Sunday, April 11, 2010

What does Evo's 1° target mean?

At the Copenhagen climate conference, Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed that, given the lack of an accord among governments, the people should be consulted in a referendum of global scale. He put forth the following five questions for that referendum, which will be discussed at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth
  1. Do you agree with re-establishing harmony with nature while recognizing the rights of the Mother Earth?
  2. Do you agree with changing this model of over-consumption and waste that represents capitalist system?
  3. Do you agree that developed countries reduce and reabsorb their domestic greenhouse gas emissions for temperature not to rise more than 1° Celsius?
  4. Do you agree with transferring all that is spent in wars and for allocating a budget bigger than used for defense to climate change?
  5. Do you agree with a Climate Justice Tribunal to judge those who destroy Mother Earth? 

Point 3 has translated incorrectly on the English website - it reads "developing" where it should say "developed" (The Spanish is "los países desarrollados").

Certainly the developed countries must bear the main burden of stopping climate change: developed nations' historic carbon emissions are overwhelmingly to blame. There is a global carbon debt owed. It should be paid not only in action within the developed nations, but in aid to developing nations for both mitigation (renewable energy technology, for example) and adaptation to avoid the destructive effects of the inevitable amount of climate change we already are seeing.

I'm wondering whether Evo will disagree with me on this, but I think this does not let the developing countries off the hook, and the faster they are "developing" the more so. It means China and India, even though they are not the main global villains, still must close their coal power industries. If the world abandons fossil fuels rapidly, this will mean great challenges for the Venezuelan economy, for example, as they are an oil-exporting country.

A 1° target will be surpassed with the carbon emissions already in the atmosphere, so agreeing to aim for 1° is radical indeed. I think educating people on this point of the referendum is very important.

Firstly, this goal means we have to stop using all fossil fuels as soon as possible. Like, most of them within a decade. This means massive reductions in energy use, combined with a massive program of switching to renewable energy. The first part is only possible with a full frontal assault on the waste intrinsic to consumer culture (especially in the rich countries). This is explicitly mentioned in the second referendum question. The second part, abandoning fossil fuels, is only possible with a full frontal assault on the multinational giants that control oil, coal, gas and their associated industries.

Both of these points require a massive, worldwide political struggle to win. I think it is good, therefore, that the second point names the capitalist system as a culprit. Whatever alternative is supported, we have to re-popularise the idea that there is an alternative, and that we can't defend this system. I don't know how much traction this demand will get among the world's governments: even in the developing world most governments are quite capitalist-oriented. But it is good to have it in there.

Reabsorbing (draw-down) of carbon is also essential, as the point says. This means massive reforestation projects, worldwide. It means switching to "carbon farming" - methods such as no-till agriculture and composting that build up the soil carbon.

We also need a drastic reduction in the amount of short-lived but powerful greenhouse gases, especially methane. This means a massive reduction in the farming of cattle (and sheep, llamas, alpacas, camels and goats – all the ruminants – but I think cattle are the biggest contributors by far). That poses a big cultural challenge in countries where a lot of red meat is included in the diet. It might free up a lot of land for re-forestation, though.

We also need to be wary of stopping our other particulate pollution of the atmosphere, especially sulphate aerosols, as these reflect some of the sun’s heat. If we removed them all very quickly, the temperature would jump up within a week or so as they washed out of the atmosphere. Geo-engineering is a dangerous and worrying idea in itself, but if we stop burning coal and oil quickly, the sudden loss of the reflective aerosols from these fuels could be a disaster. We ought not to support such measures lightly. As an interim measure, we may have to support injecting reflective aerosols into the stratosphere for a period. We at least need to be informed of the pros and cons to consider these measures.

It is indeed a precarious scenario, but the alternative – going with the IPCC's and others' targets to allow a minimum 2° warming, or more — means catastrophe. Just ask the people of Tuvalu and Kiribas, who will no longer have a country (to say nothing of Bangladesh, the Netherlands etc). A 1° target is a good aim. I wouldn't necessarily put it in a target of degrees celsius. Below 350ppm CO2 is another good way of expressing the same aims (although I would normally argue 300ppm or lower, even).

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