Race for survival or sprint to extinction? A summary of the March 2009 ‘Emergency’ Climate Conference in Copenhagen

[With essential content submitted by ecoSanity.org Kindred Defender, Dr. Peter D. Carter]

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” ~ Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

  • Proviso
  • Essential Statement by Sir Nicholas Stern
  • Insanities of Note
  • 3 Musts
  • Essential March 2009 ‘Emergency’ Climate Conference Article Excerpts



As a world community, we don’t know the full potential of what we COULD do to bring our terrible atmospheric greenhouse gas levels down because we have not yet begun to try on a massive scale.  For 15 years, world powers have delayed serious action to curtail the rise and acceleration of global emissions, and similar forces are at it again in the lead up to the crucial, December 2009, climate conference in Copenhagen.

But if the world DID try, as if the survival of our species and most other life depended on it, multiple renewable energy and carbon cutting ‘miracles’ would, no doubt, be discovered.

As we continue to expose the inadequate and suicidal lack of proportional response to the latest, unnerving greenhouse data, we must take care not to underestimate the potential carbon cutting options that may surface once we commit our collective abilities to the task.



[The former chief economist for the World Bank and author of the 2006 Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change] said new research done in the past two or three years had made it clear there were “severe risks” if global temperature rose by the predicted +4 ºC to +7 ºC by 2100.  Agriculture would be destroyed and life would be impossible over much of the planet… ~ Lord Stern on global warming: It’s even worse than I thought, The Independent, Michael McCarthy, March 13, 2009

Stern also predicted mass migrations and extended conflict (war) over much of the world for decades if drastic action is not taken fast.  But his time-line is an optimistic view.

Not only do many indicators point to the potential collapse of agriculture as soon as over the next 20 years, global efforts to address the crisis have been utterly inadequate to the scale and threat of the predicted impacts and are, at present, on course to fall far short of what’s required to ensure that most life would at least have a chance to survive, let alone subsist in a desirable manor on a recognizable planet.

The largest, most widely known and discussed report of its kind, the Stern Review warned that climate change threatens to be the greatest, most far-reaching market failure ever because the costs of fossil fuel emissions are not incorporated into free market accounting and polluters are not forced to pay for the social/environmental impacts of their pollution.

Since this report, several other sources (including the International Energy Agency, IEA) have quoted figures from $250 to over $300 a tonne of carbon as the penalties that would be necessary in order to drive the conversion of our fossil fuel-based energy economy to one of conservation and renewables.  In contrast, the best policy proposal from the environmental movement is one tenth this amount.

Stern is now the first public leader to state that agriculture worldwide will collapse this century unless drastic action is taken to slash greenhouse gas emissions.  While damages to agriculture are not even recognized as a danger of global climate change in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC, 2007), ‘reasons for concern’, it is clearly the top threat to humanity’s survival.

Even the IPCC 2007 assessment indicates that agriculture in the most vulnerable regions will enter into decline as of less than +1 ºC (and faster as temperatures increase).  As was stated by numerous presenters at the recent International Scientific Congress on Climate Change, the inertia of fossil fuel emissions to date has committed the world to a not-so-distant warming of over +2 ºC.  And at temperatures above +2 ºC (before 2050, IPCC, Bill Cline), agriculture in ALL REGIONS becomes vulnerable.

Read the article below for more about a confluence of factors that are anticipated to build over the next 20 years and mount into “world upheavals” around 2030 or sooner:

Scarce Food, Water, Energy will Bring Global Mayhem by 2030, Says Scientist Irish Times, Ian Sample, March 19, 2009



1) In theory, world leaders will gather in Copenhagen in December to attempt to negotiate a new global deal to regulate global warming emissions in order to avoid “dangerous” climate change.  Too late!  Millions of people in the most impoverished countries — those least responsible for the problem and least able to cope — are suffering and dying RIGHT NOW from the way we in rich nations have chosen to live and the rapidly accelerating devastation that decades of our collective neglect has caused.

2) Negotiators have limited the range of their discussions to the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007), a diluted consensus based on research that is now more than 4 years out of date, with conclusions that have since been shown to be dangerous and suicidal underestimations of the rapidly declining state of world climate.  The IPCC also excludes the role of positive feedback loops, the primary drivers of the entire process that, beyond climate tipping points, threaten exponential and potentially irreversible catastrophe.

