Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Tuesday, 29 December 2009

We must not accept Copenhagenís failings

Tim Aldred
Tim Aldred

World leaders must listen to the people who put them in power and quickly make amends for failing to deliver a binding climate deal in Copenhagen, says Tim Aldred. In this week's Green Room, he says time is not on our side, as many of the world's poorest nations are already feeling the effects of climate change.

Climate sculpture in Copenhagen (Image: AFP)
We must spare no effort in carrying the voices of those most affected in poor countries to those in power who so spectacularly disappointed in Denmark

"Hopenhagen" - the epithet enthusiastically bestowed upon the recent climate talks in Denmark - has turned out to be not only a touch cheesy, but with hindsight, hopelessly misplaced and painfully mocking.

Aside from the to-be-expected justifications from the politicians themselves, rarely have verdicts on international summits been quite so united in their expressions of disappointment, derision and outright condemnation.

And yet ordinary citizens had made plain to their politicians what was required.

A week before I left for Copenhagen, I marched with 50,000 people in the streets of London - one of several thousand events held in 140 countries around the world.

An 11th-hour email petition, as the summit stumbled to a conclusion, attracted an extraordinary 14 million signatures. Millions of people were speaking, but were not being heard by the politicians.

After two years of build-up to Copenhagen, the highlights of what our politicians agreed in our name were:

• A near-global acknowledgement that global warming should be limited to less than 2C (3.6F), the degree of warming generally accepted as being "dangerous". Arguably, this was one of the top "successes" from Copenhagen

• Rich countries must register the emissions cuts they will make by 2020 by the end of January 2010. However, there is no guarantee that this will limit warming in the future as what countries announce they will cut is up to them

• New and additional money "approaching $30bn" will be channelled to poorer nations over the period 2010-12, and the goal of providing an annual sum of $100bn by 2020. But there remain real questions about whether a special Copenhagen Green Climate Fund will reach the target of $100bn, which many say is, at best, half of what is needed

But this is nowhere near enough. As ordinary citizens we must now redouble our efforts to get the politicians back to the negotiating table.

Something rotten

We must spare no effort in carrying the voices of those most affected in poor countries to those in power who so spectacularly disappointed in Denmark.

Here are two such responses from people with whom I work:

Firstly, Bruno Guemes, a development worker for Progressio in Peru:

"People here feel that these international summits are more of a power game rather than about meeting real need.

Climate protesters (Image: AFP)
Nice place, shame about the deal - Copenhagen failed to deliver

"In the valley of Huaral, one of the country's most fragile zones, where a third of people rely on small-scale farming to make a living and feed their families, glaciers and snow-caps are melting, rains are less frequent and water resources are running dry.

"In one community, people are taking decisive action in response to water shortages - all but the elderly are leaving their ancestral lands.

"If governments continue with a 'business as usual' approach to climate change - as they did in Copenhagen - we will be left alone."

Secondly, Angel Maria Ibarra Turcios, director of Salvadorian Ecological Unity:

"My first reaction to the outcome of the Copenhagen summit was one of indignation.

"We (the civil society) are not going to accept the failure of Copenhagen. The governments have failed, which means that we have to find new ways of civil society involvement.

"We have to find new partnerships between organisations in the North and the South.

"The Central American region is already experiencing climate change. We had a major drought last year, followed by a flooding. Two hundred people died.

Climate march in London (Image: PA)
Marches in cities around the globe urged world leaders to act

"We are disappointed but not defeated. We'll keep working for a better tomorrow because we believe that the future has to be a future of peace and hope for the whole world."

It is the voices of people like Bruno and Angel, who face the realities of climate change every day, that can spur those of us in rich countries to do more than just change our light bulbs and put our televisions on standby.

We must play a part in changing the politics-as-usual approach to climate change. We must help to generate an irresistible mass movement of ordinary citizens in order to intensify the pressure around climate change - so that politicians will have to take brave action at the climate summit in Mexico in 2010.

They must hear that we do not accept this outcome from Copenhagen, and we demand that they do better.

They must hear that we are not going away and that we will come back stronger. If we allow this defeat to stop us as ordinary citizens from campaigning and bringing pressure, then the climate sceptics will have won. We cannot allow that to happen.

