The UN climate summit in Copenhagen must not become another talking shop, bogged down by divisions and confusion, says Andy Atkins. In this week's Green Room, he calls on leaders of industrialised nations to deliver on their "legal and moral" duty to cut global emissions.
People are rising up to demand real action on climate change
A wave of blue swept through the centre of London on Saturday.
Fifty thousand people donned blue coats, scarves and gloves, and took to the streets to call for a strong and fair climate agreement at the key UN summit in Copenhagen.
As the blue throngs passed close by Downing Street, Gordon Brown woke up to people power and invited a handful of marchers - including myself - into Number 10 to talk to him.
The UK prime minister looked like he was listening intently to the marchers, but he has already said that he has given up on reaching a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen, saying that for now we will have to settle for a political agreement instead.
This is misleading. Most rich countries are already signed up to legally binding targets as part of the Kyoto Protocol, and cuts that should be made beyond 2012 are supposed to be set in Copenhagen.
But the detail of international climate negotiations is so complex it is barely accessible to those outside the bubble of the negotiations. This murkiness can be used to the advantage of political leaders; when things get shaky, they can hide behind the confusion.
'Loud and clear'
Gordon Brown has to go to Copenhagen shouting loud and clear about rich countries' legal and moral duty to take the lead in cutting their emissions and to provide funds to combat climate change internationally.
The West's addiction to oil is not sustainable, says Andy Atkins
Rich countries are responsible for three-quarters of the emissions in the atmosphere today.
The poorest 10% of the world's population have contributed less than 1% of the carbon emissions currently in the atmosphere. Yet these people are the first to feel the devastating effects of climate change on their lives and livelihoods.
It is only fair that rich countries compensate the developing world financially for this damage.
At Friends of the Earth, we believe that rich countries should put new public money on the table to enable the developing world to grow in a clean, green way and enable them to adapt to the storms, droughts, famine and floods caused by climate change.
We must transform our economy through tried and tested measures that are proven to have worked in the past, such as carbon taxes, tougher emissions standards and a big increase in public investment to tackle the climate crisis.
Unfortunately, the solutions currently being pushed by rich countries at the talks are much more risky. British negotiators are still pushing hard for the expansion of the global carbon market.
The basic idea is that a factory with a cap of a thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, and only emitting nine hundred can sell the right to emit the remainder on the open market.
The system's backers claim it will reduce emissions and provide cash to invest further in cutting greenhouse gases.
Friends of the Earth recently released a report called Dangerous Obsession that revealed that the banks, investment funds were packaging carbon credits into increasingly complex financial products, similar to sub-prime mortgages, which triggered the recent economic crash.
Carbon trading has yet to prove its value in cutting emissions, say critics
This risks a double whammy of financial and environmental disaster. The evidence tells us that carbon trading doesn't even work.
The EU trading scheme failed to deliver emissions cuts in its first few years and is unlikely to do much better its next phase, because once again too many permits have been handed out to polluters.
The scheme also allows European businesses to duck out of making their emissions reductions at home by offsetting - which means paying for cuts to be made overseas instead.
Trading also means politicians and industry are not taking the bold steps needed to cut emissions through investment in a massive rollout of renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The time it will take to extend carbon markets global will mean precious years wasted when governments could be taken action which is already proven to work.
It is time for rich countries like the UK to show leadership. Gordon Brown must listen to those 50,000 pairs of feet that marched through London on Saturday.
People are rising up to demand real action on climate change.
Mr Brown must commit to ambitious, legally binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol to slash our emissions, abandon the UK's promotion of dangerous gambles like carbon trading and provide public money for developing countries.
To shirk this responsibility would be nothing short of devastating - for our economy, the planet and millions of its poorest people.
Andy Atkins is executive director of Friends of the Earth UK
The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Do you agree with Andy Atkins? Do rich nations have a legal and moral obligation to lead the battle against climate change? Should rich nations use their wealth to pay for developing nations to build clean energy infrastructures? Or is carbon trading the best option in a global context to reduce emissions?
