Viewpoint by Roberto Savio
The writer is publisher of Other News, an eminent proponent of “information that markets eliminate” and founder of IPS-Inter Press Service News Agency. This article is being reproduced courtesy of Other News with the writer’s permission. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and his articles and comments can be read on Facebook @robertosavioutopia. He warns that while the world is heading for catastrophe, the governments are not taking their responsibility seriously.
ROME (IDN) – The European Union (EU) appears to have decided to scale down its commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change which was adopted by consensus by all the 195 member states of the UN Climate Convention and the EU, and has been ratified by 172.
When Europe’s 28 Environment Ministers met in Brussels on December 20, to discuss the Commission’s plan for reducing emissions, to comply with the Paris Agreement, they decided, with some resistance from Denmark and Portugal, to follow the direction taken by President Donald Trump who has meanwhile withdrawn from the Paris Agreement to privilege American interests – and this without any attention to the planet.
This is one example of narrow national interests taking the upper hand over values and vision. Of course, those alive today will not have to pay the price. Coming generations will be the victims of the emerging and an increasingly inhospitable world.
Few from among those who made solemn pledges in Paris in 2015 on behalf of the entire humankind to save the planet, will be alive 30 years from now, when the consequences will become irreversible – underlining that humans are the only animals who neither defend nor protect their habitat.
Let us analyse the cause of the situation in which our planet finds itself. Firstly, the Paris climate treaty is just a collection of good wishes, without any concrete commitment. Every country sets its own targets, and is responsible for implementation. It’s like asking all citizens of a country to decide how much tax they would like to pay, and leave it to them to comply, without any sanctions whatsoever.
In the run-up to the Paris Agreement, scientists took two decades to conclude with certitude that climate change is caused by human activities, and this despite a strong and well-financed campaign by the fossil fuel industry to contradict them.
The International Panel on Climate Change, an organization under the auspices of the UN – with members are 194 countries and support from more than 2,000 scientists from 154 countries who work together on climate – took them long years since its establishment in 1988 to 2013, to reach a definitive conclusion: the only way to stop the planet deteriorating more rapidly, is to ensure that emissions do not exceed 1.5 centigrade over what was the Earth temperature in 1850.
We started to register temperatures in 1850 with thermometers during the industrial revolution particularly in the second half of the 19th century. So, we could see how coal and other fossil fuels started to interact with the atmosphere. The scientists concluded that if we exceeded the 1850 temperature by 1,5 centigrade, we would irreversibly cross a red line: we will not be able to influence the trend, and climate will be out of control, with very dramatic consequences for the planet.
As far as the 2015 Paris conference is concerned, it was the final act of a process, which started in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, with the UN Conference on Environment and Development. Two of its leaders have meanwhile passed away: Boutros Boutros Ghali and Maurice Strong, who managed the first ever summit of heads of state on the issue of environment.
It is worth remembering that Strong, a man who spent all his life to make environment a central issue, opened up the conference for the first time to representatives of the civil society, beyond governmental delegations. Over 20,000 organizations, academicians, activists came to Rio, laying the foundation stone for the creation of a global civil society recognized by the international community.
In 1997, as a result of the Rio Earth Summit, the Kyoto Treaty was adopted, with the aim to reduce emissions. Nearly two decades since then to Paris, the results were rather modest. Paris was left with an urgent task. According to the World Bank, in 2014 there were 1.017 billion people without electricity; in Africa only 20% of had access to electricity. Experts felt that we should provide them renewable energy, to avoid a dramatic increase of emissions,
Unlike the Kyoto Treaty, Paris was supposed to be really a global agreement. So, to bring as many countries as possible on board – and it’s a little known dirty secret – the UN decided to put as a goal not the strict 1,5 centigrade target, but a more palatable 2 centigrade.
But, unfortunately, the consensus is that we have already crossed 1.5 centigrade. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has estimated that if the Paris commitments are revised, we will be hitting 6 centigrade, an increase that according to the scientific community would make a large part of the earth inhabitable.
