Global warming: nothing to do with human action, an illusion, a minor irritant, a technical problem that can be managed by normal development, or the most serious threat to the world after nuclear war?
It seems that even late in the 21st-century's first decade much of humanity is still living in the turn-of-the-millennium mood that half expects the world to come to an end. We went through it around the year 1,000 CE with all those millenarian sects. This time around, the approach to new year's eve 1999 was filled with febrile predictions of a worldwide computer crash. That didn't happen, but 9/11 kept the atmosphere going. Now, the financial crisis and its end-of-capitalism accompanying score has something of the same feel; and as if that were not enough, the dangers of climate change are an insistent drumbeat behind every public argument.
Krzysztof Bobiński is the president of Unia & Polska, a pro-European think-tank in Warsaw. He was the Financial Times's Warsaw correspondent (1976-2000) and later published Unia & Polska magazine. He writes for European Voice and is an associate editor on the Europe section of Europe's World
Among Krzysztof Bobinski's articles in openDemocracy:
"Democracy in the European Union, more or less" (27 July 2005)
"The European Union's Turkish dilemma" (2 December 2005)
"Belarus's message to Europe" (22 March 2006)
"Poland's populist caravan" (14 July 2006)
"Hungary's 1956, central Europe's 2006: beyond illusion" (27 October 2006)
"European unity: reality and myth" (21 March 2007)
"The Polish confusion" (22 June 2007)
"Europe's coal-mine, Ireland's canary" (20 June 2008)
The other fears remain, and their admixture (jihadism plus nuclear weapons, or economic recession plus democratic rollback, for example) can make the post-millennial mood-music even darker. But with climate change, the finis mundi phenomenon is real, and demands a different order of coordinated, long-term policy-making. This time it's serious.
The European Union is doing its best to stave off the great flood by attempting to build its version of Noah's ark - namely, a programmatic document called the "climate action and renewable energy package". The planned content is as ambitious as the timescale for completion (the end of 2008); it is designed to be so virtuous as to convince the rest of the world to match the carbon-emission reduction commitments the EU proposes to make at the climate-change conferences in Poznan (1-12 December 2008) and Copenhagen (30 November-11 December 2009).
In Europe, it can seem that it rains only to pour. It happened that the financial crisis that had for a time looked as if it might be confined to the United States hit Europe hard a few days before the European Union summit in Brussels on 15-16 October 2008. That issue naturally had to share equal billing at the top of the agenda with the scheduled headline matter - reviewing progress on the climate-change package. European leaders thus found themselves facing two system-challenging phenomena at the same time. A difficult challenge at any time, even more when Europe is beset by a permanent agenda of unresolved items (Russia, energy, enlargement).
Two crises for one
It proved easier to make progress on policy towards the financial turmoil. Gordon Brown, the (previously) embattled British prime minister - not known for his affection for the European Union - was able to use some of the credit he had built in launching a domestic bank-bailout plan to offer the assembled leaders advice about how Europe as a whole might face the crisis in the shorter term. Moreover, Brown had long pushed the idea of convening a major conference designed to look at the whole Bretton Woods system of international governance set up in 1944 and ask whether this model - embodied in the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - needs to be reformed in order to match the problems facing a very different world. This suggestion was adopted at the summit by Nicolas Sarkozy (current holder of the EU as well as the French presidency). All in all, this part of the summit was a further triumph for Gordon Brown.
There was somewhat less vision and more difficulty with regard to the climate-change package. Some countries, including Poland and Italy, have come to see this as a European plot aimed at destroying their industry. Indeed, so far has the debate moved that several European voices seem to have forgotten the core purpose of the EU's climate policy - to cut back emissions of CO2, the main cause of anthropogenic global warming. In face of opposition and threats of veto by the two prime ministers - Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Poland's Donald Tusk - the EU leaders stuck to their timetable to approve the package by December; but it seems inevitable that it will be watered down.