The "Global Warming Consesus" has evidence to be faulty. The "rush" for global warming policy seems to be lead by chicken littles rather than sound judgement. The "poor" of the world are subject to unwise dwelling settlements and political strife rather than just victims of their climate catastrophies. I disagree we must act now.
As for "rich countries" [the USA mainly], nuclear and natural gas energy sources are, ironically, blocked by politicians and leaders of global warming alarmists. Even wind power is blocked by "clean energy" politicians and activists. Two growing industrial nations, China and India, have NO PLANS to curb emmisions. Nor do these two countries even accept a "peak" emissions output.
Until technology allows efficient production of zero emmision energy sources, nuclear and natural gas NEED to be the transition energy sources to reduce emissions. I have yet to see ANY US politician lead this idea.
Patrick, Oregon, USA
Cap and Trade is a lethal farce. Once again all other values (beauty, health, survival) are subordinated to bankster greed-schemes. Enough! A cap needs to be put on banks as well as industry. The only way to stop polluting is to stop polluting.
Mark Conlan, USA
Do rich nations have a legal and moral obligation to lead the battle against climte change? No. Not in the slightest. Considering that just two decades ago the top scientists were crying out over global COOLING and the fact that the validity of datasets created by both UK's CRU and the USA NASA data are being called into question should give all parties concerned significant pause. Instead of rushing headlong down a road which we know not where it leads would it not be in the most rational and logical of manners to actually have the facts straight before we make decisions which will cripple economies?
Should rich nations use their wealth to pay for developing nations to build clean energy infrastructures. Again, no. Share technolgy? Absolutely. Outright pay for it? Not a chance.
Mr Atkins shrill cries are typical of those seeking rigid and wide flung limitations on business. What makes him all the more dangerours is that his foundation is that of one on shifting sand.
Keith, Queens, NY; USA
"The World" or North America and Europe, which often mistake themselves for the world. Are super polluters China, India and Russia clamoring for the changes as much as Sweden with a GNP less than Switzerland? And, Carbon trading is a sham solution where you buy the credit for charitable works from those doing them already to make the world a better place.
Rudy C., Brookfield Ohio
No I don't, the science isn't settled. After Climategate the global warming alarmists and the media have started name calling against the sceptics who have every right to ask the questions. Why should the average person suffer tremendously financially through a decision based on science with an undecided or uncertain conclusion. With the aspects of the media, politicians and some leading scientists using misleading stats and data.
Obviously the BBC wouldn't agree with such a statement, considering recent statements by your 'journalists' saying the science is settled and everyone who doesn't agree is a heretic (in no uncertain terms).
Why should people be unable to answer important questions about something that results in dire consequences both for liberty and finance.
1. UN Taxation (being taxed to breath included) 2. Loss of liberty which will result in keeping track of carbon emitted.
3. Move towards a UN centred Political structure, losing more of our national sovereignty.
I loved Gordon Browns flat earther statement concerning sceptics, fact is global warming debate doesn't allow scepticism just as flat earthers didn't. Both were mainstream viewpoints at the time, with both calling those who opposed it heretics.
Rich nations do not have any obligation. The whole idea of carbon emmissions is based on corrupt data and emotions about the envirment based on that bad data. Global warming is and has been a hoax since the phrase was first uttered!
David Jonesq, Batesville Arkansas
Atkins and his chicken littles are clueless as usual, USA did not sign up for Kyoto and most American are very concerned about the environment, but for an entire package which includes all pollutants. We are not ready to send the World's economy back to the Stone Age for a ginned up Looney movement.
What Americans have always wanted is for humans to be good stewards of this planet we call Earth, but with a stead rational approach.
Bob Skinner, Santa Ana, CA, USA
Money got us into this mess. Crude oil and the money made from its refinement and sale not to mention all the other big business derived from it, such as the automobile industry.
Should we have shared the first use of fire?
People need to realise it is not about the money it is about the survival of us all. We should see this as a war which we started and are loosing, a war with ourselves one which we can not win without a fundamental change in our appreciation of ourselves and our plant.
