Copenhagen 6: taking up the challenge

cop_logo_1_r_editedThe earlier sections of the Copenhagen congress synthesis report are, in this final section, summed up in forthright terms: “business-as-usual is dead”.  Small marginal changes to the way society currently operates socio-economically and technologically won’t keep climate change within the 2 degree guardrail.  Section 5 of the report affirmed that the tools are available for the transformation needed.  Section 6 focuses on how societies can be engaged in making the transition to a more sustainable future.  This has to be done on many scales, from individual to institutional and governmental, and at many levels, from changes in everyday behaviour to a reexamination of core values, beliefs and worldviews.  It lies in the domain of the humanities and social sciences, which were represented at the congress.

I won’t offer a summary of the section.  It touches on many aspects of how societies need to engage their communities in facing up to climate change and the necessary changes that will be involved for all.  A few examples can be mentioned: the need to be positive and optimistic about the benefits of decarbonising economies; the encouragement of a wide range of individual and small group “social practice” approaches and the behavioural change they embody; the significant and crucial role for organisations and sub-national government bodies; the effective engagement and empowerment of civil society; the active promotion of climate-friendly pathways such as energy efficiency and renewable energy systems faster than market systems alone could achieve; movement towards an integrated Earth System governance system; facing questions of human values.

The section recognises that religious and spiritual beliefs, indigenous knowledge systems, understandings of nature-society relationships, values and ethics influence how individuals and communities perceive and respond to climate change.  It concludes that ultimately it is these human dimensions of climate change which will determine whether we eventually achieve the great transformation that is possible or whether we will end  the 21st century with a miserable existence in a +5 degree centigrade world.

Although the last major section of the report, it’s not the final word, which is delivered in a short epilogue entitled The Path Ahead.  It leaves no room for doubt.  Climate change is fundamentally different from other environmental problems we have dealt with. Its risks, scales and uncertainties are enormous and there is a significant probability of a devastating outcome at the global scale.  The weight of scientific evidence is that there is a climate change boundary within which humanity should operate to reduce the risk of catastrophic consequences. We don’t know precisely where it lies, but current evidence indicates that it is fast approaching or may even have already been exceeded. Hence the need for rapid and urgent reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.  

The challenges are daunting.  Transformation will take time and require commitment from all levels and members of society. Long-term targets for emissions reductions are the first essential step. The pathways to the targets may change as time goes on, but the journey must be started now.  The first step is to build societal consensus on the need to act. May the Copenhagen meeting in December see the beginning of the journey.  

Here’s hoping.

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