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Posts Tagged ‘UN’

Last week ‘The Reverend’ Tony Blair announced that he had been working with a group of climate change experts since he left office, and that he thinks the problem is extremely urgent (1). He said that failing to act on climate change “would be deeply and unforgivably irresponsible” and that the UN is “the right forum to reach the global agreement” . He then popped off to Japan, India and China to have a little chat with them about it all.

It’s not the only problem Blair is trying to help solve at the moment – he’s also Middle East Peace Envoy on behalf of the US, Russia, UN and EU, advisor to the insurer Zurich and investment bank JP Morgan (who will probably be wanting all the advice they can get at the moment), and seminar speaker on “faith and globalisation” at Yale University (2,3). Not to mention trying to encourage investment into Rwanda (2).

Oh, and there is always the ‘Tony Blair Faith Foundation’ that will be launched later in the year (3). I can’t wait! I saw someone in Westminster the other day with a t-shirt saying “WWBD? (What Would Blair Do?)” Well, judging by his recent actions he would probably either a) invade, or b) save. Both while smiling.

You can imagine the conversation at the Reverend’s breakfast table.
Cherie – “Can you pick the kids up tonight? I’m going to be a bit busy.”
Tony – “No sorry, solving Middle East crisis tonight.”
Cherie – “How about tomorrow?”
Tony – “Nope, sorry. Wednesday is Rwanda night with the boys.”
Cherie – “How about we go away this weekend to relax?”
Tony – “Cherie, I’ve told you before, I save the world at weekends! Saturday is climate change and Sunday is a day of rest, unless God has a job for me.”

The Reverend’s climate change record isn’t as bad as Mr.Brown’s, but then that’s not really saying much is it. Blair is generally recognised for helping to get climate change the attention it deserves in the international political arena, and that is one thing he seems to be good at. He will be working to his strengths with this trip, doing what he does best – smiling from ear to ear and speaking with……..as……..many……..pauses…….as…….humanly…….possible…..to try and add sincerity to what he is saying.

The only problem in Blair’s climate mission seems to be the target. He said that “A 50% cut by 2050 has to be a central component”, but anyone who listens to discussions of emissions targets will know that isn’t enough. Even Mr. Brown has admitted that the climate change bill may have to be tightened to 80% by 2050, and many people believe that cuts of 90% or more may be required to avoid the worst of the catastrophes in the pipeline. Hopefully Mr.Blair’s tactic is to get everyone on board and working towards 50% and then try and persuade them that actually it will need to be more at a later date. It would be a much harder sell if he was pushing for 80% or more straight away.

But leaving the Blair’s plans aside for a moment, there was precious little cause for optimism this week in the news. The World Glacier Monitoring Service announced that glaciers around the world had record levels of ice loss in 2006 (4) and aerospace giant EADS announced that they are planning a commercial plane to take space tourists up 100km from Earth (and expect demand to be enough to warrant building 10 of them a year) (5). I’m guessing they won’t be solar powered. How can we pretend we are concerned about climate change when plans like that are still being drawn up?

Not to mention the announcement from Shell this week that it is going into Canadian tar sands in a big way to try and aid it’s falling oil production (6). Extracting oil from tar sands produces even more carbon dioxide than petroleum extraction, and as the oil giants invest heavily in this method, the chances of us avoiding the very worst effects of climate change slip further from our grasp.

The Reverend is well aware of the challenge we face. “If the average person in the US is, say, to emit per capita, one-tenth of what they do today and those in the UK or Japan one-fifth, we’re not talking of adjustment, we’re talking about a revolution.” He said, speaking in Japan.

If Mr. Blair can help to get the international agreements and targets that are desperately needed then that would be a great thing. Let’s face it, we need all the help we can get.