Please excuse the drama but if aliens came down and started to heat the planet to make it their home, or scoop out our ozone layer for themselves. The Americans would be the first to launch an attack the world would unite to save itself. Sadly we do not see the fact that we are the aliens doing the damage we just carry on seeing the changes in the abstract terms as if watching it all on a big screen. It is not real just words.
John E Warren, Manchester
How did so many of the richer nations become that way? By exploiting the resources, assets and people through trade and empire for hundreds of years. Whether through tax on currency speculation, or green taxes (for all that can afford them) I believe it's the least we can do. We have the opportunity to work in partnership with developing nations to help them develop low carbon and carbon reductive technologies and products, which will in turn ensure a cheap supply of these resources for ourselves.
Carbon trading has had its place, but now the credits being traded exceed the low emissions we need to avoid runaway climate change. A better use of time, money and resources would be to concentrate on preserving the natural resources that stabilize weather patterns, reducing energy wastage, and investing in fast working local green offsets such as biochar and tillage.
Lucy Wills, London
Irritating leftist drivel that is totally out of touch with reality. If I am not mistaken, our consumption of energy has been in many instances been used in the production of food and generation of capital that has been used to continually prop up and feed these poorest populations. Yet after tens of trillions of dollars in aid, these countries continue to be corrupt disasters. But poor, sweet Andy feels it is our obligation to continue pouring money down these rat holes for another noble purpose. Andy, if you would like to significantly reduce hot gases in the atmosphere...quit breathing.
John Underhill, Greenville, USA
Yes, I strongly agree with Andy. Rich nations do have a legal and moral obligation to lead the battle against climate change. Andy is right, we did make the mess.
Diana Mumme, Somers, Melbourne, Australia
Before you go and declare victory, you had better get your science house in order. Have you not heard about the CRU scandal (climate-gate)? How about holding a world scientific forum with both sides of the debate represented to work through these issues before plunging the world into some new form of taxation that it cannot afford. Or do dissenting voices matter in this new world?
Wendell MacKenzie, Cornwall
Anytime you allow investors into decision making, you will find that public health is always a secondary consideration to profit making. Thats whats wrong with cap and trade...
dan murphy, paso robles, california usa
Wealthy nations definitely have a moral obligation to lead the way against climate change, especially since they have created 3/4's of the problem and since the developing nations do not have the resources to afford the eco solutions.
Barbara Greer, Brooks, CA, USA
I believe fighting climate change is a losing battle - mostly because I think the earth's climate is in it's own cycle and our carbon output is probably not effecting it as much as politically correct scientists want us to think. That said however, I do believe that our carbon usage relates directly to pollution and also to using up natural resources that are either becoming scarce, or at least more expensive to reap, and so I do agree that the rich nations, ESPEICALLY THE USA, should do more than their fair share of moving away from energy generated from coal & oil to cleaner, environmentally superior sources. Additionally, by helping the 3rd world grow their energy industry via renewable sources will hopefully circumvent their dependence on dirty, imported coal & oil. So, while I may not agree on the reasons why - I do believe that rich nations have a moral obligation to help the rest of the world build clean energy infrastructures.
George B, Kansas City, MO USA
Nice long comment from a climate activist. Fair enough, interesting points. I however sincerely hope that the BBC will also provide space for someone to make the argument that making sustantial CO2 reduction a high priority would be misguided and not an optimal way to spend scarce resources in the light of more pressing global problems. If it does not, this will be clearly indicative of bias on this issue, in my view.
wang, Brussels, Belgium
'rich countries should put new public money on the table' ... so has Andy Atkins and FoE given up on the lobbying of rich countries to honour their long-standing commitment to commit 0.7% of GDP to overseas development assistance? It's taken nearly 40 years of lamentable failure to honour this commitment (which would release instantly $120-140 billion from North to South); why do you think this new tack under a climate change pledge is any more likely to work?
Ready, fire!, aim.
The East Anglia climategate fraud must be fully investigated before embarking on absurdly costly measures that might be useless or even counter-productive.
