Friday, December 18, 2009
Hope? Nope. posted by Richard Seymour
That cash will probably end up in those dollar reserves that Third World countries have been compelled to amass over the last decade, thus making them net creditors to the world's superpower, but forget about that for a second and think about this:
The emissions cuts offered so far at the Copenhagen climate change summit would still lead to global temperatures rising by an average of 3C, according to a confidential UN analysis obtained by the Guardian.
With the talks entering the final 24 hours on a knife-edge, the emergence of the document seriously undermines the statements by governments that they are aiming to limit emissions to a level ensuring no more than a 2C temperature rise over the next century, and indicates that the last day of negotiations will be extremely challenging.
A rise of 3C would mean up to 170 million more people suffering severe coastal floods and 550 million more at risk of hunger, according to the Stern economic review of climate change for the UK government – as well as leaving up to 50% of species facing extinction. Even a rise of 2C would lead to a sharp decline in tropical crop yields, more flooding and droughts.
Now, I told you - didn't I tell you? - that this summit was going to be a flop. Half of the world's species facing extinction while the planet both burns and floods looks like a flop to me. Bear in mind that the Stern report is relatively conservative in its estimations. Recent research by the World Wildlife Fund suggests that the arctic ice-caps are melting much more rapidly than previously anticipated and that even an average global temperature rise of 2 degrees could be catastrophic. It may be enough to reach that tipping point where the year-round arctic ice disappears for good. Melting permafrost will unleash enough methane to cause a major extinction event. Islands will be submerged, southern Africa will dry up, and global hunger will surpass its already disgraceful levels. And it isn't just those unpleasant poor people down south you've got to worry about (though you see how the politics of climate change is already being structured by imperialism). As Mark Lynas has pointed out, if you increase average temperatures in the sea in that fashion, even with a 1 degree global temperature increase, you get more hurricanes, more frequently, and much closer to home for Europeans. You also get dustbowls in previously fertile food-growing areas across North America, which wasn't particularly fun when it happened last time round. You get soaring temperatures in Europe, more extreme and death-dealing summers, water shortages as precipitation declines in the Mediterranean region.
At the 3 degrees rise predicted by the UN on the basis of current negotiating positions, you can declare the game over. That is potentially the tipping point beyond which it is impossible to regain any control over global temperatures, the point at which positive feedback mechanisms cause temperatures to increase exponentially. I cannot adequately describe the full horror of such a scenario - the food shortages, the droughts, the floods, the fleeing of millions of people from newly uninhabitable territory, the intensified geopolitical competition over basic resources, the extinction of half or more of the species on the planet... it's just unthinkable. But, as Copenhagen shows, unthinkable horror is exactly what the rulers of the world have in store for us.