In fact, in the last four years we had the hottest summers since 1850. And in 2017 we have had the highest record of emissions in history, because these have reached 41.5 gigatons. Of these, 90% come from activities related to human actions, while renewables (cost for which has now become competitive with fossil fuels), still cover only 18% of the energy consumed in the world.
Another dirty secret is that though we talk about how to reduce the use of fossil fuels, we are doing just the opposite. At this very moment, we spend 10 million dollars per minute, to subsidize the fossil industry.
Direct subsidies range between 775 billion U.S. dollars to 1 trillion, according to the UN. The official figure for just the G20 countries is 444 billion. But this is not the total figure: the International Monetary Fund has accepted the economists’ view that subsidies are not only cash: it is the use of the earth and society, like destruction of soil, use of water, political tariffs (the so-called externalities, costs external to the budget of the companies). If we include these costs, we reach the staggering amount of 5.3 trillion U.S. dollars: they were 4.9 trillion in 2013. The use of fossil fuel costs governments, society and planet earth 6.5% of the global Gross National Product.
The news media have not reported this. Only a few know the strength of the fossil fuel industry. President Trump wants to reopen the mines, not only because that brings him votes by those who lost an obsolete job, but also because the fossil fuel industry is a strong backer of the Republican Party. The billionaire Koch brothers, the largest owners of coalmines in the U.S., have declared that they spent 800 million dollars in the last electoral campaign.
Some might say: these things happen in the U.S. but according to the highly respected Transparency International, there are over 40,000 lobbyists in Europe, working to exercise political influence. The Corporate Europe Observatory, which monitors the financial sector, found out that in Brussels alone it spends 120 million dollars year, and employs 1,700 lobbyists. It also found out that they violated regulations, lobbying more than 700 organizations, which outnumbered trade unions and civil society organizations, by a factor of seven.
The power of the fossil fuel industry explains why in 2009 governments helped the sector with 557 billion dollars, and only with 43 to 46 billion dollars to all renewable industry, according to the International Energy Agency estimates.
Obviously, citizens have no idea that a part of their money is going to keep alive, with good profits, a sector which is well aware that it plays a key role in the destruction of our planet – a sector that knows well that they are now emitting 400 particles of CO2 per million, when the red line was considered 350 particles PM. A spectacular feast of hypocrisy is going on.
The UN, in 2015, conducted an extensive poll, with the participation of 9.7 million people. They were asked to choose as their priorities six themes out of 16. Climate change was on top. The first preference of 6.5 million respondents was “a good education”, the second and third of over 5 million were “a better health system” and “better opportunities for work”.
The last of the 16 themes, attracting less than 2 million, was “climate change”. This order of preferences was also chosen by the least developed countries, which are going to be the major victims of climate change. From among 4.3 million participants from the least developed countries, 3 million preferred chose education as a priority; climate change ranked last, with 561,000 votes. Not even in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, islands that could disappear, was climate change the first priority. This is ample proof that people do not realize where things stand, namely at the threshold of the survival of our planet, as we have known it for several thousand years.
So, if citizens are not aware, and therefore not concerned, why should the politicians be? The answer is because they are elected by citizens to represent their interests, and they can make more informed decisions. How does this ring in your ears? With lobbyists all over fighting for interests, what can be better sold as jobs and stability?
Let us come to the last dirty secret, to show how far we are from really addressing climate change. A very important issue that has even been discussed in Paris is that the agreements are entirely about the reduction of emissions by the fossil fuel industry. Other emissions have been left out entirely.
A new documentary, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, produced by Leonardo di Caprio, has analysed data gathered by vegans on the impact of animals on climate change. Though the data is considered somehow exaggerated, its dimensions are so huge that these add anyhow another nail in our coffin.
Animals emit not CO2, but methane which is at least 25% more damaging than C02. There is recognition by the UN, that while all means of transportation, from cars to planes, contribute 13% of emissions, cows’ share is 18%.
