Kennedy Graham

“Rivers in the Sky” – the political dimension of Warsaw

by Kennedy Graham

Every UN climate conference, when the diplomats are negotiating the future of the planet in the back-rooms and the political leaders are jawboning about it in the plenary halls, a different gaggle of creatures congregate to explore the same issue –albeit with a shade more personal freedom than is tolerated in the adjacent rooms.

This is GLOBE – a group of MPs around the world formed about 20 years ago to promote sustainable development and combat climate change.   I was involved a bit with its beginning, and am now a member.

Today they had their annual meeting in the wings of the conference.  GLOBE reckons that, in the absence of international progress, fighting climate change will depend on effective national legislation from all countries.  So they have compiled studies along these lines, and it is encouraging stuff.

There are, to date, 205 pieces of domestic legislation in 33 countries.  Most of them have what they call a flagship Act that sets out the context of a country’s climate policy for the rest of its law and regulations.  This includes developing countries as well – Bangladesh, China, and others.

The Europeans, of course, are ahead in the game.  They are on track to exceed their target of 20% reductions by 2020 (New Zealand’s will be about 25% increase), mainly because of energy efficiency improvements.  They are now going for a 2030 target, with EC proposal in January and final decision before mid-’14.  Their main problem at present is in reform of their ETS, with back-loading a priority.   The EU is still reducing emissions despite financial difficulties and unemployment at 26 million.  They see the future still as an opportunity for green jobs.

China spoke about the need for mutual trust in the UN climate negotiations.  They didn’t say as much, but the unspoken message was, the North needs to acknowledge historical responsibility and per capita differentiation.  China was developing a national Climate Change Strategy for the period 2014 to ’20.  It had low-carbon development plans in 122 cities and pilot carbon trading schemes in seven provinces, as a prelude to a national scheme.

China was treated to a fascinating discussion, mainly among Europeans, on the merits of a trading scheme versus a carbon tax.

But it was David Cadman, for the World Mayors’ Council on Climate Change, who galvanised the room.  He spoke of what was being done by local councils in recent years – the Cancun Adaptation Charter, the Nantes Declaration, and other initiatives.  Warsaw seemed to be focusing positively on the potential for cities and councils to become active on climate policy.

Just as well.  For the world is in for it, in the course of the 21st century.  It is not only the atmosphere that is warming up – the ocean is absorbing more heat, and that is what is giving rise to the latest super storms.

Mr Cadman recalled the latest storm to hit Calgary, not far from his native Vancouver.  Calgary had a flood five times greater than a 100-year flood.  The reason, said a climate scientist, was the intensive accumulation of moisture now gathering in the atmosphere around the world.  There are now, said the expert, ‘rivers of water in the sky’ as the atmosphere absorbs more and more water.  Then the cloud bank hits a mountain and the earth below is subject to torrents.

That is why, said Mr Cadman, 2°C is critical to any semblance of a half-decent life.