29 October 2005

Together, we can stop climate change

By Rupert Read

As I sit here writing this column, we are still enjoying a most unseasonably warm October: it shouldn't be this warm, at this time of year. We all know that, really.

And I thank my lucky stars I do not live in the Caribbean, where yet another killer hurricane has just struck. 2005 has already been one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. The latest hurricane, 'Wilma', is the 12th hurricane of this year - a figure equalled only in 1969 since record-keeping began in 1851. By one measure, Wilma is the strongest hurricane EVER, with the lowest barometric pressure on record in the Atlantic.

The scientific consensus is now that these changes in the climate are the direct result of more heat-energy in the weather system. In other words: this catastrophic weather IS global warming.

Perhaps we can dare to hope, in the aftermath of Wilma hitting Florida, that the USA (and the UK!) might finally start to move faster toward real action to combat climate change? Such an intelligent response to such a disastrous change in the weather would at least give the many thousands of victims of these hurricanes a kind of legacy. We must begin to act to prevent future destruction on such a scale, by tackling the causes of climate change. The unprecedented scale of the disaster that hit New Orleans (Hurricane Katrina) should already have made that quite clear.

Now, we EDP writers and readers are fortunate to have on our doorsteps, at the University of East Anglia, the world's premier climatologists. We are less fortunate to live in a part of the country peculiarly vulnerable to climate change. Our crumbling coastline, our low-lying land, our inadequate flood-defences … East Anglians need to be very conscious of the threat that man-made climate change poses to all our futures.

Climate change is in fact the pre-eminent issue - and crisis - of our times. Britain's chief scientist has warned that civilisation may perish virtually everywhere outside Antarctica, within a century, if the crisis is not solved. This is a deeply-shocking state of affairs, almost too big and frightening for the human mind to comprehend. We need radical and co-ordinated action on a scale greater than the world has ever known, to solve the climate crisis.

In the early stages of this worldwide crisis, a remarkably effective potential worldwide solution has been presented by Aubrey Meyer's Global Commons Institute. It is called 'Contraction and Convergence': contraction of CO2 emissions, to a scientifically-agreed safe level, and convergence of emissions toward the same per capita basis, worldwide.

Contraction and convergence would be equitable: because it is put forward on the basis of the right of each individual to an equal entitlement of the maximum amount of carbon emissions that is consistent with climate safety for all, including for those as yet unborn. It would ensure human survival: because it will be based on the best climate science in drawing up safe emissions levels.

Actually, it will be equitable because it will lead to human survival: insufficiently radical action to counter the threat of climate chaos imposes grossly unfair burdens on those whose lives are threatened by that chaos; especially, our children. And it will lead to human survival because it is equitable: any other deal will be unacceptable either to developed nations (which will ask why they should constrain their own CO2 emissions, if developing nations are not bound to) or to developing nations (which will ask why they should be forbidden development, when it is developed nations who have damaged the world's climate and reaped the economic benefits of having done so).

If any of this sounds too remote or abstract, then just remember: this isn't some academic debate. And it isn't just about people far away of whom we know little. Nor is this even just about your children and grandchildren.

Unless we move now to curb carbon emissions drastically, worldwide, then, next time, it might be us. So isn't it time we adopted a 'Contraction and Convergence' policy, and stopped this man-made climate change, in its tracks?

That's what I'll be saying today, in my keynote speech to a new think tank, the 'Green Economics Institute', who are holding a big conference in Reading this weekend on climate change (http://www.greeneconomics.org.uk/). I hope people are ready to listen: especially, to the boffins at UEA who are leading the way on this all-important issue. We need something of the spirit of the Blitz here: we can only solve this problem if we all pull together. The 'war on Terror' is a sideshow compared to what must become the main attraction: a war on climate change.