Copenhagen Summit - Our future
in their hands?
The Government of the Maldives holds an underwater cabinet meeting to attract international attention to the dangers of climate change.
The current international agreement on climate change, the Kyoto Protocol, will expire in 2012. In December 2009, more than 180 countries will join a United Nations meeting in Copenhagen, to try to agree a new international deal to tackle climate change.
It is vital that we secure a strong deal in Copenhagen because we will all be affected by dangerous climate change. For example, steep increases in global sea levels will cause severe flooding in many countries. In Asia, 94 million people could be left homeless, leading to large-scale migration. Scientists have warned that the Maldives, the lowest-lying nation on earth, could be uninhabitable in less than 100 years. Ahead of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, President Mohamed Nasheed held a cabinet meeting under the sea in order to draw the attention to the issue of global warming and highlight the seriousness of the threats faced by the Maldives.
The President (pictured above) said: “We are trying to send our message to let the world know what is happening and what will happen to the Maldives if climate change isn't checked". Asked what would happen if Copenhagen fails, the President said, "we are all going to die".
There are many worrying aspect of climate change: the world faces severe food shortages and poorer countries will be worst-hit: drought in parts of Africa could reduce harvests by 50% by 2020. Experts predict that up to a third of known plant and animal species will be at risk of extinction and entire natural environments, like coral reefs and rainforests, would be under threat. As the rainforests disappear, so does the possibility of discovering cures for many of our most deadly diseases. Glaciers could shrink by up to 60% and the rivers they feed could start to dry up. This would affect drinking water supplies for around a sixth of the world’s population.
There are alarming signs that these changes are already well underway. Storms, floods, and droughts are happening more often and are more extreme and Arctic sea ice is melting faster than previously predicted. A warming Arctic may cause the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, which will have the potential to cause further global warming and have huge global implications (methane is a greenhouse gas about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide).
There are large volumes of solid methane frozen in ice beneath the Arctic Ocean seabed and these ‘methane hydrates’ may melt if ocean temperatures increase. One possible result of this is that, because methane hydrates provide structure to the seabed, if they destabilise a seabed collapse could occur. In the past, such destabilised underwater landslides from the Norwegian continental slope have produced tsunamis that have reached Scotland. Similar events today could interrupt the pipeline delivery of natural gas across the North Sea to the UK. To read an article from The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on Arctic changes, click here.
To read about the potential impacts of climate change on the UK specifically, The UK Climate Projections give climate information for the UK up to the end of this century. Please see: http://ukcp09.defra.gov.uk/
As well as environmental and economic aspects of climate change, there is growing recognition that there will be significant impacts on human health. For example, in the UK, it is predicted that there will be an increased frequency of severe coastal and river floods, both of which can have severe impacts on health. Analysis of more recent river flooding in the UK shows that mental health problems are the most important health impact among flood victims due to experience of personal and economic loss and stress.
Climate change is disproportionately affecting poor people around the world, despite their having contributed little to global emissions, and I have urged the Government to take our fair share of the urgent action necessary to help the world's poorest people who are already suffering a range of impacts linked with climate change.
In October, I wrote to Ed Miliband MP, Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, regarding the current debate about financing from the developed world to help poorer countries adopt green technologies and protect their people from the consequences of climate change. Click here to read my letter and here to read the Minister’s response.
It is intended that an agreement on climate finance will form part of the business in Copenhagen and the Government has proposed that developed and developing countries should work together on a global figure of around $100bn per annum by 2020 to help developing countries address climate change. Analysis by McKinsey for GLOBE puts the finance needed at US$90-140 and Ban Ki-Moon, in welcoming the EU commitment to support $100bn a year for poor countries to cut emissions and adapt to climate change, added that the sum would need to be “scaled up” in the future.
I am pleased at the Government’s commitment on climate finance. They have stated that they do not intend to divert money for tackling poverty to the climate change fund. However, this commitment has not been agreed by the main opposition party.
Our future in our own hands
We need to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global temperature increase to no more than 2°C. Scientists have worked out the maths: emissions MUST peak and start to decline in the next 10 years and by 2050, they must be 50% less than they were in 1990.
I urge constituents to join me in signing up to the 10:10 campaign and pledge to personally cut your carbon emissions by 10% next year. People can calculate their own emissions by using the Act on CO2 online carbon calculator, where there is also tailored advice on reducing individual and household carbon emissions, which will also save money. To assess progress in meeting the 10:10 pledge it is essential that we assess our baseline carbon footprint before the end of 2009! Please see: http://actonco2.direct.gov.uk/actonco2/home.html for more details.
Climate change is the biggest threat humanity faces and it is extremely important that all countries sign up to a strong global deal at the UN meeting in Copenhagen. Our Government has said that it is committed to pushing for that global deal. However, whatever Governments’ agree, the task of reducing green house gas emissions will require the active participation of all of us. We can help tip the balance by our own actions and by working together. We have a small but diminishing window in which to take the action needed to limit global temperature increases to no more than 2°C.