Planetary Emergency


“My big concern is that negotiators do not recognise this is a planetary emergency” says @WWF’s @TasneemEssop #COP20

Lang Banks is blogging from Lima, Peru at the climate talks for Bella. Lang is the director of WWF Scotland and is part of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland delegation to the UNFCCC. Follow all the latest from Lima on Twitter: @LangBanks @WWFScotland and @sccscot

Despite a week of meetings, and working through the whole of Saturday, the reality is that negotiations to prepare the ground for a global climate agreement in Paris next year haven’t really moved forward at all.

To the casual observer, negotiators probably look like they’ve spent most of their time arguing about processes. However, delve beneath the surface and these fights have not really been about process at all. Really they’ve been about the content, exposing the gaps that exist between what developed and developing countries want out of these talks.

While most developed countries would probably be fine with signing up to a deal just asking them to cut their climate emissions, developing countries are looking for a more comprehensive outcome in Paris – one that includes action and support for developing countries on adaptation and finance.

The second week of talks starting today will have to move with much greater pace if we are to stand any chance of leaving Lima with something which comes anywhere close to matching what the climate science is telling us- as well as meeting the expectations of civil society watching right around the world.

Tuesday will see the opening of the ‘high-level session’ of the talks, with speeches from some of the global leaders and senior Ministers who began arriving in Peru over the weekend.

Amongst those arriving here this week will be Scotland’s own Environment and Climate Change Minister, Aileen McLeod.

“It is important that there is a Scottish presence at the Lima climate conference,” said Tom Ballantine of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition. “Attendance from the Minister should send a positive signal to the international community about Scottish political commitment to taking action on climate change.”

One area that is going to need real commitment from countries over the remaining week is action to curb emissions before 2020, and not just after this date. Why is this important? Well, because the science tells us that in order to meet the goal of limiting warming to 1.5-2 degrees, and to avoid the very worst of the catastrophic impacts of global climate change, emissions really need to peak by the end of this decade.

However, discussions about curbing emissions in the pre-2020 are in danger of falling off the radar entirely.

As Tasneem Essop, WWF’s Head of Delegation in Lima, eloquently put it in the final NGO press conference of the week: “Negotiators seem to have forgotten that they are here to solve a planetary emergency. Negotiators here are fixing the fire alarms while the building burns.”

So, with only a week left of these talks, we urgently need to see commitments to curb emissions by 2020 put back on the agenda. We cannot allow negotiators to sacrifice a scientifically and equitably sound deal for a weak political outcome in Paris in 2015.

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  1. Crubagan says:

    It will be interesting to see what the Scottish Government does with air passenger duty (assumung it is devolved).

    On the one hand, air travel interests are claiming it could result in up to 2 million new passengers , on the other hand that would be a big dent in Scotland’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    1. Anton says:

      Well of course we know that on a global basis laptops and mobile phones have now surpassed air travel in terms of environmental damage, though fossil fuels like Scotland’s oil are still a bigger contributor.

      In the meantime there’s no way that Scotland is going to restrict the use of laptops or mobile phones, or shut down its oil fields. And the Scottish Government’s commitment to reductions in air passenger duty are deliberately designed to attract greater air travel.

      And that’s the problem. How can we expect poor countries to accept restrictions while we’re determined to hang on to our own preferences and privileges?

      1. DR says:

        Are you convinced the purpose and likely effect of reducing APD *is* to create greater volumes of air travel to the UK? Because I really have not seen any evidence of this – rather, its obvious aim and impact would be to target the practice of over-using London airports as international hubs, from (and to) which folk then take otherwise unnecessary short-hop domestic flights. In many cases, these are double/triple-distance (i.e. passengers from the US fly hundreds of miles down the UK, then hundreds of miles back up the UK to the Central Belt, then drive hundreds of miles to the Highlands).
        Encouraging a broader distribution of existing UK flights to existing UK airports would address this, reducing extra domestic flights for visitors, and reducing travel-time/distance for people from Scotland leaving the UK. So, the fact that it’s not a symbolically ‘anti-air-travel’ policy doesn’t mean it’s not more energy/emissions efficient, or that it aims to (or will) increase rather than decrease gross air traffic and air-travel-time? I suspect there are also quite significant efficiencies available in air freight: there’s no earthly environmental reason it’s better to ship Scottish goods around the UK before export. Largely, the cynic in me tends to think that the environmental shibboleth gets trotted out to defend profits in other parts of the UK, which are, after all, currently benefiting from these extra, emissions-raising journeys. But this is standard in environmental thinking, both between and within nations.
        Re preferences and privileges, I also have to say that the politicians who claim to ‘defend’ them for us, internationally, are those destroying them at home. *We* haven’t a hope of hanging on to them: ‘we’ are, as so often, only determined to profit our ‘betters’. As the US has demonstrated, the point of gross inequality is inducing people to ‘kick the cat’ at home and abroad, while hanging on – in concept – to luxuries they will never attain. Our own insecurity makes us more determined to undermine others, to view rational behaviours as unaffordable luxury, and to consume whatever we can, as fast and often as we can. Reducing inequality, within and between nations, would be the single most rapid and efficient way to reduce emissions and foster sustainable practices.

  2. Crubagan says:

    The issue is that Scotland has to meet its own climate change targets – not the UK as a whole. If there are more flights originating within Scotland, or arriving in Scotland, then that affects our mitigation efforts.

    Those promoting the reduction or abolition of the tax claim that there will be more international flights from Scotland, and that Scotland will become a more attractive destination to fly to. Northern English airports are also concerned that passengers may travel to Scotland to start their flights, but that would depend on what England did with the tax.

    1. Anton says:

      Exactly. The Scottish Government’s own figures – – suggest that their proposed cut in air passenger duty would “increase aggregate emissions by 34 KtCO2e (0.034 MtCO2e) over the course of a full year”.

      And as for DR – whether or not I’m convinced, the Scottish Government seems to be. So argue with them, not with me.

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