Poland's objections centre on the plan to introduce auctions for permits to emit C02 in 2013. The European commission says this will raise electricity prices in the EU by an average of 20%, but Poland - whose generating system is coal-based - says its domestic prices will increase by as much as 100%. Thus, Poland wants the auction scheme to be phased in to give more time for it to cut emissions; yet meanwhile the country is doing very little to conserve energy or put in place alternative, renewable energy sources.
The contrast in the way the two headline issues were discussed at the summit is marked - in terms both of unity (on finance) versus division (on climate change); and of the absence of debate (certainly in the new member-states like Poland) on climate change about the implications for Europe's relations with the rest of the world and the way the world will need to develop in the aftermath of the most pressing current crises.
This paucity of debate is a pity, for much could have been learned about the inevitable coming negotiation between those member-states which want to weaken the package (and the European commission) and those which want to maintain it. In turn, this will be a dress-rehearsal for the conversation the rich post-industrial countries of Europe are bound to have with "the rest" (led by China and India).
In openDemocracy on Europe, climate change, and financial turmoil:
Dieter Helm, "Europe's energy future: in the dark" (16 January 2007)
Mats Engström, "Europe's green power" (26 March 2007)
John Palmer, "Europe's next steps" (26 June 2007)
Christoph Neidhart, "The Malthusian energy-trap: old Europe, new China" (13 December 2007)
Avinash Persaud, "Europe's financial crisis: the integration lesson" (7 October 2008)
On the European Union side, the Poles and other recent member-states are saying that they need more time to implement the proposals. Those which have coal-based power systems producing more C02 would have to shift to gas or nuclear-power to make a palpable difference in emissions - but that would either strengthen Russia's hand (as a major gas-supplier) or raise the Chernobyl-spectre (which is still strong in east-central Europe).
The other European states have to consider these circumstances. It needs to get the climate package right - for if it doesn't, how can it conduct a credible negotiation with China and India and the rest? These emerging giants see no reason why they should curtail their growth to mitigate the global-warming problem which was produced by the richer countries.
These dilemmas cannot be evaded at the world climate-change conference in Poznan (December 2008) and Copenhagen (November-December 2009). There was a foretaste in a preparatory conference of environment ministers from more than thirty countries in Warsaw on 13-14 October. The meeting was surprisingly amicable. After all, what links environment ministers is their common dislike and mistrust - not of each other, but of their colleagues from their finance / economy ministries. In addition, they share a belief in the climate-change threat and the need to address it; they are divided only over the question of who is going to pay for cleaning up the damage and how much this will cost.
In Warsaw, delegates from western countries pleaded that funds could not come from their budgets. This explains why they said that emissions-trading schemes (ETS) were the only way to raise money - which means the burden of cost will fall either on the power companies or (more likely) on consumers in the polluting countries. The advanced countries and those which don't pollute (but which are already being hit by changes in the weather) were united in asking why ETS schemes were so difficult to implement. The contrast between the financial crisis and the climatic was invoked conveniently here. "It took a few days to find billions to prop up the financial system", said one Warsaw attendee, "but when it comes to the fate of poorer countries then the problems mount".
Gordon Brown is quite right to say that the world's governance of its affairs has to change, and that the post-1945 order has changed so much that new actors such as China and India (as well as Brazil, South Africa, and others) have to be given leading roles. The debate about what to do about climate change (including who is to pay) is in its way an extension of the aid debate. But it is no longer simply a moral issue. If the future of the planet (or at least the low- lying bits of it) is at stake, then political leaders will have to start showing a little more leadership and imagination when talking about the future.
The European summit showed that Europe's leaders can show leadership and imagination when it comes to defending the interests of their voters. But there is still a little way to go when it comes to recognising that the problems Europe and the world faces are all interconnected. Maybe the big global-governance conference before the end of 2008 can help them focus on that one.
It was raining in Addis Ababa when I left, but would it be raining in Wolayita? The spring rains had failed, bringing awful consequences for the people in this remote, beautiful and harsh area. Wolayita is in the far south of Ethiopia, seven hours drive from the capital. It is a part of Ethiopia where people live on the edge at the best of times, and this is one of the worst of times. The energy and ingenuity required to survive in these dry lands is extraordinary, and the courage and endurance of the people who survive here is impressive; but now, they are desperate and overwhelmed.
