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Filtering out the climate-change BS Add to ...

The issue is polarized and the subject complex. Plus we live in a world of political spin. But here's a good start in filtering out climate-change truths from untruths - however inconvenient that separation may be for some people and interests.

There aren't many reporters in Canada who can rival the expertise of Louis-Gilles Francoeur on this issue. The paper for which he writes, Le Devoir, assigns high priority to the subject in its pages. And Le Devoir's readers are probably the most committed group of Canadians you'll find in favour of taking effective action against climate change.

Which is why, on Monday, Mr. Francoeur's brutally honest wrap-up on the just-completed Cancun climate change conference caught my eye:

"The Cancun agreement will eventually be recognized as the decisive turning point when all countries - small and large, rich and poor - responded to the imperative of de-carbonizing their economies in order to reduce greenhouse gases generated by human activity. Not all at the same speed, but all in the same boat, rowing together as much as possible. Environmental groups won't admit it: As with UN officials, they dreamed in ten years of joining together the 'parallel tracks' of Kyoto and the Convention that the United States was proposing. Nor will they acknowledge - other than perhaps grudgingly - that it was the insistence of 'foot-dragging' countries like the U.S., Japan, Canada and others in the umbrella group, who threatened to drop out of the process, that brought about the unexpected unity at Cancun."

On Friday, writing in the Independent - a paper that has virtually campaigned on the issue of climate change - Michael McCarthy penned some equally disarming words for those on the other side of this often polarized debate:

If you are a climate sceptic and you do not think global warming is real, man-made and a mortal threat to us, which must be tackled …Cancun was all a waste of time and money, a giant and fatuous junket in the sun for government officials and ministers. Discussion may also be limited if climate change seems so far in the future that it is no concern of yours, and it may be difficult if you feel that addressing climate change is going to be prohibitively expensive. … But consider: who does think that it is real, man-made and a mortal threat which must be urgently addressed, as detailed in the most recent report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? The answer: all the governments of the world.

The synthesis of the IPCC's fourth report was endorsed at a meeting in Valencia on 17 November 2007, without qualification, by every government, including the administration of George W Bush, the US President and climate sceptic supreme (even he could not find the scientists to rubbish it) and since then, despite the tiny handful of errors dug out from the report's 2,500 pages and trumpeted by the sceptic lobby, no government has resiled from its endorsement.

So what do you say to that if you're a sceptic? That you're the one walking in step, while all the governments of the world have got it wrong? That's what they used to say about flying saucers. If we accept, then, the warming threat as real, man-made and urgent, what are we to do about it? The only thing we can do is cut the emissions of the greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, which are causing it. How do we do that? Let everybody do as much or as little as they want, if they want? Or try to do it together in an organised, fair and scientifically appropriate way? There can surely be little argument that the latter course is preferable and that, in fact, is what has been happening since the signing of the UN's Climate Convention in 1992.

What is hardly appreciated at all, however, is just how maddeningly, exhaustively and impossibly difficult this process, the UN multilateral climate change negotiating process, really is. It is the most complex negotiation in human history, far overshadowing other such interchanges in its convolution. Congress of Vienna? Kid's stuff. Treaty of Versailles? Piece of cake, by comparison.

Here you have 194 countries all with vastly different domestic agendas and pressures, all with widely-diverging self-interests, who might have trouble agreeing on the colour of an orange, and you're asking them to shelve all that and sing from the same, vastly complicated song sheet. It is barely conceivable that it can be done at all, and in Copenhagen last year, essentially because of an argument between rich and poor countries about who should take on what, it fell apart.

Cancun put it back together. …There are now pledges to cut carbon emissions from all the major countries in the world, as part of the UN process. They're nothing like sufficient to halt the warming at the danger zone of 2C above the pre-industrial level - keep your hair on, we all know that, they only go about 60 per cent of the way - but they're there now, and they will be improved on.

 

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