So a bunch of self-centred leaders are meeting in the cooler climes of Copenhagen for the common good of humanity. Pardon me for the emphasis on self-centredness. It is no secret that leaders think in terms of their national interest, which, in the capitalist west, also means the interest of Big Business — Big Oil and Big Industry. Global interest or global justice has meaning only when these leaders feel these concepts are useful tools to promote their national interest goals.
The love of power and more power and greed for wealth and more wealth have prevented the developed world from taking corrective measures to avert the coming climate catastrophe.To hell with the environment! The developed world, which comprises the main climate culprits, carries on regardless. They probably feel if they adhere to a binding convention they will have to commit themselves to less emissions. This they can achieve only by finding energy-efficeint alternative technology or by slowing down the pace of their industrialization.
Until they find this technology, the developed nations are unlikely to put brakes on industrialisation. This was why the United States during the eight-year George W. Bush era rubbished the Kyoto Protocol, which could have acted like a dam to hold back the coming avalanche. The Bush administration’s environment policy ensured the least possible disruption of Big Business.
The election of Barack Obama has not changed much though he was good at stirring hopes. His administration’s decision this week to name carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas — a gas that causes damage to the environment — was cosmetic and cannot be interpreted as evidence that the US is veering away from the Bush environment policies.
Obama the presidential candidate was far more environment friendly than Obama the president. During the campaign for the White House, Obama wooed young voters with words of a crusading climate activist. The energy section of the website Barackobama.com quotes him as saying, “For too long, politicians in Washington have been beholden to special interests, but no longer. Our new, responsible energy policy recognizes the relationship between energy, the environment, and our economy and leverages American ingenuity to put people back to work, fight global warming, increase our energy independence and keep us safe.”
In September, addressing a UN conference on environment, Obama said the “threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it — boldly, swiftly and together — we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.”
Hope-stirring words, no doubt. But words are no substitute for action that can bring results. Like Obama, many world leaders do not hesitate to acknowledge the danger, but they lack the political will to respond to the crisis. They drag their feet when they are asked to take concrete measures aimed not at stopping the coming disaster but at delaying it. “Let it happen; when it happens, let us decide how to deal with it.” This appears to be the stance many industrial nations have adopted, while exasperated scientists plead with them to take measures that would keep the average global temperature rise to a minimum 2 degree Celsius in the next decade. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wants the emissions level to come down by 25 to 40 percent if we are to keep the temperature rise within the 2 degree threshold in the next five to ten years, but many developed countries have offered to meet only less that half the required percentage — 10 to 17 percent — and that too from the 1997 level and not from the current emissions level.
If there are any human beings living on Planet Earth in 100 years time, how Copenhagen will be remembered depends not on the decision of the world leaders at the do-or-die climate summit but on the implementation of the decisions. If no implementation, no survival.Given the self-centred behaviour of Western nations, it is doubtful that they would act in the common interest of humanity. Take, for instance, China. Apparently worried that any commitment to drastic emission cuts would retard its economic development, it broke ranks with sinking small states which had pinned much hope on the current summit.
Copenhagen, the purpose of which is to adopt a comprehensive convention that will replace the Kyoto protocol, is likely to suffer the same fate that befell Rio and Kyoto, though everyone attending the summit acknowledges that they have gathered in the Danish capital for a defining moment.Well, we witnessed a similar urgency when the United Nations held its first climate summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 against the backdrop of capitalism’s victory over pseudo-communism in the 40-year Cold War. This summit adopted a couple of conventions on climate change and the 300-page Agenda 21 which sought to achieve sustainable development in the 21st century. Five years later, when they met in the Japanese city of Kyoto, the inadequacy of Rio in making the convention binding and the impotency of the nations in putting the measures into practice were obvious.
So they came up with the Kyoto Protocol and hailed it as the only international instrument to tackle global warming. But major polluters such as the United States showed little interest in adhering to emissions levels prescribed by the protocol, which is set to expire in 2012.We are skating on thin ice which may crack at anytime and swallow us. Time is also not on our side. We must act now. We must be guided by values that uphold social justice and not by the lure of filthy lucre or the greed that makes us to amass wealth at the cost of death, destruction and destitution to the billions who inherit this planet, If we fail this time, we are doomed; and trying to find a solution when the catastrophe finally hits us will be too little too late.