Despite the early-warning systems put in place by government and NGOs (with support from the one I represent, Concern); despite better reserves of grains; despite the resilience of the farmers and their families - despite all this, the twin evils of drought and soaring food prices have engulfed the people here.
Their reserves of food, resources and energy are exhausted. It is a terrible sight to see a mother who you know has such deep reservoirs of courage - the kind that you or I can only dream of - bow her head and quietly weep, exhausted by her efforts and her despair.
She was sitting on the bed, tenderly holding her small baby close to her under a cotton wrap. I asked if could see the baby; she gently drew back the cover and I saw the wizened infant, his body overwhelmed by malnutrition, his immune system shut down - the consequences of starvation. This tiny, pale baby coughed a dreadful, wheezy, wracking cough - a cough that belonged to a very old man.
I wondered if the baby would last the week, and I am sure his mother also questioned if her loving care and the determined but limited help from the health centre and Concern would pull him though. Pneumonia had attacked him as his body, in desperate survival mode, shut down his immune system.
Lyndall Stein is executive director of Concern, an International NGO headquartered in Dublin. To learn more of Concern's work on Ethiopia and its current emergency appeal, click here
Also by Lyndall Stein in openDemocracy:
"Darfur journal" (18 November 2004)
A saving system
That is what happens when you are malnourished, starved of vital nutrients. Your body closes down unnecessary functions, desperately saving your vital resources to keep your heart and brain going. You will go though many agonising stages, until your body will even begin to digest its own tissues. Starvation will reduce you to a shell, and will reduce a small child very quickly to a silent, limp, passive, sad memory of all that a child should be - laughing, crying, yelling and quietly, happily burbling.
All the children who are acutely malnourished are dreadfully quiet. The nutritionists, nurses and helpers are always cheered by a screaming child - it means they still have some strength, resilience and vital life-force left.
In the next bed was Misrach Shiburu, also deathly quiet. Tending him was his sister, a tiny 15-year-old, who gently brushed the flies away from his face as he lay listlessly on the bed. She was in charge of him; his mother had to stay at home to look after her youngest and could not be with her 5-year-old little boy. Though acutely malnourished, he was getting better and sat up gingerly while we were there, not well enough to cry or smile, but at least able to look around. The team at Duyango Fango felt he would be alright. He was being fed "plumpy-nut", a vitamin-enriched peanut paste which - dense with vitamins, minerals and calories - quickly builds up small children suffering from the effects of food shortages.
In 2004, Concern introduced a new and innovative technique to tackle malnutrition across Ethiopia and other parts of Africa, where food shortages take such a dreadful toll on the health and life-chances of children and mothers. It requires the involvement of the community, the local health system and a remarkable supply-chain and logistics operation, bringing the specialised food for the under-fives and also a special mix of flour, vitamins, sugar and oil which helps feed the other children in the family. This helps to ensure that the plumpy-nut is kept for the little children who are unwell and the most vulnerable, the ones who so desperately need the special paste.
After the pain of seeing Bizunesh Sisay's silent tears, it was a welcome sight watching another baby, not yet so malnourished, grasp the silver packet of plumpy-nut and eagerly lick the nutritious paste. The health workers explained that this baby would improve very quickly.
It had been a complex and difficult job
working with the local government to bring this system into their local health
systems. It took tough negotiations to convince them it would work, and then to
ensure the logistics would be consistent. But now it has made it possible for
us to scale up and, working in collaboration with local structures, treat the
thousands of seriously malnourished people who have began to queue up across
Wolayita - one of the most affected areas in this current food crisis.