For some of us, taking greater action might mean joining one of the many development and environmental groups who constantly cajole and seek to persuade politicians to take faster and deeper action on climate change.

Wherever we live in the developed and developing world, if we have the opportunity, let us meet politicians, write letters, join campaigns, march on the streets as we did in our tens of thousands in the run-up to Copenhagen, but in vastly greater numbers.

In 12 months, we want the glow of success from the Mexico summit to make "Hopenhagen" seem like a bad dream.

Tim Aldred is head of policy for Progressio, an international development agency that works with poor communities in 11 countries

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Tim Aldred? Was the Copenhagen climate summit a disaster? Are you hopeful that world leaders will deliver a binding deal to tackle climate change in the next 12 months? Do we need a different approach to prevent the world sliding towards dangerous climate change?

While I believe there are high degree of uncertainty of the future of Earth -- partially due to natural processes, partially due to mankind. While I do not like the doomsday strategy of some of the environmentalist, I am convinced humans are creating a major impart to nature. I have some skepticism about issues like sea level and global temperature rise,

I think people need to step away from global warming and see the even bigger picture -- things like extinction of wildlife, air pollution, acid rain, and ground water pollution are far more well observed changes to our Earth. I agree with Sanjay that over-population is an extremely serious issue. Yet no one will confront it.

We need to step up to protect the environment -- Copenhagen was a farce. So are people in the on far side of both spectrum -- in the greens and denial camps. Common sense and the stop of procrastination need to prevail.

Humans do not own nature. Damage to nature will ultimately harms mankind themselves. Skepticism about politicians and scientist claims in global change is good, but it is neither an excuse for inaction as that was nothing but procrastination.
Steven Chan, Tallahassee Florida

The science of global climate change is NOT legitimately disputed. Opponents of a binding deal to combat global warming can only spout baseless rhetoric soaked in fear. Our collective inability to take responsibility for the impact we have on our environment is disgraceful, and the inaction stemming from this failure will overshadow any societal progress that could be perceived from this era. History will write us as a great short-sighted blotch of self absorbed denial and shame.
Dane Heins, Oklahoma, United States

Lets nail the lie - climate change campaigners like Tim Aldred don't speak for ordinary people. Never have done, never will. For you see the penny dropped for ordinary people in Copenhagen. Right cross the world billions now realise that the Green movement is fundamentally anti-humanistic, anti-democratic and anti-wealth.

Human aspirations are not best served by a belief that to be born human is now a sin against the planet, and once born we are to be dealt with by being made forever fearful and poor.

It's time poor people lifted their eyes and look at the giant fraud that is being perputated in their name. It is time to save the people, all the people. As for the planet, well, as it has done over the past 4 billion years it can look after itself.
Malcolm, Dundee, Scotland

Sarah Ferguson, science is never totally "settled" else it wouldn't be science at all. Rgds, Damon
Damon Hart-Davis, London, UK

I am not agreed with this writer. We should see the Copenhagen summit in a positive attitude instead of much criticism. And this Copenhagen climate summit has been drawn the kind attention of all political leaders to build this planet for the survival of our next generation. Through this meeting all poor and least developed countries have been got a chance to raise their vulnerable condition to the world leaders. And also I believe, world leaders will take necessary action to tackle climate change in 12 months. Definitely, we need a different approach which will be positively strong to prevent the world sliding towards dangerous climate change.
Engr Salam, Kushtia,Bangladesh

Tim the Copenhagen deal was never ment to be China never intended for us to make any sort of head way on this for it is not in their best intrest. China and only China is to blame for this failure. So until china is ready to set at the table there is no need for the rest of us include them in any discusions that matter.

Just my thoughts on the matter.

V/R Moorefallen
Moorefallen, Honolulu

Ordinary citizens making plain their views is obviously not enough. These leaders need to be voted out.
Katherine Jaeger, Shamokin, PA, USA

There is only one reason the summit failed. The politicians do not believe the problem is man made, i know i don't.
Jeff, Belper

I am so worried about our future in this unique planet where the life happened to be. Our profit of a full century is going to have to be spent on reverting the climate. It's a shame that we picture "the heaven" as a green, full of life plane in which we used to be living in the beginning of this human age. Why didn't we preserve what we had in the first place??
Ozgur Yardimci, Muscat / Oman

When will the Biassed BBC look at the evidence and not the speculation?

