Stockholm - Compared with the heady days in 2007 when US climate campaigner Al Gore and the UN’s panel of climate scientists shared the Nobel Peace Prize, the risks of global warming may be greater but the stars preaching the message have faded.
With many governments focused on tackling short-term economic growth, the shift reinforces what Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, has sometimes called a “shocking lack of leadership” in confronting long-term global warming.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the prize with ex-US vice-president Gore, will issue a report today in Stockholm about the mounting risks of global warming, from heatwaves to rising sea levels.
“We need new voices,” said Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute think tank in Washington. “Hopefully, the IPCC will inspire leadership, from mom to the business leader, to the mayor to the head of state.”
It is a sign of the times that some of the world’s most powerful figures, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel – a former environment minister – US President Barack Obama or Chinese Premier Li Keqiang appear to have put the issue on the back burner to focus on domestic economic issues.
Even former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, who made global headlines in 2009 with the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the threat of rising sea levels to his small islands, was forced from power in domestic turmoil. He is now seeking a comeback.
China and the US are the top emitters of greenhouse gases, seen by climate scientists as contributing to global warming.
Times have changed since Merkel, as environment minister, said in 1995 something that might well be said today: “The existing commitments will not solve the climate change problem.”
Drafts show the IPCC will today raise the probability that global warming is man-made to at least 95 percent from 90 percent in its 2007 report, a time when global action on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases seemed feasible.
The problem proved intractable during the financial crisis. A UN summit in Copenhagen failed to work out a deal, and many voters may have tired of hearing of global warming. Governments have now agreed to work out a UN accord in 2015.
“The IPCC has become more cautious… it’s a pity,” said Yvo de Boer, the former head of the UN climate change secretariat, who now works at auditor KPMG and was among those most outspoken about the need for action during his 2006 to 2010 term. “You might ignore it [climate change] but it’s not going to ignore you.”
He said US Secretary of State John Kerry could be the strongest up-and-coming leader.
Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, won an Oscar and standing applause at UN negotiating sessions, but he has been worn down by criticisms, especially by US Republicans, who say his campaigns are alarmist and question the science behind them. His later ventures have been less high profile, although his book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, has won good reviews.
A 2010 review by scientists in the InterAcademy Council (IAC), partly spurred by an error in the IPCC report that exaggerated a thaw in the Himalayas, said IPCC leaders should stick to science and not recommend policies. However, the IAC found no reason to question the IPCC’s main conclusions despite the mistake.
It is unclear who will succeed Rajendra Pachauri as IPCC chairman since 2002 in 2015.
Leadership is an elusive quality on climate change.
“In the run-up to Copenhagen I was struck by the number of people talking about a lack of leaders who were meant to be leaders,” De Boer said. – Reuters