Thursday, 15 December 2011

Season's greetings

‘Tis the season to be jolly’….or as they say in politically correct Singapore, where I am now, the ‘gifting season’. But is there a lot to be merry about? Well, the Durban package has been secured against the odds after a marathon session. Even the big three carbon emitters, US, India and China, have signed up to a form of treaty by 2015 (to be in place by 2020 at the latest). And for the ‘keen’ countries such as the UK and the EU, the Kyoto protocols are rolling over with some substantial investment cash available too.

Obviously the South African foreign minister, H.E. Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, COP 17/CMP7 Conference President, has diplomatic skills beyond anyone in the Euro zone conference! It is a great achievement to keep the show on the road and hold all nations together. But as many campaign groups, including Save the Children and Greenpeace said afterwards, it could be seen as a crime that the main proposals are so delayed. So, is it a season to be full of cheer? Well, it is a reality that developing countries are unlikely to give up their desire to reach similar levels of prosperity as ‘the West’without a fight. We will probably have to get to the brink and look over the edge before everyone gets fully committed. But there is progress and this may slow down warming enough to make it a soft descent not a crash landing!

Durban is an important step in our global green path, especially as so many expected failures. It keeps the door open between stakeholders, and it keeps the conversation going. Actions can still happen, international collaborations can still emerge; you never know how the journey will progress. It also keeps everyday citizens feeling like there is hope, and that they have something of an involvement. Let’s see what happens, countries have the chance to be leaders, drafters have the chance to produce elegant and popular policies and stakeholders have a chance to remain engaged.

Perhaps the real Christmas message is the continued commitment of individuals, families, companies and communities. So the gifts we choose to buy matter. How we celebrate, how we travel and what we do with the detritus of celebrations, matters. The holiday season gives us something very precious in our hurried lives – time; time to think about the future, the state of the world and our hopes and fears.

David Jackman

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The ire of islands

With COP17 drawing to a close this week, we need to ask what agreements have been reached to avoid the disastrous future impacts of climate change. Global warming will affect nations in different ways, with island states being hardest hit. These nations emit less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet because of their geographic locations, they are have the greatest risk of experiencing the effects of rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Climate change is expected to result in a variety of environmental, social, and economic effects on island states, including:
·         Threats to natural habitat for some of the most biologically diverse areas of the world.
·         Loss of habitable and agricultural land and loss of livelihoods.
·         Coastal erosion.
·         Destruction of coral reefs.
·         Increased intensity and frequency of tropical storms and other natural disasters.
·         Decreased food and water security.
·         Adverse impacts on human health.
·         Loss of sovereignty and cultural identity.

While each island state has laid out plans to adapt to rising sea levels, some nations are better equipped to cope with climate change than others. But the ultimate question we should be asking is why these nations have to make plans without the assistance of the nations that produce the most emissions? Many island countries have openly criticised industrial nations for failing to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions, as the plight of rising sea levels on these states was highlighted as early as 1989.

So, why has there been no major action, and what will COP17 achieve in the long-run? Will the future bring relief for states like the Maldives, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands or will these states be in deep water?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Changing fortunes?

This month may not have been a good one for ‘green’ causes. The Duke of Edinburgh described wind farms as utterly useless, and thereby gave focus to a great deal of dissent about the ‘growing army of monster structures marching over the landscape’. Growing disillusionment is emerging, for example, in The Economist, about the prospects for Rio + 20. As politicians focus on domestic and financial needs, there is more talk about growth than sustainability, and much vaunted infrastructure projects, including airports and larger roads. The visibility of a carbon tax, pioneered in Australia, is receding. ‘Cost’ and ‘cutting’ are the buzzwords, economic forecasts cry out for austerity.

So, does this mean that the tide is turning?

Is ‘green’ a luxury we can’t afford? Actually I don’t think so. There will always be a group of climate change deniers, probably until the sea boils, but they don’t necessarily represent broader public opinion. The understanding of environmental capacity has sunk deep into the psyche of most of us. The questions now could come of value and cost. A few years ago this seemed to be sufficient prosperity to subsidise research and development of green technologies. Thank goodness. But now we have to make tough choices: we can’t have it every way. Sustainability has to fight his corner – but this is good because the arguments become stronger and solutions more realistic. green24 exists to help and inform this vital debate in every quarter of the economy and society.

The important questions are questions about shared values and a changing vision of what prosperity and wealth looks like on a global scale. These are questions of purpose, not technology. John Ruskin, that famous Victorian reformer, who, incidentally, lived a few miles from my home, concluded that ‘there was no wealth but life’ in his critique of Adam Smith entitled ‘Unto This Last. It is worth a read, and he is very relevant to today’s situation. On a very human scale, environmental management and sustainability cannot simply be a cost. Ruskin saw that and practically experimented in ways of bringing creativity together with care for the environment, way before anybody talked about organic farming.

We need to think very carefully about what we see as wealth, and cost and profit. Cost as function of supply and demand will be hugely affected by the way developing countries respond. Here there are promising signs, in Brazil, in India and to some extent in China too. There is a balancing act to be struck and cost is not the right word to use.

David Jackman