Sadly you have lost the objectivity of which Lord Reith was so proud.

The evidence is that the science is by no means settled and supports the view that we should deal with poverty, education and economic development rather than indulge in a King Canute scenario.

So in answer to your questions:

I do not agree with Tim Aldred and I am thankful that the summit was a disaster. I do not think that politicians should rely on the current science and most definitely should not reach an agreement to try and alter the climate without a better idea of the collateral damage.

Adaptation rather than mitigation should be the watchword.
Sarah Ferguson, Jersey

How can water shortage be a symptom of global warming when global warming leads to higher precipitation (allegedly this is causing floods)? How can it be that every change is attributed to global warming? Is global warming thus an unfalsifiable hypothesis?
DirkH, Braunschweig, Germany

We have six and a half billion people on the planet going rapidly towards seven. If I look at my national figure it is more than 1.16 billion.China-1.33 billion,USA-306million,Indonesia-230million and Brazil-191 million We are in an automatic world, if human population has to grow than population of other species have to decline or extinct automatically. The grown up population automatically brings scarcity of water, pollution, competition, deforestation, waste material disposal challenges, rising temperatures due to increase in green house gases, growing acidic tendency in oceans, ozone layer depletion, poverty, unemployment etc. and every individual is more burdened and frustrated while adopting the rising pace of the latest trends and competition. In last one decade only, we have spoiled many things dramatically on our planet. Think of last footprints of those species, which are at the verge of extinction. We must promote small family norms vigorously to achieve replacement levels of total fertility rate.

How politicians alone can fix this mammoth task? The fears of politicians are not real. Every transition requires toughness and determination at the initial stage but afterwards politician themselves would realise the difference.

Unknowingly, or because of routine and lifestyle pressures we require fossil fuel, electricity and many other items which actually harm the planet. We live in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. We do not think of decades and centuries. But decades and centuries are consist of seconds only. We must develop the environment profession quite similar to any other regular professions like army, police, business, politics, education and alike. We require well established environmental forces for repairing the damages done to our planet and for maintaining biodiversity, health of our environment and of course for well being of our future generations. In early centuries the pressure of population and climate change was almost negligible due to limited rise in numbers, suitable environment conditions and presence of abundant forest, water, wildlife and other natural resources. Now with the weak atmospheric conditions and limited numbers of forest and natural reserves only human beings are left to share this burden. Nature has given us similar body, similar organs, similar age, air to breath, natural water to quench our throats, same senses to feel joy and pain, same Sun light, same darkness, and many other infinite similar things. That is the 'biggest and genuine natural justice and equity' we have. Politicians should not blame each other instead they must focus on the correct side.
Sanjay Singh Thakur, Indore,India

I whole-heartedly agree with Tims comments. But it is not the environment that is sickest - it is the economy, fundamentally operating under the wrong reward metrics. If 'Health and Wellfare' were the reward metrics of international trade tender then a Copenhagen treaty would have sailed to consensus. And international management consultants would be prevented from applying 'lean recruitment strategy' to improve their clients bottom line. Let's keep the pressure on international politics to deliver the goods.
Alistair Chisholm, London

Climate change is happening now, obviously here in the Kootenay area of B.C. It is especially obvious when one visits glaciers and watches reports about what is going on in our north. The Inuit want winter back. Ice is no longer safe for them to go out and hunt from as they once did. Shame on all of the politicians and naysayers. They are wrong. I have confidence in the reports of the IPCC and this group checks and rechecks their work - its called peer review.
Humankind must unite - this is both a scientific, geographic, social and spiritual problem. We are here together and here we must fix the problem. Let's work together and clean up the mess.
norman fields, Castlegar, .BC, Canada

I hear a lot of people disputing global warming, and I think the term global warming has been thoroughly beaten into two words that people are tired of hearing about. A more appropriate name for our current global situation would be Environmental Decay. And everything in basic ecology shows us that when an environment is destroyed, ultimately, life is destroyed. As humans it is our job to protect the earth we get everything from, the earth was not created specifically for humans and after we are gone, the earth will remain. There was life before us and there will be life after us but why should we bring about our own extinction? It is widely accepted that the temperature of the earth changes naturally through a period of time. But the changing temperature of the earth isn't what we should be combating, it is everything else we do to the planet, from mining to fishing to forestry. Everything humans do impacts our environment and it is high time we take responsibility for our actions and make our world a better place for everyone, not just the countries with the most money.
If the politicians refuse to negotiate a solution the citizens of the planet must take matters into their own hands and improve their own personal environment, if that change happens, larger change will be possible.
Logan Parker, Columbia, Missouri, USA