Also in openDemocracy on food crises in Africa and beyond:
Simon Roughneen, "Hard to believe your eyes: drought in Kenya and Ethiopia" (15 May 2006),
Carlos Reyes-Manzo, "Ethiopia: digging for blue gold" (2 October 2006),
Anna Husarska, "Water problems in Somalia: a photo-essay" (9 October 2007),
Anna Husarska, "Kenya's displaced people: a photo-essay" (5 February 2008),
Heidi Fritschel "The price of food: ingredients of a global crisis" (9 April 2008),
Amélie Gauthier, "Haiti: empty stomachs, stormy politics" (21 April 2008),
Paul Rogers, "The world's food insecurity" (29 April 2008),
Tony Curzon Price, "The food economy's missing link" (2 May 2008),
Stephan Haggard, Marcus Noland & Eric Weeks, "North Korea: the next famine" (20 May 2008),
Simon Maxwell, "Rome's food summit: a torch passed" (6 June 2008),
Sue Branford, "The world food summit: a lost opportunity" (10 June 2008)
The price of delay
In Shashago I saw a beautiful young woman with huge, limpid dark eyes. She was sitting waiting with her old mother (a rare sight in Ethiopia where life expectancy for women is in the mid-40s). The health worker approached the young woman, gently lifted her sleeve and measured her too slender upper arm. Yes, she was underweight and needed supplementary food, but it would not arrive till the following Wednesday - and today was Friday. He touched her head and said that she had a fever. They had no treatment; antibiotics had to be saved for the smallest and sickest.
I asked to see her twins, their tiny heads topped with brightly coloured home- knitted bonnets. I guessed that they were a few weeks old; she explained that they were five months old. Her old mother was feeding one with a battered old bottle. I asked why, and she explained that she had been unable to feed them as her milk had dried up; this, like her stunted babies, was a consequence of malnutrition. There was no alternative to the borrowed bottle and a feed of sugared water - the luxury of formula-and-clean-water was an impossibility. She desperately pleaded for something, some of the plumpy-nut, but it cannot be used for such young babies. The only hope for her babies would be the delivery of the vitamin-enriched cornmeal, due to be delivered more than half a week away. She was reluctant to leave the modest health centre, despite the workers there explaining that they could not do any more for her now; so this sick, hungry, and desperate woman just stayed seated, summoning up her strength for the long journey home.
She gestured us over when she saw us taking photographs, and pointed at her twins, their still pale and delicate faces wrinkled and yellowish. It was an invitation to photograph them, perhaps knowing how fragile their future was. She had the strength to smile when she saw her twins' image on the digital camera.
She should start to produce breast milk when the supplementary food arrives. It should be there by Wednesday: hopefully the twins will hold on; hopefully the supply chain will hold up; hopefully we can find the money to keep buying the essential life-giving supplies; hopefully we can keep more babies and children alive. But every day is a race to match our budgets to the ferocious daily rises in food prices.
Aine, our warm and experienced country director, a nurse by training and a development expert for over twenty years, has worked in Ethiopia many times since the 1980s. She explained to us the consequence of these price rises. The week before we arrived the price of Famix, the vitamin-enriched supplementary mix, had gone up from $775 on Friday to $915 per metric ton by Tuesday. How do you plan or budget in those circumstances? How do you ensure a steady supply of food supplements when it is a race to get the order down the line from Addis to Wolayita before the next price rise?
Berket Kebele, who is 28, was waiting at our food-distribution centre. His handsome face is drawn and thin. He explained to me his daily regimen: a handful of roasted beans for breakfast; no lunch - despite a four-hour walk each day to get to his field to farm; and for dinner, some corn, washed down with coffee which lessens the hunger-pangs. His small son, Barakal, had the swollen feet and face that are the dreadful signifiers of oedema in kwashiorkor, extreme malnutrition. Others are eating just one "meal" a day: some cornmeal - and nothing else.
"Every life we can"
Why is Wolayita suffering so much? The government is trying. It has introduced a safety-net system - with beans and other basics bring made available to the neediest - but they are overwhelmed. The amounts are not enough, the numbers are out of control, and the failed spring belg rains have done their cruel work. So is the "real" answer: a natural disaster, or climate change; the price rises; the cost of fuel; the spread of bio-fuels; reckless financial gamblers taking a "punt' on basic foodstuffs; or the determination of those in the rich world to protect the cosseted lives and cars which "eat" food as fuel, whilst those small children, who need fuelling, suffer, starve, die?
