Breakdown, A Degree of Difference

As world leaders leave Copenhagen this weekend after the COP 13 international climate conference they must now prepare for the onslaught of attention and lobbying by corporate advocacy and anti-government organizations awaiting them upon their return home.

While heads of state and elite bureaucrats spent the last 14 days debating environmental policy and promoting national economic agendas - private interest groups and organizations were gearing up massively funded public relations campaigns in order to sway public opinion and force politicians to roll back their environmental rhetoric and get back to business as usual. Prominent financial elites and corporations will inevitable reinforce their economic interests, conventions and related power formations by reminding bureaucrats and elected officials who pays for the now requisite multi-million dollar political campaigns at the core of current democratic processes.

These facts have also remained at the fore throughout the historic international conference. Despite large public expressions of concern about the role corporate profit and predatory financial institutions have in driving the economic and industrial practices responsible for accelerated climate change, both the US and Chinese governments - the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases on the planet - have announced only minor "concessions.”

The only remotely interesting “concession” came when U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reported her administration was prepared to help establish funding of $100 billon a year for developing countries if a deal emerged that met U.S requirements. With such conditionalities governmental, corporate and banking elites have decided that spended their way out of potential catastrophic changes in the Earth’s climate is the only prefered choice.

Only a few leaders from European nations were willing to put forth an effort to move toward an agreement. Denmark's Lars Lokke Rasmussen called late-night talks with a group of 26 influential world leaders about how to unblock negotiations. However, disagreement between all nations about funding projects that actually attempt to decrease, mitigate or adapt to climate change continued. Advisors and aides continued working on a political agreement throughout the night and morning after leaders walked away from the meetings with little resolved. Referring to his staff as “Sherpas”, Rasmussen indicated to the press that politicians have tried to advance their main issues and then let the technocrats provide the language and terms of any final agreements.

Those close to the late night talks between national politicians and “sherpas” indicate that the current draft declaration is reportedly set to suggest attempts to prevent the earth's temperature from increasing 2C. Yet, a document simultaneously prepared by the UN climate convention secretariat, leaked earlier this week, confirms that current pledges on cutting greenhouse gas emissions by major industrial nations during the talks are almost certainly not enough to keep the rise in the global average temperature within this proposed 2C level.

The analysis - based on several recent studies, notably the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook - reports that limiting temperature increase to 2C would require global emissions to be below 44 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2020. Current maximum pledges from developed countries would leave emissions 1.9Gt above that figure, but minimum pledges would mean missing the target by more then 4.2Gt - with a related temperature rise around 3C (5.4F).

The Earth's average temperature has increased about 1 degree Fahrenheit during the 20th century. One degree may sound like a small amount, but it's an unusual event in our planet's recent history. Earth's climate record - preserved in tree rings, ice cores, and coral reefs - shows that the global average temperature has been stable over long periods of time. Furthermore, data suggests, small changes in temperature correspond to enormous changes in planetary ecosystems. For example, at the end of the last ice age, when the Northeast United States was covered by more than 3,000 feet of ice, average temperatures were only 5 to 9 degrees cooler than today.

Therefore a rise in temperature of 3 degrees Celsius is projected to generate intense changes in all of earth's ecosystems and severely test the capacity of many cities, towns and regions to adapt and adjust. Such changes are likely to include increased frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves, deforestation, drought in some places and massive flooding in others, global fresh water shortages, overwhelming mass migrations of people leaving affected areas, and catastrophic biodiversity loss.

With nations pledging to do the absolute minimum in order to maintain conventional economic systems, and preserve the interests of multi-national corporations and financial elites, the climate is expected to reach several degrees above a global average temperature necessary to sustain requisite ecological stability. While national elites and corporate argue over differences in opinion with regard to minor concessions the scientific community continues to indicate that much more serious regulations and actions will be required if we are to prevent devastating changes in the Earth’s climate.

It now seems that while our differences may divide us as a species, the significant ecological and political challenges we are creating for future generations with will most certainly unite us.

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