With biggest polluters being China and US, unfortunately the only chance of success is when those two twin powers join the action... As we have witnessed in Copenhagen, China is not going to lower its emissions as they believe it is their privilege to pollute now simply because others have done so before... And if EU goes with ambitious plans costing billions our economy will suffer further with jobs switching to China... Its a vicious circle and unless developing countries put China under pressure to join the action the best we can hope for is only limited success...
Marcin, Warsaw, Poland

This was the best of a selection of bad outcomes we could expect. Not only is there now no proof of global warming *ALL the major data sets are compromised) even the theory has recently been put in doubt. The theory that CO2 causes global warming violates the 1st and 2nd law of Thermodynamics. If it were real we'd have perpetual motion machine which is just pure science fiction.
We also find that the biggest movers and shakers in the the AGW camp (aka Global Cooling Denialists) are all heavily involved in Big Oil. Quite the reverse of how it is portrayed in the mainstream media.
Even the BBC has a financial interest in promoting Global Warming as opposed to presenting a balanced view
John Walters, Caerffili

People who still don't believe that climate change is happening really must be entirely and completely stupid, or too afraid of whats happening to admit it.
However, I'm pretty sure they may as well continue to live in Disneyland with their fingers stuck in their ears and their eyes screwed shut, as more than one leading scientist has already described the situation as beyond help. To be honest I suspect we're all facing adaptation to the changes rather than prevention already, and we can't do much to change that.
That being said, it is frustrating that so many people are still saying 'i dont see how this works so i dont believe in it'. Last I checked, I don't understand how the combustion engine works, as im not an engineer, but you know what, I do believe that it does. Maybe they'll believe in it when they have to wear a snorkel to work? Or perhaps they're hoping all that extra water will just run off the side of the flat earth?
Andy Clark, Reading

Perhaps never before in recent human history there was a topic that warranted the entire world to agree on a common approach and solution as climate change has asked for. What happened in Copenhagen was clearly a sign that:
1. We will continue to debate on which scientific data and theory is best and factual. The search for rational reality on climate change is now being driven to consensus mode as opposed to sticking with facts, but then which facts represents the truth and whose truth will win out?
2. Politics will always look at short term implications. No politician worth his salt will like to antagonize vote banks asking them to change lifestyle, pay more for energy and the like 3. Geo-economics forces also play a major part. Who messed up the climate, who should pay and why will be questions that cannot be answered in one summit.
In the end we should admit that all our actions to climate change may end up being reactive to its impacts. The solution to climate change is to look inwards for all of us individually and as societies rather look outwards in a never ending blame game
santosh khatelsal, Bangalore, India

In brief, COP15 was a compromise made for short term benefit seen by US, China and other nations while ignoring long term consequences feared by all. If people around the world are really serious about climate change issue and act now the outcomes of COP15 meeting carries no significance, but if we are not yet serious then best way is to wait COP16, 17... and so on. Current situation reminds me of a childhood story, when a group of people found abundant wealth in the middle of ocean. They could not give up filling their boat with the treasures, knowing the fact that boat could finally go down. We are now on the same boat which has already started drowning!!!
Binaya, Kyoto

Tim Aldred's juvenile conviction that he represents some part of a worldwide popular movement fighting to save the planet may be touching, but is quite delusional. His earnest understanding of climate change has clearly been built on the sort of junk science and fraud so comprehensively exposed at the Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia, and which has now undermined the very foundations of his man-made climate change religion.
As for claims of a 14 million emails petition, well, it's just not very impressive, is it? If it's such an urgent global issue, a response of less than a quarter of one per cent of the global population doesn't seem much of an endorsement to me.
Tim, if you want to do good works, I suggest you do so for real charities, not fake ones like Progressio, which rely on funding from the government through taxpayer handouts. Not much public support being shown there, I suggest. Let's be honest, your 'charity' is really just another part of the hopelessly ineffective and inefficient Department of International Development, and you are just another hectoring, uninformed and unproductive public sector worker that we can easily do without, thanks.
Alan Jones, Alton, Hants

