2012 is the year the climate changed. I’m not talking about extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy, the Arctic sea ice melt or flooding in Venice.
I’m talking about the climate in the corridors of power at the CIA and the World Bank, the International Energy Agency and some of the biggest consultancies in business, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Alarms are finally ringing in the offices of the bureaucrats and “conservative” businessmen.
Despite this, the United Nations climate talks in Doha (COP 18) threaten to be another round of brinkmanship between the so-called global north and south, developed and developing nations, with each waiting for the other to blink – and no one taking leadership.
Meanwhile, extreme weather events, the record Arctic sea ice melt and catastrophic warnings from unusual suspects continue to pile up like bits of Boardwalk in the wake of “Superstorm” Sandy.
COP 18 comes at the end of year that has seen the impacts of climate change hit hard around the world.
The US suffered its worst drought in half a century and Hurricane Sandy killed at least 250 people in the Caribbean and the US. Record flooding was seen in Beijing, Manila and across the UK. Deadly floods in the Black Sea area of Russia killed at least 171 people.
In India, the worst monsoon floods in a decade hit the north-eastern state of Assam, killed more than 80 people and forced around 2 million from their homes. Drought in the Sahel threatened millions with hunger.
The annual death toll worldwide from climate change is estimated to be at least 150,000.
The CIA says that climate change could lead to “geopolitical destabilisation”. The World Bank says a world where temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius “must be avoided” and its President, Jim Yong Kim, recently remarked: “It is my hope that this report shocks us into action”.
PwC, meanwhile, reported that even if we doubled our efforts to address climate change the world would still be on course for a 6 degree rise in average temperature by the turn of the century.
Of course, these institutions have only taken the first step – we need them to take action not just issue statements. The CIA needs to tell Congress that the key to US security isn’t getting off foreign oil. It’s getting off all oil, as soon as possible.
The World Bank needs to stop financing coal power plants that make their clients’ problems worse and turn their attention to investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The IEA needs to tell the world that the discussion shouldn’t be about whether we can afford to build a thousand new coal plants. It should be about how quickly we can turn off the ones we already have.
Faced with these threats to homes, communities, economies and indeed lives, governments in Doha will be put to the test as to whether they are willing and able to take action to protect their people.
Halting forest destruction
Will they agree to adopt a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol? Will they eliminate the “hot air” surplus of emissions allocations? Will they sign up to ambitious targets for cutting emissions before 2020 and set a course for a Fair Ambitious and legally Binding (FAB) deal in 2015?
Will finance be made available to help developing countries transform their economies to clean energy and to adapt to the climate change impacts that are already unavoidable? Will a framework be established that provides finance for forest protection, sets targets for halting forest destruction and includes safeguards for biodiversity and the rights of indigenous peoples?
These decisions will set the course for the coming years.
In Doha we will take whatever progress we can get – an agreement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and, if we’re lucky, some funding for forest protection.
To be honest, COP 18 is once more likely to see civil society trying to breathe life into the corpse of Copenhagen, calling once more for the FAB deal the world so desperately needs, while the government delegates wander the air-conditioned corridors of a cavernous conference centre echoing with empty promises.
Doha is already infamous for dead-end trade talks. One more failure and it will be forever known as the place where global deals go to die. Instead, what we need to see is a signal, a sign of life, that all governments really understand what is at stake.
We need to see them put people and the planet before the polluters and their profits. We need to see a sign that they are prepared to act accordingly.
Kumi Naidoo is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International.
Follow him on Twitter: @kuminaidoo