In the last year, two different groups of Australian scientists have released joint statements, urging a more rapid and meaningful response from our society if we are to avoid global climate disruption.
The first was called the Bali Declaration:
UNSW climatologists are leading a consortium of more than 200 leading climate scientists who have warned the United Nations Climate Conference of the need to act immediately to cut greenhouse gas emissions, with a window of 10-15 years for global emissions to peak and decline, and a goal of at least a 50 percent reduction by 2050.
The scientists warn that if immediate action is not taken, many millions of people will be at risk from extreme events such as heatwaves, drought, floods and storms, with coasts and cities threatened by rising sea levels, and many ecosystems, plants and animal species in serious danger of extinction.
The researchers, who include many of the world’s most acclaimed climate scientists, have issued the ‘Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists’ in which they call on government negotiators from the 180 nations represented at the meeting to recognise the urgency of taking action now. They say the world may have as little as 10 years to start reversing the global rise in emissions.
The Bali Declaration emphasises the current scientific consensus that long-term greenhouse gas concentrations need to be stabilised at a level well below 450ppm CO2e (450 parts per million measured in carbon dioxide equivalent). Building on the urgency of the recent Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on 17 November in Valencia, Spain, the declaration calls on governments to reduce emissions “by at least 50 percent below their 1990 levels by the year 2050”.
The Bali Declaration endorses the latest scientific consensus that every effort must be made to keep increases in the globally averaged surface temperature to below 2 degrees C. The scientists say that “to stay below 2 degrees C, global emissions must peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years”. The critical reductions in global emissions of greenhouse gases and the atmospheric stabilisation target highlighted in the Bali Declaration places a tremendous responsibility on the Bali United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Negotiations at Bali must start the process of reaching a new global agreement that sets strong and binding targets and includes the vast majority of the nations of the world. The Bali Declaration concludes: “As scientists, we urge the negotiators to reach an agreement that takes these targets as a minimum requirement for a fair and effective global climate agreement.”
The Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists was organised under the auspices of the Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC) at UNSW, Sydney, Australia. All of the signatories agreed to sign the Declaration in their personal capacities. The views expressed in the text of the Declaration do not necessarily represent the views of the institutions or international climate research programs to which any of the signatories may be affiliated.
The signatories of the Bali Declaration are being represented in Bali at the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol COP13/CMP3 meeting by: Professor Matthew England (Australia), Professor Richard Somerville (United States), Professor Andrew Pitman (Australia), Professor Diana Liverman (United Kingdom), Dr Michael Molitor (Policy Advisor, Australia).
This initiative was launched and managed by a small group of climate experts that includes Professor Matthew England, Professor Andrew Pitman, Professor Richard Somerville, Dr Michael Molitor and Professor Stefan Rahmstorf (Germany).
This statement was released to coincide with the Bali talks late last year (I’ll write more about this meeting in another post). Although I was supportive of the idea of a statement, I was somewhat critical of its targets:
Barry Brook said:
The sentiment behind the Bali Declaration is admirable, but I think the minimum targets they quote are inadequate. If the long-term aspirational goal is suggested to be ‘at least’ a 50% reduction in global emissions, then I’d argue that 50% is the number that wavering parties will latch on to – and no more. That is, why argue for a target that is 43 years distant and set at a level that has just barely a chance of being sufficient to avoid dangerous planetary heating? If the conclusions drawn by the 2007 IPCC working group III are accepted, then the stabilisation scenarios indicate that for reasonable chance of avoiding 2 to 2.4°C warming, we need global emissions reductions of 50-85% by 2050, relative to year 2000 emissions. So the 50% mentioned in the Bali Declaration is at best a minimally adequate target. It also does not acknowledge the fact that to achieve this target on a globally equitable basis, the burden on developed nations will be higher (80-90% by 2050) because of our disproportionately high per capita emissions.
Also, I wish the declaration had been more specific about the 10-15 year targets – it currently reads too much like a motherhood statement and the response time is too slow. The stabilisation needs to occur between 2000-2015, not between 2017 and 2023 as the statement implies. Indeed, a target of 25-40% emissions reductions by 2020 for developed countries has been put on the Bali negotiating table for discussion – this would be a fantastic outcome if agreement on this could be reached. It is just what is needed – a focus on significant short-term achievement. So why aren’t we scientists saying so?”
Other scientists also made comments on the above, to AusSMC – some supportive, others less so.
Then, a few months ago, I was involved in the drafting of a joint climate statement calling for immediate action to curb carbon emissions and avoid crossing tipping points that would lead to disaster:
Last call on climate change
Global warming is accelerating. The Arctic summer sea ice is expected to melt entirely within the next five years, – decades earlier than predicted in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report.
Scientists judge the risks to humanity of dangerous global warming to be high. The Great Barrier Reef faces devastation. Extreme weather events, such as storm surges adding to rising sea levels and threatening coastal cities, will become increasingly frequent.
There is a real danger that we have reached or will soon reach critical tipping points and the future will be taken out of our hands. The melting Arctic sea ice could be the first such tipping point.
Beyond 2ºC of warming, seemingly inevitable unless greenhouse gas reduction targets are tightened, we risk huge human and societal costs and perhaps even the effective end of industrial civilisation. We need to cease our assault on our own life support system, and that of millions of species. Global warming is only one of many symptoms of that assault.
Peak oil, global warming and long term sustainability pressures all require that we reduce energy needs and switch to alternative energy sources. Many credible studies show that Australia can quickly and cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions through dramatic improvements in energy efficiency and by increasing our investment in solar, wind and other renewable sources.
The need for action is extremely urgent and our window of opportunity for avoiding severe impacts is rapidly closing. Yet the obstacles to change are not technical or economic, they are political and social.
We know democratic societies have responded successfully to dire and immediate threats, as was demonstrated in World War II. This is a last call for an effective response to global warming.
Yet, on sober reflection, what do such statements achieve? Did the Bali Declaration lead to the Bali delegates committing unanimously to a multilateral target of less than 450ppm CO2e? No. Did the “last call on climate change” set the phones ringing and the emails zinging, from politicians or bureaucrats, asking climate scientists what the Government needed to do to avoid this approaching catastrophe? No.
Sure, both stirred up a bit of media interest, and even a speech in the Federal Parliament. Also, one would hope, they got more people thinking about the reality of the situation – how, as each month and each year passes with little meaningful action, the problem worsens and becomes ever more difficult to address. But I can only conclude that overall, these represent, at best, the first baby steps.
So I’d like to ask you folks. What’s going wrong? Why are there more words than action? Have you got any ideas about how we can more effectively invoke the meaningful societal changes needed to solve the climate crisis? I’ll look at this issue from other perspectives in future posts, but I’m always interested in a diversity of views on this vexatious problem.