There will probably be some kind of agreement at Copenhagen. It’s hard to imagine all those world leaders walking away without one. However I’m not spending anytime at all wondering what the result will be. Why? Because it just doesn’t matter.
You see we’re not ready to fix climate change, not yet. We have not accepted the scale of the problem. Nor have we established the political conditions necessary to fix the problem when we do. However Copenhagen does signify the shift between two eras and if you watch carefully you can see the new world emerging. That is the interesting thing happening at Copenhagen.
But before I move on to that, let me go back, because most of you are probably stuck on my statement that the result at Copenhagen doesn’t matter. Isn’t this the most important meeting in history? Surely failure here will set us back a decade? Surely having a global agreement of any type would be an important first step? No, no and no. Here’s why.
Firstly, it was always going to be a failure because the pass mark set in this important test for civilisation is actually at a level that indicates failure. The correct pass mark is simple. We need to deliver a safe climate; a climate in which we can have a reasonable chance of running an economy that can feed, house and clothe 7 – 9 billion people. As my favourite climate strategist Winston Churchill said:
“It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”
The science is very straightforward on what is necessary. The 450ppm CO2 concentration limit, which is the best possible result Copenhagen is aiming for, would give us a 50% chance of not passing 2 degrees of warming. Even reaching 2 degrees would almost certainly see the loss of the Great Barrier Reef, the melting of most of the world’s sea-ice, a number of island countries ceasing to exist and shifts in climate and water supplies that will lead to war, refugees and global food crises. This is all considered to be relatively manageable! The logic of that conclusion aside, what we also know is that going beyond 2 degrees takes us into system breakdown territory and quite possibility into unmanageable consequences. We then risk civilisation’s collapse.
So the best we can possibly hope for in Copenhagen is a target of 450ppm, which gives us a 50% chance of widespread global ecological damage, geopolitical instability and massive human suffering – that would be the good result under that plan. The other 50% chance is of a civilisation-threatening crisis. So 450ppm is failure, pure and simple. And besides the likelihood of a strong global agreement to a 450ppm target is miniscule anyway. We’re not even ready for that level of failure.
Nevertheless, Copenhagen is fascinating because all the ingredients for change are emerging and can be clearly observed. As I argued in the One Degree War paper I wrote with Jorgen Randers, we will soon wake up to what is needed and get to work. Here’s my top 4 trends we’re seeing in Copenhagen that tell us where we’ll go when we are ready.
No one is in charge. The US no longer rules the world. China knows it and Obama knows it. While it remains the world’s dominant military power, you can’t shoot CO2 emissions, making that power useless against this problem. China is on the rise and this week a China/US deal is the likely first step if we’re to have any deal at all. That however is just the beginning of a massive geopolitical power shift, because China and the US are only 50% of global emissions. We are moving to a world we’re we act together or go down together. There is no alternative that will work and that is a seriously transformational and beneficial shift.
Angry Islanders. Like a scene from the 1976 movie Network, a group of island states is yelling at the world “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more”. They’ve woken up to the reality their countries are literally underwater at around 450ppm. They are angry, articulate and thanks to the modern connected world we’re going to hear a lot more from them. This is the world’s conscience and they’re telling us loud and clear “your cars and coal are killing my country.” It’s like an invisible army slowing destroying them, every building, every farm, every business. The significance here is not the islanders but the idea : those who caused the pollution will be held to account by the victims of it. This means global justice is firmly on the table.
The science won, the sceptics lost. Despite the media’s fascination with the scientific debate no-one with any power or sense is questioning the science any more. In the end facts rule and that’s why the Angry Islanders are saying 350ppm is the right target. We should now completely ignore the sceptics and let them whip themselves into a frenzy of self-delusion as they fade into being crazy old men (yes men, how many prominent women sceptics have you heard from?)
A dot com boom on steroids with military support. Winning or losing is a choice and China is now clearly winning the green energy race. The USA is shifting on climate because they know they’re losing and they hate that. India is chasing China’s tail and South Korea and many others are closing in. This will be an exciting time as governments increasingly panic about the targets they have agreed to and act to mobilise the market like never before. HSBC says this will be a $2 trillion per annum market by 2020.
So whether we get a political agreement in Copenhagen or not just doesn’t matter. But if you want to see the future then take good look for a taste of what’s to come. You see we will, certainly and inevitably, wake up. Not yet, but soon. Then the fun really begins.