The whole thing is like the story of King Canute; trying in vain to hold back the tide. No matter how many billions politicians throw at the problem, the relentless march of climate change prevails. They're not miracle workers.
Marc, Norwich, Norfolk, England

This is about trust really. Trust the majority of scientific opinion and you have to accept climate change - and probably man-made too. If you don´t trust this opinion enough then you might be tempted to doubt. However I am not clear what doubters are putting their own trust in (bear in mind we are trying to consider the future of the planet here).
Is it the feeling that things should not be meddled with? A bit of a contradiction if you also think that human activity has had no impact on the climate. Is it just anger that the scientific case is not watertight, or has been perverted by a few? This is a hopelessly unrealistic view of science. Is it a strong scientific counter case? If so it has been kept well out of sight (except for some pseudo-scientific activity in discussion groups).
Maybe it is the feeling that our lifestyles are threatened. They are, and this is probably the strongest motive to sweep the issue under the carpet and keep the blinkers on tight. Most people can see what it implies if we have to moderate our use of fossil fuel and they don´t like it.
peter, Christchurch, DORSET

Relying on politicians to do the right thing has always been a mistake because it's only when we citizens get off our duff that real change happens. As Copenhagen demonstrated, the most hopeful aspect was the united peaceful protest in the streets. In the U.S., we have enjoyed prosperity at the expense of the environment and poorer nations whose resources we have unfairly taken. That's a fact that no developed nation wants to really look at because it's payback time on the Planet. Payback will happen one way or another.
William Grant Macdonald, Eugene Oregon USA

Thank you Mr. Andy Clark for your comments to the point. Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary Joe do not need to understand the science, the data sets and all the IPCC Assessment Reports simply because they cannot. And it would be a titanesque job to try to convince everybody on this planet that the climate IS really changing, mostly for worse. Our 193 governments have all endorsed the conclusions of the scientists from the IPCC. Even Saudi Arabia's government. It is pretty clear that the climate change deniers are only a pathetic small number of voices, funded by the ever richer oil lobby, therefore quite powerful to make all their noise. I would beg the media to stop asking if their readers are climate warmist or deniers. This is a false debate. Let's roll up our sleeves. Our governments must get to work and take strong measures NOW.
Pascale Collas, Ottawa, Canada

I think that those of us who can must lead by example and 'put our money where our mouth is' I am in the process of fitting one water heating solar panel and will then follow by fitting photo voltaic panels when the French government provides the necessary metering systems to let me put the surplus back into the grid. The water panel will reduce my consumption of fuel oil by 50%, possibly more. The photo voltaic panels would make my house, which is over 300 years old, carbon negative. If all those who can afford to do this do so we will have made a very large contribution. Continue to harass the politicians but also try to do something yourself. It all helps.
Tim Proctor, St Jean Pied de Port, France

Moorefallen of Honolulu, the US with less than a 1/4 of the population of China, emits almost as much pollution as China !! To have a level playing field, the US *MUST* first reduce their pollution by at least 75% before any of its citizens can point a finger at any other country!! Similarly, Britain emits 3 times, per capita , as the Chinese. Therefore, they too have to reduce their emission by at least 66%. The Chinese have already offered to match the equivalent progress as the developed countries. To do any more will not be fair !! That's why the developing countries walked out of the main talks because the so called "deal" was made by the developed countries for the benefit of the developed countries and not for the benefit of the world!! All else is ritualistic, political posturing and propaganda !! Don't believe all those spin and lies. Open your eyes to the facts !!
Ishkandar, London

Kyoto resulted in a legally binding agreement but no real good came of it, so why should any of us care a hoot that Copenhagen did not product a legally binding agreement? Something far more important resulted from the Copenhagen summit: a flexible agreement involving the world's major polluting countries and a country with one of the world's largest rainforests.
But even before Copenhagen there was other positive action: the agreement between Brazil and Norway, and the unilateral action by the owners of the Empire State Building. These examples are the way forward, not some watered-down, ineffectual agreement that purports to satisfy every nation on Earth.
David, Cheshire

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