The real problem is the use of water, a key theme that we have no way to address in this article. Water is considered even by military strategists to be soon the cause of conflicts, as petrol has been for a long time.
One pound of beef uses 2,500 gallons of water. That means that a hamburger is the equivalent of two months of showers! And to have 1 gallon of milk, you need 100 gallons of water. People worldwide, use one-tenth of what cows need. Cattle use 33% of all water, 45% of the earth, and are the cause of 91% of the Amazon deforestation. They also produce waste – 130 times more than human beings. Pig farming in the Netherlands is creating serious problems because their waste acidity is reducing usable land. The consumption of meat is increasing very fast in Asia and Africa; it is considered a sign of reaching the level of rich societies.
Beside this serious impact on the planet, there is also a strong paradox of sustainability for our human population. We are now 7.5 billion people, and we will reach soon 9 billion. The total food production worldwide could feed 13 to 14 billion people. A considerable part goes wasted, and does not reach people. But the food for animals could feed 6 billion people. And we have one billion people starving. This is a proof of how far we are from using resources rationally for the people living on earth. We have enough resources for everybody, but we cannot administer them rationally. The number of obese has reached the number of those starving.
The logical solution in this situation would be to reach an agreement on global governance, in the interest of the planet of humankind. But in practice we are going in the opposite direction. The international system is besieged by nationalism, which makes it increasingly impossible to reach meaningful solutions.
Let us conclude with a last example: overfishing. It is now two decades that the World Trade Organization (which is not part of the UN, and was built in contrast to the UN) tries to reach an agreement on overfishing with mega nets that scoop up an enormous quantity of fish: 2.7 trillion, of which they keep only one fifth, and they throw back four-fifth.
At the last WTO conference on December 13 in Buenos Aires, governments were again not able to reach an agreement on how to limit illicit fishing. Big fishing is now down at 10% of 1970. And we are exploiting one-third of all stocks. It is estimated that illegal fishing puts between 10 billion and 23 billion on the black market, according to a study by 17 specialized agencies, with a full list of names. And again, governments spend 20 billion dollars per year to finance the increase of their fishing industry – another example of how vested interest takes an upper hand over common good.
I think now we have enough evidence, to realize the inability of governments to take their responsibilities seriously, though they have the necessary information that we are on way to disaster.
In a normal world, Trump’s declaration that Climate control is a Chinese hoax, and it is invented against the interest of the United States, should have caused a greater global reaction. Also, because while Trump’s domestic policies are an American issue, climate change is affecting all the 7.5 billion on the planet. Trump was elected by less than a quarter of eligible voters: nearly 63 million. It’s too small a number authorising Trump to take decisions which affect the entire humankind.
European ministers are following the maxim, as a proverb says, Money speaks while Ideas Murmur. There are indeed many who are preparing to speculate on climate change. Now that we have lost 70% of the ice of the North Pole, the maritime industry is gearing to use the Northern Route, which will cut cost and time by a 17%.
And the British wine industry, since the warming of the planet, is increasing production by 5% each year. The UK is already producing 5 million bottles of wine and sparkling wines, which are all sold.
We have all seen, to no avail, the rising number of hurricanes and storms, in Europe too, and a record spread of wildfires. The UN estimates that at least 800 million people will be displaced by climate change making several parts of the world uninhabitable. Where will they go? Not to the United States or Europe, where they are seen as invaders.
We forget that the Syrian crisis came after four years of drought (1996-2000), which forced over a million peasants to flee to the towns. The ensuing discontent fuelled the war, with 400,000 dead and six million refugees meanwhile. It will be too late when citizens awake to the damages under way. Scientists expect this to become a reality in thirty years from now.
So why worry now about what is a problem for the next generation, while corporations continue to make money until the last minute, with the complicity of governments and their support? Why not ride the climate change tide, buy a good bottle of British champagne, drink it on a luxury Polar cruise, and let the orchestra play – as they did on the Titanic until the last minute? [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 December 2017]
Photo Credit: climate.nasa.gov
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