References
1. ‘Blair to lead campaign on climate change’ – Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 14th March 2008.
2. ‘Blair wants ‘climate revolution’’ – bbc.co.uk, 15th March 2008.
3. ‘Former British Prime Minister Blair to Teach at Yale’ – Yale University News Release, March 7th 2008.
4. ‘Glacier ice loss at record levels’ – Geoffrey Lean, The Independent Online, 16th March 2008.
5. ‘Space planes ‘to meet big demand’’ – Jonathan Amos, bbc.co.uk, 17th March 2008.
6. ‘Shell pushes into Canadian tar sands to arrest falling production’ – Danny Fortson, The Independent, 18th March 2008.

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Representatives of 180 countries are in Bali at the moment to talk about Climate Change, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. They’ve got almost two weeks to talk about a “roadmap for a future international agreement on enhanced global action to fight climate change in the period after 2012” (1), in what is the largest Climate Change Conference held to date.

Australia didn’t waste any time after getting rid of John Howard – they announced that they’re signing up to Kyoto at last, as the first official act of the new Government (2). With Kyoto in it’s final stages it’s a largely symbolic move really, but we need them on board just like everyone else, so it’s great news. It leaves the US as the only ‘first-world’ country not to have agreed to sign.

More recently in Bali, the US has been making a few headlines of its own. According to The Guardian, the US representatives at the conference said that a proposal for industrialised nations to reduce their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 was “totally unrealistic” and “unhelpful”, however the idea had been backed by the EU and Britain (3). Japan are also reported to be against the idea.

This is further indication (not that we need one) of US intention to come across as participating in climate change discussion while completely rejecting even a hint of participation in agreed emissions reductions. They have already made it quite clear that they don’t want the Bali conference to discuss actual numbers in relation to cuts. They would love to have goals, but goals that aren’t specified. Clearly they haven’t yet realised the clever idea of the British Government – create and sign up to as many targets and reductions as possible without actually expecting to be able to reach them.

But there does seem to be some good news coming from the across the water. Last Wednesday, the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to cut emissions by “about 70 per cent by 2050”(4) – a bold decision indeed, and not before time. Despite the fact that this is extremely unlikely to be enough of a cut to prevent two degrees of climate change (and therefore they might as well not bother), this gives the indication that slowly but surely things are starting to happen in the US Government.

But any encouragement that might be gained through this is soon shot to pieces when you discover that they are planning on using biofuels as a large part of their solution to fuelling their nations considerable car fleet. Apparently, half of these will be coming from sources that are not in competition with food production (4) – but that leaves another half that will. Not that it matters to them of course, because their country will be able to afford an escalating food price.

We shouldn’t expect too much from Bali. It should be kept in mind that the main objectives of the conference are “to launch negotiations on a climate change deal for the post-2012 period, to set the agenda for these negotiations and to reach agreement on when these negotiations will have to be concluded”(1). In other words start talking, talk a bit and then talk about when they should finish talking. In fact, listening to Yvo de Boer (the executive secretary) the only thing that seems to be definite so far is that there won’t be any definite new target when the conference ends (5).

Why not? Why not do it now? Take a few more weeks if needs be! Just agree something! As I see it, as long as a new agreed agenda includes scope for adjustment with the science on a regular basis a) it shouldn’t go far wrong and b) everyone can rest assured that they will have plenty of time to negotiate between re-evaluations.

This is a huge opportunity. The majority of countries on Earth are represented at this conference, and time is something we don’t have on our side. Climate change is not going to wait for more extended talks. We need a plan of action and here is a perfect opportunity to develop one.

The International Community needs to start addressing this issue with the drastic measures that it requires and the US needs to stop holding back progress in the misguided belief that it will somehow benefit their country.

References
1. United Nations Climate Change Conference.
2. Australia signs Kyoto and gets ovation at Bali – Telegraph Online, 3rd Dec. 2007.
3. US balks at Bali carbon targets – Guardian Online, 10th Dec. 2007.
4. US plan to cut greenhouse gases by 70 per cent signals change of heart on climate change – The Independent Online 9th Dec. 2007.
5. Summary of daily press briefing – United Nations Climate Change Conference, 8th Dec. 2007.

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