Whatever the reasons, the responsibility is ours now too. Mulangetti, our passionate and determined programme manager, says to me in Wolayita: "we must save every life we can". From his tiny rented room in the servants' quarters behind the landlord's house in Bedesa, he is working early, staying late, uncomplaining as generators fail, fuel supplies falter, food prices escalate, queues of hungry and desperate people get longer. He, his team, the local health workers and the communities themselves, work so hard, racing against the clock as prices race ahead, to get vital, lifesaving food into the mouths of those hungry babies, those who most desperately need nourishing - and need it now.
The stock response of many campaigners and activists to the sorts of headline announcements that emerge from G8 summits is that the devil is in the detail. Whether the topic is development aid or climate change, their consistently wary advice is: "Read the small print". In the aftermath of the 2008 summit in Hokkaido, Japan, the reverse is true: for although the Japanese government hosts had sought to make climate change a central theme of the gathering, it is the lack of detail in the final summit statement on this issue that bedevils the G8 leaders' approach.
The global food crisis of 2007-08 has propelled governments and international agencies into a series of emergency responses, designed both to meet the needs of desperate citizens in many of the world's poorest countries and to maintain their own authority in face of a surge of popular protest. The flurry of activity and discussion around the issue has tended to deflect attention from the global problems associated with the source of food: water. If the questions of agriculture, land use, supply, distribution and price that lie at the heart of the food crisis are to be addressed, the clouds over the world's water future must also be taken far more seriously (see Paul Rogers, "The world's food insecurity", 24 April 2008).
Mike Muller is professor in South Africa's Witwatersrand University graduate school of public and development management. He is a former director-general of South Africa's department of water affairs and forestry
Mike Muller was invited to CSD16 to address delegates on the issue of improving water management in the face of climate change and other challenges
Also by Mike Muller in openDemocracy:
"A global thirst: water, power and the poor" (10 November 2006)There is a slow evolution of understanding among governments that tackling global development requires an integrated focus in which climate change, poverty and food security are among the constituent parts of a whole rather than separable concerns. It remains to be seen whether the G8 summit in Hokkaido on 7-9 July 2008 will advance policy or mere rhetoric in this respect - and whether the leaders and their advisers will recognise how vital water is in relation to these other topics. If they do, they may find that their capacity to make water part of a global-development strategy has been seriously weakened over the past decades by the way that the resources for its management have been allowed to dwindle.
United Nations member-states are usually too careful to set targets for themselves that may later going to embarrass them. One such target did slip through, however, during late-night negotiations at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002: that all countries should produce integrated water-resource management and water-efficiency plans by 2005.
Three years after the requisite date, the sixteenth annual review of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) found in its May 2008 report that more than half of eighty countries surveyed still had no plan in place. Moreover, many of those that had a plan were not implementing it. Just one more failure of an well-intentioned but impossibly impracticable system of global governance? Yes, but something more.
The problem is that water is a complex subject and its challenges differ widely from one place to another. So there is no generic "roadmap" setting out how water should be managed to contribute to national well-being. This is the precise reason for the initial agreement by countries to design approaches suitable to their particular circumstances.
Something that needs to work is not working. The enormity of the challenge of (for example) sustaining the population of burgeoning cities while producing more food and more energy crops without destroying the natural environment is recognised. It does not take a great deal of technical knowledge to understand that climate change will make this challenge even more acute. The climatic impacts of the increasing use of carbon-emitting energy use include the drying up of rivers and the desiccation of land. This suggests that if energy is the focus for mitigating climate change, water will need to be the focus of adaptation efforts.
The countries who made the WSSD commitment may not have produced the documents promised, but all at least agreed that it was critical to have an integrated approach to the management of the water that underpins so many development projects. A huge amount of work is needed to ensure that competing demands on this limited resource can be balanced.
