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Playing Russian Roulette with Climate Change

GENEVA – Mounting skepticism and deadlocked negotiations have culminated in an announcement that the Copenhagen Climate Conference will not result in a comprehensive global climate deal. Disappointing? Certainly. But the Copenhagen climate summit was always meant to be a transitional step. The most important thing to consider is where we will go from here. 

The phrase “the day after” is most commonly associated with the word “hangover.” The absence of a binding agreement could mean a global hangover, and not just for a day. Fed up with apocalyptic predictions, people wanted a miracle in Copenhagen. So a perceived failure may cause a massive, perhaps irreversible, loss of confidence in our politicians. No surprise, then, that governments have sought to manage our expectations carefully.

Decision-makers have not faced up to just how close the world may be to the climate “tipping point.” But, while a runaway climate remains a risk, runaway politics are already a fact. Official negotiations are removed from reality. According to the latest science, the current proposals under negotiation will result in warming of more than 4°C during this century – double the 2°C maximum endorsed by the G-8 and other leaders. That leaves a higher than 50% probability of the world’s climate moving past its tipping point.

An agreement based on the parameters that are now on the negotiating table would thus put us in a position more dangerous than a game of Russian roulette. To avoid both the global hangover of no deal and the self-deception of a weak deal, a breakthrough is needed – and can still be achieved in Copenhagen.