Mike Rigby, CEO, The Original Carbon Company
So COP15 Copenhagen is over and what is there to show for it? Precious little according to prominent environmentalists. The likes of Jonathan Porritt and Greenpeace have been out in force in the Western media decrying the paucity of achievement at Copenhagen. Despite the most robust scientific evidence, the world’s political leaders have come away with the most flimsy ‘agreement’ that it was possible to assemble after almost 20 years of talks, two years of the post-Bali roadmap and two weeks of intensive face to face negotiations. The post-COP fallout has started in earnest with Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband launching scathing attacks on China’s perceived hijacking of the talks – leaving plenty of ruffled feathers for the older Miliband to smooth over at the Foreign Office. Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the UN, talks of limited progress having been made and the need to move to a legally-binding treaty with specific caps in 2010. But why should another few months, or even years, of further negotiations make any difference? What is going to happen in 2010 to put the process back on track? Well, Obama may finally get to tame Congress on the issue of climate change but given that the Senate is the oil and gas industry’s poodle, that seems unlikely, especially when even Senators from his own side bellow loudly about the ‘fraud’ of man-made climate change. And even if Obama is successful in persuading Congress to redefine the US economy and kick its addiction to cheap oil, how is that going to bring the other great ‘Treaty Destroyer’, China, to heel? It has not been a lack of time that wrecked the Treaty, more a lack of will. And how is that will to be stiffened? Maybe we’ll see an exceptional hurricane season next year but then we had one of those in 2005, culminating in Katrina. Perhaps the price of oil will sky-rocket once again – many commentators are already eyeing $100+ by the end of 2011 as the global economy wakes from its slumber. It’s difficult to see what event or series of events will occur next year or even the year after to shift the world’s big emitters from their current stubborn positions.
Ultimately, it seems, the task of addressing climate change looks as though it will need to be norne by us all as individuals, companies and organisations. Our Governments are not going to dig us out of this one. Judging by the very slow pace of change in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (at least they’re shrinking!) it appears that collectively we are still doing very little to address our contributions to climate change. According to Greenpeace, the UK has 600 million lightbulbs of which only 20% are of the energy-saving variety. This despite the fact that you can pick them up in supermarkets for less than a quid. We all know that they generally take a little longer to come to full brightness and that they dim over their lifetime but if we (well 80% of us) can’t even accept this small inconvenience then what hope is there that we’ll be able to address some of the bigger changes needed over the next 30-50 years?
We’re all going to have to look at how we live. Sure, change your incandescent bulbs to CFLs – it helps – but we need to look at the way we work – more working from home, less long-distance commuting, fewer flights. We need to consider purchasing more fuel efficient cars. The Society of Motor Manufacturer and Traders reports that efficiency has shot up the list of key factors in the process of deciding which vehicle to buy, which is a positive sign; we need to use our cars less. The Government’s Bolier Scrappage scheme can be used to ditch older, inefficient boilers when it launches shortly. We all need to think about what we can do over Christmas and the New Year and implement as many of the changes as quickly as we can. And we can all lobby our employers too. Huge carbon savings can be made by firms and orgainsations that address their contributions to climate change by auditing their impacts and implementing plans to minimise energy use. And it makes good business sense too. There are plenty of organisations out there in your area (like The Original Carbon Company) that will help firms achieve this.
The conspiracy-theorist in me (he’s only tiny, but nevertheless there!) wonders if UK politicians really care about the issue. After all, the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) in 2009 ranked the UK as one of the countries least at risk from climate change (155 of 166) so what do we care? But that doesn’t square with the numerous reports of the huge efforts made by Brown, Miliband and the UK team at Copenhagen, and before, to secure a deal that may ultimately be more for the benefit of other nations than our own. And while our population may be more secure than most in a warmed world, the pressure on immigration, legal and illegal will become intense, if only within the EU, as parts of Italy, Spain, Greece and maybe even France become uninhabitable; Britain is going to look mighty attrractive to many desperate people.
So, time to stop believing that our leaders will save us from climate change – they won’t. Only we can save ourselves now. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us know plenty of things that we could do to cut our GHG emissions but we succumb to the dangerous human frailty – procrastination – and put those decision off for another day. It’s time to change – do it this Christmas.
The difficulty in the wake of COP15, as I suggested in my last posting here, is that the failure of the world’s leaders will persuade huge numbers of people that the issue can’t really be that serious. If an asteroid was heading towards the planet and, after a conference of world leaders, they couldn’t decide whose missiles to launch at it and ended up doing nothing, we’d all assume that they secretly knew it was going to miss us. The same is true with climate change; if they can’t agree, it can’t be a serious problem and all those that billed the conference as the ‘Last Chance to Seal the Deal’ and save the planet oversold their case. It will take some time (that the planet doesn’t have) before the politics can be repaired. So, time to fix the problem ourselves; it will be more difficult without political leadership, but not impossible…