on the efforts by governments to find a replacement to the Kyoto Protocol ending in 2012. Thus, the road to Copenhagen, where in December 2009 governments are expected to draw the outlines of their strategy to deal with climate change, now carries the hope of an effective, timely and just response. But that, I believe, is expecting too much. Principally because the political reality of a fragmented and piecemeal response will not just match up to what is needed by way of a unified, coordinated and targeted approach using the latest scientific advances in every conceivable green technology. This was clear when earlier this month right after the L’Aquila G-8 summit, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Group of Eight rich nations did not go far enough in setting targets for tackling climate change. He had reasons for this diagnosis.
The global deal to be meaningful should contain six key features:
(i) a pathway to achieve the world target of 50 per cent reductions by 2050, where rich countries contribute at least 75 per cent of the reductions;
(ii) global emissions trading to reduce costs;
(iii) reform of the clean development mechanism to scale up emission reductions on a sectoral or benchmark level;
(iv) scaling up of R&D funding for low-carbon energy;
(v) an agreement on deforestation; and
(vi) adaptation finance.
The one thing major economies have so far agreed to was to limit the overall temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But there is no agreement yet on immediate and medium-term targets and timetables. G-8 nations have so far promised cuts in emissions of around 10-14 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 — far short of the “at least 40 per cent” demanded by developing states as well as the UN panel of scientists outlined cuts of 25-40 percent by developed nations, with developing countries making a “significant deviation” below projected rise in emissions to avoid the worst of global warming.
To achieve this goal Japan has to cut down its emissions not by 8, but by 56 per cent, EU – by 44 per cent (announced 20-30), Australia by 40 per cent (25), Canada – by 43 per cent (3), USA – by 45 per cent (14), Russia – by 20 per cent (10).
Is it reasonable to expect that climate change negotiations with their “silo” approach lacking the broader and longer-term strategic context could tackle this agenda?
New thinking and a comprehensive policy approach are urgently needed. Economic, environmental and development concerns have to be tied up. That must then be reflected in national and international frameworks for cooperation and action. A rapid mobilisation of public support, existing knowledge and resources is critical. Above all, the latest scientific evidence should inform this process.
It is obvious that the Western economic model – fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, and a throwaway culture – will not work for the rest of the developing world which wants to catch up with industrial growth. In an integrated global economy, it will no longer work for industrial countries either.
Attempts by governments around the world to boost their economies from the clutches of the gnawing recession are natural and necessary. But political and corporate leaders must recognize that successful resolution of challenges requires transformational leadership, not the incremental managerialism currently in vogue.
Choice between business as usual and the future is false – we always chose different variants of future. Because the present is just a door between past and the future, crossing which we chose the trends from our past to shape our future.
It is time for change, not reform.
Among the several imbalances in need of correction, the main one is political. It has to do with the way power is concentrated: not just within countries but between the national nature of politics and the global reach of markets; between Western-dominated multilateral institutions and the eastward shift of economic wealth. The weakness of multilateral institutions in responding to these new realities is making it hard to deliver adequate concerted policy responses appropriate to the scale of the problem. The current crisis, however, is creating a new impetus to strengthen multilateralism and share power and responsibility. The birth of the new G-20 testifies to this.
The first task in recovery effort thus must be to bring the peripheral economies and people into the centre. Left to the market, this will not happen. Private capital flows to the developing world are slumping sharply, with net inflows dropping in 2009 to about one-third of the peak $1.2 trillion reached two years ago. Remittances are on the decline, with a fall of at least 5 per cent forecast for 2009.
World Bank estimates that 53 million more people will be trapped in poverty this year, subsisting on less than $1.25 a day, because of the crisis. This comes after soaring food and fuel prices of recent years, which pushed 130 to 155 million people into extreme poverty, many of whom have still not recovered.
The environmental imbalance between the resources we consume and the capacity of the planet to replenish itself is a major problem. The trillions of dollars in quick fix the various stimulus packages are attempting to do is basically to rekindle the same global economy with some environmental-friendly intentions or actions on the side.
The resurrection of the global economy, however, offers a unique window of opportunity to re-align the whole economic train on the tracks of a green recovery. The stimulus package, used to that end, could indeed herald a new prosperity built on a low-carbon economy – unwinding and moving away from production and consumptions patterns that have scarred the earth and are testing its resilience. With the market economy in the doldrums, the leaders are in a position now to influence its future course in ways that they normally cannot. The aim should be not to resurrect the old economic system but to tailor the recovery in a way compatible with the long-term development goals.
The movement towards a low-carbon economy is a clear political necessity and a blueprint for sustainable growth in the future, while pumping of trillions of dollars into fossil energy is equivalent to pumping them into toxic assets.
The challenge thus is to embed “green economic policy” in national economies worldwide. Leadership by one country, whether the United States, Germany or Japan, or region like in the European Community is not enough. Latest estimates by the International Energy Agency show renewable sources account for only $10 billion of the $250-300 billion allocated to annual energy subsidies worldwide. Such perverse subsidies must be the obvious targets for change.
Renewable energy technologies are no longer a niche energy solution, and in not too distant a future are going to fundamentally change the way we generate electricity. As a result of substantial investments over the past 5 years, the solar industry has dramatically improved solar technologies and established roadmaps for further cost reductions. In fact, electricity generated from solar installations is already reaching parity with peak energy and retail energy prices in many regions.
Now is the time for world leaders, businesses and communities to build the platform for renewable energy to be replicated on a much greater scale. This will not only improve energy autonomy, but also serve to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and deliver an economically viable solution to climate change.
New rules of the game are needed in many spheres if globalisation has to be reshaped to become more sensitive to the needs of our home planet and to human needs. What has to be done away with is the traditional game of power play and restricting access to prosperity only for the rich. That is simply not sustainable. Leadership calls for taking the right decisions at the right time.
Yesterday it was too early. Tomorrow it might be too late.

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