As the Kyoto Protocol draws to a close in 2012, the international community is searching for its replacement1. The Bali Action Plan is the most recent outcome. After much heated debate at the United Nations talks on climate change in Bali in December 2007, the delegates unanimously agreed to a two-year plan for continued negotiations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The Bali talks also resulted in new programmes for technology transfer, new climate change adaptation funds and new mechanisms to avoid deforestation.
The talks drew more than 10,000 participants, including representatives of over 180 countries and observers from intergovernmental organisations, civil society and the media. But mothers were not visible. Whatever the reason, it was a missed opportunity. While no doubt some of the delegates were mothers, they attended in their professional, not their personal capacity. But climate and mothering go hand in hand. In fact, for children born recently it will likely be the critical factor shaping their future lives. Generation C – children born in the last five years and those born in the next fifteen – will not have Generation X’s luxury of retreating into apathy and alienation. (‘Gen Xers’ was a term popularised by writer Douglas Coupland to refer to the namelessness of those born from roughly 1960 to 1965, who were overshadowed by and rejected the excesses of the Baby Boom generation that preceded them.)
As a Gen X mum, I know that my twenty-something angst is now a thing of the past. With two beautiful boys of my own, I envision a future that is bright. I want optimism and harmony for my children. But I need to act fast. While Gen C will probably reject the past, they won’t be able to just sit around and listen to Nirvana. They will have to work hard to deal with a carbon-challenged world.
And we have to help them.
I believe a critical first step is for us to become more aware of the scientific and economic developments surrounding climate change. While many of the scientific reports don’t make for light reading, they contain knowledge that can make us stronger. The executive summaries are more easily digestible and a good place to start.
Recently a number of key reports have appeared which underline the gravity and urgency of the situation. According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), 60% of the Earth’s ecosystems are in serious decline2. In October 2006, Sir Nicholas Stern released the findings of his study The Economics of Climate Change. According to Stern, climate change is “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen”. The marketplace, long touted as the miracle solution to all our ills, clearly cannot solve the issue of climate, and in fact is a key part of the problem. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published three long-awaited scientific summaries under the umbrella title Climate Change 2007 which concluded that climate change is real, it’s human-made and the impacts are likely to be very severe3.
Thus the scientific evidence is overwhelming: climate change presents very serious global risks. Most worryingly, Stern emphasised that if we don’t act within ten years, it may be too late. He concludes that business-as-usual scenarios will lead to a 20% reduction in global GDP, and radical changes in the physical geography of the world.
This means that Generation C will face a severely depressed world economy as well as extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina, the crushing heatwaves in southern Europe, and the recent floods in England. And that’s only the beginning. We don’t know how bad it can get if we lose Greenland or the western part of Antarctica.
It’s highly likely that Generation C will face shortages of water, food and energy, and will have to find a way to deal
A critical first step is for mothers to become more aware of the scientific and economic developments surrounding climate change with over a billion environmental refugees. The UN Security Council has warned that climate change will result in more armed conflict as countries fight over scarce resources.
The good news is that Stern estimates that the annual costs of stabilisation are only about 1% of GDP if we start soon. The MA tells us that the challenge of reversing these trends while meeting increasing demands can be partially met, but it warns that to do so will require significant changes in policies, institutions and practices.
In December 1997 the Kyoto Protocol established reduction targets of a collective average of 5% compared with 1990 levels (8% in the EU). Even though this was far below the estimates for reduction that the Stern Review now calls for, the agreement took eight years to ratify, with the US and (until recently) Australia refusing to co-operate. In practice, even those countries that signed are falling woefully behind these meagre commitments. Yet there has been some movement at the international policy level. In June last year the US announced a major policy shift. On the eve of the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, President Bush called for negotiations among the world’s economic powers to establish a global target for greenhouse-gas reductions and for a group of big emitters to set non-binding targets by the end of 2008. And the EU has already committed itself to a 20% reduction in emissions compared with 1990 levels. At the end of the summit, member countries had agreed to “substantial” cuts in global heat-trapping emissions and vowed to “seriously consider” the target of halving CO2
emissions by 2050. But critics worry that much of this is just vague conciliatory language.
Moreover, China, which is not a member of the G8, surpassed the US as the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases in 2007. Prior to the Heiligendamm summit, it announced its goal of reducing energy use by 20% before 2010 and increasing the amount of renewable energy it produces. But as a developing country it is exempt from targets on reductions, and it claims that the blame for climate change lies squarely with developed countries and that it will continue to prioritise economic development over tackling climate change.