The Climate-Change Agenda Heats Up

LONDON – For many people around the world this year, the weather has become anything but a topic for small talk. Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, America’s record-breaking freeze, California’s year-long drought, and flooding in Europe have put the long-term dangers of climate change back on the political agenda. In response, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has sent an urgent letter to government, business, civil society, and finance leaders, urging them to attend a special Climate Summit in New York in September.

The event will be the first time that world leaders have met to discuss global warming since the UN’s fateful Copenhagen climate-change summit in 2009. Amid high expectations – and subsequent recriminations – that meeting failed to achieve a comprehensive, legally-binding agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. So, at September’s summit, leaders will be asked to re-boot the diplomatic process. The goal is a new agreement in 2015 to prevent average global temperatures from rising by two degrees Celsius, the level that the international community has deemed “dangerous” to human society.

At first sight, that looks like a hard task. Since Copenhagen, climate change has slipped down the global agenda, as the restoration of economic growth, voter concern about jobs and living standards, and violent conflict in key trouble spots have taken precedence.

But the tide may be turning. More people are grasping the true extent of the dangers ahead. In its latest authoritative assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded last year that scientists are now 95% certain that human activities are the principal cause of rising temperatures. Over the next two months the IPCC will release further reports detailing the human and economic impacts of probable climate change and the costs and benefits of combating it. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently described climate change as “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” warning of “a tipping-point of no return.” Few serious commentators now dispute the science.