‘Only a revolution will do’

Time of article published Nov 28, 2011

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Wendy Jasson da Costa, Tony Carnie and Colleen Dardagan

Humanity has nowhere else to go. “This is the only home. If you destroy it, it’s finished.”

These were the words of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, urging the nations of the world to join hands in Durban over the next two weeks and find a way to prevent humanity’s common home from being turned into a desert.

Speaking at King’s Park on the eve of the United Nations’ Conference of the Parties (COP17) climate change talks, he urged global political leaders to agree to reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions heating up the world.

Quoting from the Book of Genesis, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said Adam and Eve, the first humans, had lived in the garden of Eden.

“God wants us to live in a garden, not a desert,” he told the We have Faith – Act Now for Climate Justice rally and music concert, which attracted a disappointingly small crowd of less than 2 000.

Bishop Geoff Davies, of the Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Initiative, described climate change as “the greatest threat to ever confront our humanity”.

And while Tutu and other African religious leaders delivered earnest appeals for strong action to tackle the problem, it remains uncertain whether their powerful moral messages will have any influence on the hard-ball negotiators from 194 nations who have been locked in a series of annual meetings for more than a decade, unable to produce a legal agreement to halt global carbon emission levels.

Members of the 27-nation EU delegation told journalists yesterday that although Japan, Russia and Canada appeared to be back-pedalling on previous agreements, the European nations “remain ready” to sign up to a further round of emission cutbacks under the Kyoto Protocol – but only if the other 167 nations of the world gave firm commitments to sign up to a new legal framework or treaty within the next four years.

“We need to deliver in Durban a kind of roadmap with clear deadlines for a global agreement involving 100 percent of all emissions under one legal umbrella; 2015 is the absolute deadline for this – and this agreement must come into force and be operational before 2020,” said EU spokesman Tomasz Chruszchow, of Poland.

Chruszchow and EU chief negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger noted that when the Kyoto agreement was signed in 1997, it captured only about 30 percent of global greenhouse emissions.

If Japan, Russia and Canada refused to enter into a second period of cutbacks from 2012, the protocol was unlikely to cover more than 16 percent of global emissions.

And if the EU alone was to remain in the Kyoto club, it would cover just 11 percent of world emissions – leaving 89 percent of world emissions unregulated by legally binding agreements.

“Now the other parties need to tell us how they are going to come into the fight against climate change – and when,” said Metzger.

However, the US (the second-biggest carbon emitter after China) has made it clear that it still wants no part in the Kyoto deal until China, India and other large developing nations make firm commitments to reduce carbon gases.

These nations, in turn, remain adamant that the US and other developed nations should move first before developing nations are required to make binding cutbacks.

Christiana Figueres, the UN executive secretary who shares the burden of trying to craft a breakthrough at the Durban meeting, has also underlined the urgency of all nations speeding up the pace of negotiations. “What we are talking about here is nothing short of the most compelling energy and industrial revolution that humanity has seen,” she said.

This would require finding new, cleaner methods of travel and transportation, the production of goods and humanity’s consumption patterns.

Figueres said that the importance of the Durban talks had also been underlined by recent scientific reports on the need to resolve the climate crisis speedily.

These reports, from the World Meteorological Organisation, two UN agencies and the International Energy Association, suggested that global emissions had reached record levels and that political promises made so far were insufficient to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

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