J Story, BC, Canada
Carbon trading is an ineffective smoke-screen (pardon the pun) that allows big business to continue as usual. Wealthy nations are the cause of the problem. We have to change from an oil based economy and do it soon to prevent the catastrophic consequences of flooding, disruption of food supply for everyone, and the continued extinction of earth's species. It's time to end the double speak and take meaningful action for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
Carolyn Riddle, Othello, WA, US
If the 'UN climate summit' had been the 'UN Climate and Population Summit' then arguably the summit would have more relevance and more could be achieved.
By leaving 'population' most significantly out of the equation, I think that the summit will not achieve any more than providing politicians with more 'hot air'. Except, of course, that a new wave of taxation will result for our UK government to send more taxpayer's money into the 'black-hole' called 'overseas'.
The global climate is deteriorating first and foremost because of massive population growth and the resultant demands on carbon fuels.
This is a matter of 'cause and effect' - a basic tenet of all science - but - How is it that 15,000 delegates in Copenhagen will be 'failing to put the cart before the horse'?
Controlling global warming is an opportunity to fix three major world problems; climate change, third world poverty and population growth. Market forces can produce beneficial effects if a global, simple and fair system is agreed. Since most of the world's population are emitters of carbon dioxide, emissions are the wrong thing to control. We need to control fossil fuel production. A global cap and trade agreement of a quota on fossil fuel production that tapers down to sustainable levels would work. To be fair the quota should be assigned to countries in proportion to their population. The quota would then be traded, distributing wealth to less developed countries. If a country's future quota was inversely related to its population growth, population reduction would be encouraged. Three world problems fixed.
Martin Corney, Plymouth UK
"It's time to end the double speak and take meaningful action for the sake of our children and grandchildren."
And there's the problem. For some reason it's deemed selfish and climate destroying to take a flight, but not to add another hungry mouth to any increasingly stretched planet. If you genuinely think we have a "climate emergency", the last thing you ought to be doing is reproducing. All those years of extra resource demand, especially at Western levels, yet not a peep out of FoE on the subject. I wonder why?
We all want to save the planet? well, up to a point. But, are the 50 to 60 million sport fans that travel around in Europe every weekend willing to watch there favourites on TV.? also do you think the rich will offer their life style as long as they have the only true god: MONEY.
kenneth leverington, sweden
Too many people want GW to be true:
Western Govs - M-East oil dependency & slowing developing nations.
The Media - doomsday stories sells copy!
Scientists - get money for research, just by mentioning GW in it.
Environmental groups - 'proves' pollution scares.
Anti-Capital/Globalisation - supports 'rollback' philosophy.
This rolling snowball of political and media driven scare stories creates a taboo that no one can challenge. At the centre is the IPCC - a political body (not scientific) that publishes scientific reports that even its own scientists don't agree with. What a shame for science!
I have mixed feelings with the article of Andy Atkins. Yes, rich nations have a legal and moral obligation to battle against climate change. Because, due to industrial revolution they become rich in the world and this industrialization releases various gases like carbon-dioxide and methane which are known to contribute to Global Warming. Definitely, rich nation should use their wealth to pay for developing nations to build clean energy infrastructure.
Engr Salam, Kushtia, Bangladesh
The answers are simple: Yes we rich nations do have a legal and moral obligation to combat climate change, because we caused it. Yes we should use our wealth to help developing nations produce clean renewable energy, because the vast majority of that wealth was created by us relying on dirty unsustainable energy. And no, carbon trading is not the answer. It is an excuse for not doing anything tangible about the problem. We are quite capable of doing exactly what is required - replace our energy creation infrastructure with renewables, and at the same time reduce our consumption by massive efficiency improvements.
So why do we delay? In my opinion, the only reason can be that this is a fundamental question of greed and fear - those in privileged positions want to maintain their comfort, and would do anything to avoid change. Even to the extent of ignoring the overwhelming consensus of scientific evidence, or worse, consistently working to discredit it by creating denial propaganda. Even to the extent of letting poor nations be destroyed. Even to the extent of letting the only life-supporting planet in the known universe die.
Dan MacLeod, London