Also on water, conflict and climate change in openDemocracy:
Stephan Harrison, "Kazakhstan: glaciers and geopolitics" (27 May 2005)
Ian Christie, "When the levee breaks" (2 September 2005)
Ken Worpole, "Living on water: welcome to a shedboatshed world" (14 December 2005)
Simon Roughneen, "Hard to believe your eyes: drought in Kenya and Ethiopia" (15 May 2006)
Ehsan Masood, "The world's thirst" (26 January 2007)
Anna Husarska, "Water problems in Somalia: a photo-essay" (9 October 2007)
He was deserted by his mother at birth and survived by his wits as a literal infant. He begged for food from seedier neighbourhood hangers-on, those scarcely better off than he. He scavenged for meals through rotting garbage in restaurant dumpsters, running between shadows on the precarious New Orleans lakefront. He occasionally trapped a fish which had strayed into the shallows or found a recently dead crab washed up on the shore.
Never make predictions, especially about the future, is a wise piece of advice. But prophecy can also be understood as "suggesting the possible". The possible large-scale consequences of current global trends have been explored in an earlier column in this series (see "A century on the edge, 1945-2045", 29 December 2007). The future imagined, hoped for or feared today may not be so distant, however. What might the world look like only a little more than a decade ahead, in 2020? Here are two scenarios. Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001 - this is his 350th column
2020, future one: an age of insurgencies
This article reports on a Consultation on Democracy and Sustainability held at the Science Museum in London on 18 March 2008. It was convened by the Environment Foundation, the 21st Century Trust and SustainAbility, and was supported by the Esmée Fairbairn FoundationIs democracy necessary for sustainable development - or does it get in the way? The political world is full of evidence that can be used to argue for either view. The lengthy and lively United States presidential competition between Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama has, for example, engaged an unusually high proportion of citizens in debating some of the great issues of the day; it also offers the unprecedented and hopeful spectacle of all three candidates for the presidency acknowledging the vital importance of global climate change.
It might seem a long way from public toilets to the politics of climate change, but there's an important relationship between what is happening to such public spaces and what is happening to the climate. As so often, it is one of the "rich" countries where the notion of the public realm has been most corroded by individualist, marketised ideology - Britain - that provides a vivid illustration of a more general international trend.
There is a new form of climatic determinism on the rise and the allure of this thinking for the naïve or for the mischievous is dangerous. It finds its expression in some of the balder claims made about the future impacts of climate change: 180 million people in Africa to die from hunger; 40% of known species to be wiped out; 20% of global GDP to be lost. But such determinism is perhaps at its most insidious when found in the new discourse about climate (in)security. Here are only five recent examples, among an increasing number:
Dead, they were all dead.
Spring 2006 was marked in New Orleans by the appearance, in patios and yards everywhere, of thick carpets composed of unmoving migratory butterflies, jewelled dragonflies, moths and honeybees.
Jim Gabour is an award-winning film producer,
writer and director, whose work focuses primarily on music and the diversity of
cultures. He lives in New Orleans, where he is artist-in-residence and
professor of video technology at Loyola University.
His website is here
A selection of Jim Gabour's recent articles in openDemocracy:
"This is personal" (23 April 2007)
"Cutting loose" (4 May 2007)
"Mahatma 189" (11 May 2007)
"Undercurrent" (22 June 2007)
"Cry Oncle!"(12 July 2007)
"Lessons in the classics" (6 August 2007)
"The recurring anniversary of wilderness" (28 August 2007)
"Native to America" (26 September 2007)
"Number One with a bullet" (22 October 2007)
"The upper crust" (8 November 2007)
The price of oil is approaching $100 a barrel, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is accumulating faster than the most pessimistic scenarios are predicting, anthropogenic climate change is occurring. The recognition that the world's scientists, diplomats and media gathered at the Bali climate-change summit are arguing over - the necessity of moving beyond dependency on a fossil-fuelled, carbon-emission-based global economy - is becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
Christoph Neidhart is a Swiss writer and journalist based in Tokyo. He was previously a research fellow at Harvard's Davis Center of Russian Studies and (1990-97) Moscow bureau chief of Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche.
