Monday, November 05, 2012

Obama must win for the world to have a chance of beating climate change

Here's the logic of this post:
  1. The latest science says we're heading for over 6 degrees C warming.
  2.  Romney will do nothing but make this worse
  3.  Obama must win
  4. Then go to Doha and help broker a global pact on limiting emissions.

Following Hurricane Sandy, and more bad news on climate change today , there has never been so much at stake in an American election for the rest of the world.

If this is not a wake-up call, I don't know what is.

Hurricane Sandy was the worst storm to hit the eastern seaboard of the United States in living memory.

In one dramatic moment, that will end up costing American taxpayers billions of dollars, it has succeeded in doing something by powerful demonstration that no other amount of evidence or eloquence has succeeded in doing: it has brought climate change, at the last moment, into the presidential election agenda.

In its wake, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, has thrown his support behind Barack Obama. The latest issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek carries on its cover the slogan: “It's climate change, stupid!"

In an editorial, it says: "Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all. Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater."

The latest scientific climate change research, arriving with chilling timing in my e-mail box today, points to disaster for the planet unless something drastic is done. Current rates of decarbonisation mean that global average temperatures are heading to a disastrous 6oC of warming. This would render much of the planet uninhabitable.

The news comes from fresh analysis by financial consultants PwC. Their Low Carbon Economy Index measures the progress of developed and emerging economies towards reducing emissions linked to economic output. Its latest issue says "To limit global warming to 2oC would now mean reducing global carbon intensity by an average of 5.1% a year – a performance never achieved since 1950, when these records began". [For a copy of the report contact Rowena Mearley, Tel: +44 207 213 4247 or e-mail]

It adds that any investments in long term assets or infrastructure, particularly in coastal or low-lying regions need to address far more pessimistic scenarios.

This message seems almost pointedly directed at the East Coast of the United States this week.

On October 31, the New York Times published an article which explicitly linked Hurricane Sandy to climate change.

It said “the storm surge along the Atlantic coast was almost certainly intensified by decades of sea-level rise linked to human emissions of greenhouse gases. And [scientists have] emphasized that Hurricane Sandy, whatever its causes, should be seen as a foretaste of trouble to come as the seas rise faster, the risks of climate change accumulate and the political system fails to respond". It quotes in support Thomas R. Knutson, a research meteorologist with the government’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J.

Hurricane Sandy came hot on the heels of the intense summer drought, which also powerfully affected much of the United States.

Americans now know first-hand some of the effects of climate chaos. It's not happening in some remote atoll of the Pacific Ocean, or in the estuarine delta of a poor, developing country. It's happening right in their homes. It is affecting their power supply, the price of their food, their livelihoods. It's costing lives. It's going to put up insurance premiums.

Most Europeans have not been subject to the same ideologically-driven debate over climate change as Americans have in the last decade. They have not been deprived of the true facts of the situation, or misled by compromised politicians.

Facts have a great way of cutting through ideology. During the Cultural Revolution in China, millions died as a result of ideologically-driven policies on agriculture. The authorities responded with denial and cover-up, because the alternative was to admit that their leaders were wrong. But now we know the truth, sadly too late for those peasants who suffered death by starvation.

Americans need to know that their leaders have been wrong, before it is too late.

There is no doubt that Obama's policies on climate change are better than Romney's, who said in his acceptance speech for the GOP nomination: “President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise ... is to help you and your family”. That phrase should return to haunt him now.

But for Obama to have spoken out loudly on climate change before now would have, paradoxically, worked against his best interests. Instead, he has during his campaign repeatedly shown support for oil, natural gas, shale gas and coal as well as renewables.

That has not been an obstacle for Bill Clinton, who is on the campaign trail himself. On Tuesday he said: “All up and down the East Coast, there are mayors, many of them Republicans, who are being told, ‘You’ve got to move these houses back away from the ocean. You’ve got to lift them up. Climate change is going to raise the water levels on a permanent basis. If you want your town insured, you have to do this.’ In the real world, Barack Obama’s policies work better”.

The president of the World Resources Institute, a former special envoy for climate change at the World Bank, who also happens to be British, has commented on the fact that both presidential candidates have largely avoided mention of climate change by saying: “Political discourse here is massively out of step with the rest of the world, but also with the citizens of this country. Polls show very clearly that two-thirds of Americans think this is a real problem and needs to be addressed.”

We have to hope that Obama wins the poll this week. Romney has opposed Democratic initiatives to regulate emissions from power plants and vehicles. He has promised to reverse Obama’s air quality regulations. He has said he will renegotiate the auto efficiency standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 that automakers agreed to this year.

Obama, speaking last week in Iowa, has promised to continue support for wind power projects and federal tax breaks for them, which Romney wants to end. “My plan will keep these investments, and we’ll keep reducing the carbon pollution that’s also heating the planet, because climate change isn’t a hoax. The droughts we’ve seen, the floods, the wildfires, those aren’t a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And we can do something about it.”

He is right. Romney is wrong. It's as simple as that.

Obama must not just win a second term. He must then lead the world in the COP 18 climate change negotiations this December in Doha to a proper, legally binding agreement.

America, the world's greatest polluter, has avoided this responsibility for over a decade, and the PwC report reveals the consequence of this.

There has never been so much at stake for the rest of the world in an American election.

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