The NZ election is out of the way and we are all suddenly busy in Wellington setting ourselves up for the 50th Parliament.
Asset sales, tax reform, benefits, superannuation, debt, the privacy of a public cup of tea – have riveted us for the past month or so – straight after the rugby.
In the Christchurch Press last week, the front page headlines had to do with a murder and the local building enquiry. On page 2 of Section B, a modest-sized article noted that scientists have concluded that dangerous climate change for the planet was now irreversible.
We prefer not to have this kind of news on the main page of our daily newspapers, thank you.
It is two decades since the international community resolved to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would avert dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. This was to be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally, ensuring that food production was not threatened and enabling economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
That was the Rio Earth Summit, and the UN Framework Convention. It set up the skeletal mechanism for effective and timely action through legal obligations – the international community of states, speaking with one voice on behalf of the global community of peoples, each state committed to pursuing its legitimate national interests in pursuit of the collective goal.
Twenty years later, 193 states, squabbling amongst themselves, have failed – the global interest torn to shreds by the mindlessly competitive pursuit of excessive national interests.
This week the 17th conference of the Framework Convention parties opened in Durban. No agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol is in sight. Instead, the conference legerdemain is of a ‘political transition period’, of ‘voluntary national commitments’, ‘muscular bilateralism’, ‘bottom-up action’. The negotiators know, as surely as you and I, that this is self-deception, of humanity, by humanity, for humanity. But they are paid to engage in ‘constructive ambiguity’, innocent of political responsibility – a legacy of 19th-century diplomatic craft.
In June, the IPCC scientists concluded that the average global temperature is set to rise 3.5 degrees C; the sea-level by some 1.25 m. by 2100. What should we care? That’s far off into the future – our grand-children’s dwelling-time on Earth, way beyond our electoral pocket, our personal gaze.
UN officials speak bravely of the fusion, ‘at the border’, between top-down and bottom-up, between legal compulsion and political volition, global objective and national interest.
UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity, Virginia Dandan, is a little more acerbic. The Durban conference, she said, represents a ‘make or break moment for humanity’. Failure to act would greatly damage future environmental negotiations. The world, she said
“…is calling for genuine international solidarity and multilateralism, and for its leaders to take a leap of faith in unison, and as one. There is great need for a radical mind-set change in order to bring back to the negotiating table the time-honoured values of humanity that have been forgotten after decades of market and profit-driven orientation.”
I must forward her comments to our new ministers for climate change, energy and economic development. Perhaps they can draw it to the attention of the Prime Minister. Perhaps he can act quickly and decisively. Perhaps he can persuade other governments to follow suit. Perhaps the problem of climate change can be solved in time. Perhaps I can raise the matter in the House before Xmas – to remind him.