His books include Russia's Carnival: The Smells, Sights and Sounds of Transition (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) and Ostsee, das Meer in unserer Mitte (Marebuchverlag, 2003)
Also by Christoph Neidhart in openDemocracy:
"Vladimir Putin, ‘Soviet man' who missed class" (24 October 2006)
"Tokyo's change, Moscow's echo" (28 September 2007)
All eyes are on Bali, where the United Nations conference on 3-14 December 2007 faces a critical test: whether it will set a course towards genuine global action to tackle climate change, or founder on the rocks of rhetoric.
Also on openDemocracy, in partnership with E3G: a new blog - Global Deal - tracks the policy debates and arguments at the Bali climate-change conference on 3-14 December 2007.
Read and respond to David Steven's vivid daily reports and commentary here
Also in openDemocracy on the Bali conference:
Alejandro Litovsky, "The accountability challenge for climate diplomacy" (30 November 2007)
Time is running out. And while talking is key, demonstrating a willingness to take action is desperately urgent. An ambitious, robust and fair deal on climate change will have three key elements:
▪ a firm commitment from the north to push for a 2-degree target, backed up by credible domestic measures
▪ the provision of big developing-country emitters with the technology, investment and incentives to go for low-carbon growth
▪ an increased focus on the problems faced by the poorest countries in adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change.
What this demands, above all, is leadership. True leaders are prepared to go first, to accept responsibilities, and to shoulder blame. True global leaders know that national interests cannot take precedence over getting a global deal that is fair to the very diverse circumstances faced by different countries.
But where is the leadership on climate change?
In 2005, Gordon Brown offered fine language around the heroic challenge of "making poverty history". We need an even stronger stance to match the challenge of global warming, and we need it to be based on more than words and promises.
But much time and energy is being wasted. The tired cliché that China builds a coal-fired power station every week is still being circulated by the media almost every day and used as an excuse not to act. It serves only to make people forget that the industrialised nations have been emitting vast amounts of carbon for more than 150 years.
The setting of a global-warming target involves addressing direct conflicts of interest, between those needing to cut back on greenhouse gases and those suffering the damaging impacts. Countries like Japan and Canada are taking a higher target of global warming, of 3-4 degrees Centigrade - which might seem to make sense for a country in the upper part of the northern hemisphere and, hence, less at risk. Some higher-latitude countries may even gain initially from lower energy requirements for heating and a longer growing season. However, for many developing countries, especially those in the tropics, going above 2 degrees will wreak ever-more devastating consequences. Yet, trying to keep to 2 degrees or below will be hard and require substantial shifts in price and investments immediately.
The world's attention is turning to Bali, Indonesia, for the United Nations climate-change summit on 3-14 December 2007. On the eve of the event, the prospects for an effective climate deal beyond 2012 look uncertain.
Also on openDemocracy, in partnership with E3G: a new blog - Global Deal - tracks
the policy debates and arguments at the Bali
climate-change conference on 3-14 December 2007.
Read and respond to David Steven's vivid daily reports and commentary here
Also in openDemocracy on the Bali conference:
Camilla Toulmin, "Bali: no time to lose" (30 November 2007)
Paul Rogers, "Climate change: a window to act " (22 November 2007)
"Look at those balconies", said Priscilla Fogarty, short, shrill, and solid. Priscilla, brilliantly and unnaturally redheaded, was encased in a polished silver linen suit that looked as unwrinkled and shiny as medieval armour. Her name and corporate logo stood emblazoned on a twenty-four-carat gold shield that decoratively protected the severe up-slope of her left breast pocket. I had noticed over the weeks of our association that Priscilla's heavily-constrained body - like her manually-applied features - never changed shape or flexed, whether she was sprinting up stairs to point out a skylight or standing on tiptoes to disable a burglar alarm. There was no doubt that the woman's garments, above and below, were every bit as formidable as Priscilla herself.