David Simpson is a long-time Northern California bioregional pioneer and community leader based in the deeply rural Mattole River Valley of Humboldt County. Having written about and performed theater pieces with his partner Jane Lapiner on the subject of climate change in many places for several decades, in 2009 they went to the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark to participate in whatever ways seemed appropriate. In 2010 David and Jane were in Cancún, Mexico at COP16. David and Jane attended COP20 in 2014 in Lima, Peru and Planet Drum distributed David’s Reports by email and on the Planet Drum Facebook page. Your reactions to these Reports are welcome. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
December 3, 2014, 11A.M.
By David Simpson and Jane Lapiner
Despite a veritable barrage over the past few months of harsh scientific news about global warming, hope seemed to be springing anew on the first of December in the exotic soil of Peru’s vast military training facility aptly referred to as the Pentagonito. It is there under the shadow of the fortress-like intelligence headquarters that the United Nations’ enormous and complex annual initiative for dealing with climate change has been relaunched.
Referred to, in this acronym-rich environment, as the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP 20) of the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC), the two week event was convened with great fanfare and a wave of upbeat-despite-it-all rhetoric from the prevailing dignitaries. There was even a bona-fide cultural event—a polished crew who danced with energy on a wave of music from a variety of instruments made from recycled materials.
There had been a mildly disconcerting moment earlier that first morning when the approximate 10,000 attendees winding toward the event through this mega city, via shuttle buses and taxis, were forced to confront traffic jams of epic dimension. It led one to an odd speculation about trying to save the world but getting caught in traffic. This in turn sparked an ironic what-if reverie about not being able to save the whole because the parts, the infrastructure, were worn out.
It took Rajendra Pauchari, head of the IPCC, (the body of atmospheric scientists that does the research for the UN’s Climate secretariat), when his turn came to speak in the opening ceremony to fully remind the overly celebrative about the lateness of the day. “The window for change,” he stated solemnly, ”is rapidly closing.” He minced neither words nor math. We have filled the atmosphere with so much CO2, most of it since l970, that the task of preventing a temperature rise from exceeding the magic number of 2 degrees Celsius grows slimmer by the day.
Sixty five percent of the atmospheric space that we would need to keep temperatures below the mark are already filled up, mostly by us, the developed countries. If the remaining space was parceled out fairly among all the people of the world, we’d run beyond our target and lose the struggle within five years. If developing economies were allotted space commensurate to their right to develop, we are already running on empty. And to complete the picture, Pachauri first and then others pulled yet another leg out from under any sense of complacency by suggesting that it well may be that the odds of averting disaster at the 2 degree peak calculate out at about 50%. A more reasonable ceiling target may be more like 1.5 degrees or even 1 degree. Either took us farther beyond the range of the possible given the current national-level posturing and petty politicking surrounding greenhouse gas reductions.
The final volley of dismal scientific information came today, December 3rd, when, in simultaneous press conferences, Dr. Bert Metz, widely regarded Swiss atmospheric scientist and World Meteorological Organization Deputy Director R.D. Lemgassa delivered a one-two punch. We may be living through the warmest year on record and we are on a trajectory to fall considerably beyond our 2 degree avoidance target.
Few here are denying or trying to divert attention from the extremity of the situation. There are no overt skeptics here. But there are delegations from Parties (the countries involved) whose governments and business sectors are applying great pressure to maintain economic vitality and competitive advantage even though the price of that maintenance could be earth-shattering. Like Obama, many world leaders are performing balancing acts between yawning chasms. In front of one is a sign that says “This Way Lies Sustainability,” in front of the other, a warning of political oblivion.
So the COP enters day four tomorrow and the back and forth gradually moves forward like a great train trying to overcome inertia and gain speed. Everyone knows strong measures are called for. The word “Ambitious” is the tenth word out of every public speakers’ or politicians’ mouth. Since the huge failure to act decisively at COP 15 in Copenhagen, the UNFCCC has been paddling around uncertainly. Last year’s COP 19 in Warsaw was rocked when 800 civil society representatives walked out en masse in protest of inaction.
Memories of these things are on everyones’ minds. Equally weighty are the fresh images of 400,000 people, many of them young and of all races, creeds and cultures, marching through the streets of New York City last September in the name of ambitious climate action. The great good spirits of the marchers did not hide their deep determination to follow a course which will allow our civilization and our cultures to survive.
The most important (and maybe the longest) question to be answered at Lima is: Do “we” the national governments of the world, finally have the will to do the right thing for the future or will ambition be overruled once more like in Copenhagen or Durban or Warsaw by forces that are determined to ignore reality in the name of short term commercial advantage or in defense of national sovereignty—which at this remove seems like an exploitable obstacle if not a painful anachronism? If the answer to this question is ‘no’ than the recommendations passed on to COP 21 in Paris—where final commitments of the Parties are to be added up—will be fatally flawed and “we”, the people of the world, will have to march again and again and again. Worse case is that our future will be strongly cardiovascular.
So the discussions go on. A committee originally mandated at COP 17 in Durban is working now to develop an acceptable text which will list the INDC’s, a new acronym for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. Will those INDC’s collectively pencil out to enough carbon reductions to keep our planet and its civilizations from deep jeopardy? Right now, in light of past levels of commitment and action it seems tragically unlikely. But then, one has to hope.
Previous: Warsaw (COP19) Summary Report
Next: Lima (COP20) Report #2