3) In a summary of key outcomes of the March 2009, International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Copenhagen, more than 2,500 top scientists and delegates from nearly 80 countries warned that several key statistics (like the rate of sea level rise, for instance) are at least double/ twice as bad/ happening twice as fast as previous estimates and that conditions are at or beyond the worst-case scenario trajectories predicted by the IPCC only 2 years ago.

But even these new, updated conclusions amount to yet another dangerous underestimation of the latest science that has exposed many aspects of the climate crisis to be 2, 3, 5 times worse than the 2007 IPCC report conclusions, depending.  And in some cases, as with two key barometres of decline, 10 x weaker carbon sink absorbtion in the southern ocean and 10 x, maybe even 20 x higher levels of ocean acidification.

So much for the 2007 IPCC suggestion that we have until 2015 to level off emissions, or that arctic summer sea-ice will be around until 2100.  Turns out it may be gone as soon as 2013, with the loss of the entire arctic ice cap projected for around 2030.  Oh, and there’s the methane ‘time bomb’ thing.  But more about that later.

4) While the mission of the recent congress was to create a 30-page synthesis update based on the most recent scientific revelations with which to target the participants of the UN conference and the media in December, the report cannot be seen as an official paper because it isn’t part of the political system. — Interview: Katherine Richardson, Copenhagen Congress Chair, Nature

Despite overwhelming evidence, the December climate conference in Copenhagen is being set up to sign away the future.  There’s been no mention of the need to achieve virtual zero CO2 emissions as quickly as possible and there is an ongoing denial that the world has reached a state of emergency beyond the point of “dangerous interference” with the climate system that threatens the ability of vulnerable populations (e.g. children, not even mentioned), future generations and most other life to survive.



Although the mostly European media made the final conference recommendations sound stronger than they were (the conference was largely ignored in North America), three musts were not embraced:

A) The latest science must be tabled

As a moral and scientific responsibility, and as a democratic right, all climate change scientists MUST insist that essential, published, post-IPCC 2007 research be tabled with the UNFCCC for inclusion in all future international negotiations as quickly as possible.

B) A state of dangerous climate interference MUST be acknowledged and a planetary emergency MUST be declared

It is essential to officially declare the climate crisis to be a planetary emergency based on what is now the clear, present, unprecedented and accelerating threat of runaway global heating and risk of catastrophic global climate destabilization.  In no uncertain terms, it must, at last, be stated that we are long past the point of dangerous interference with the climate system, and that we –- our species and most others -– cannot survive the global warming and climate change extremes that are predicted to ensue within the lifetimes of today’s children (let alone the cumulative, long-term impacts — 1,000 years!) if we delay emergency action any longer.

C) MUST aim for zero emissions fast/figure out how to remove CO2 from the atmosphere

Only emergency international action far beyond economics and politics as usual has any hope to concurrently halt man made greenhouse gas emissions, remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere AND actively cool the Earth to the extent, and within the rapidly closing window of opportunity, necessary to prevent imminent and irreversible global catastrophe.  To achieve this requires a global transformation to a virtual zero carbon emission world and a return to 300 ppm as fast and as soon as possible.

Given this alarming situation, one might expect all environmental and social justice organizations everywhere to be screaming.  But despite predictions of decades of unrest as of 2030 or sooner due to resource wars, mass migrations, hunger, disease, mass die-offs, and the now clear, present, accelerating threat posed by the impacts of climate change to the survival of most life before the end of this century, in North America, the major organizations hesitate to even use the word “Emergency”.

What would you call it?

* * * * *

(Click here for the official Key Messages from the Congress)

Lord Stern on Global Warming: It’s Even Worse Than I Thought

The Independent, Michael McCarthy, March 13, 2009

Lord Stern, the economist who produced the single most influential political document on climate change, says he underestimated the risks of global warming and the damage that could result from it…

Lord Stern said new research done in the past two or three years had made it clear there were “severe risks” if global temperature rose by the predicted +4 ºC to +7 ºC by 2100. Agriculture would be destroyed and life would be impossible over much of the planet, the former World Bank chief economist said.

“A rise of +5 ºC would be a temperature the world has not seen for 30 to 50 million years. We’ve been around only 100,000 years as human beings. We don’t know what that’s like.”  “We haven’t seen +3 ºC for a few million years, and we don’t know what that looks like either.”

The report said the costs of acting to counter climate change, by stabilising emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, might be about 1 per cent of annual global GDP by 2050. But the cost of doing nothing was found to be far greater – risking up to 20 per cent of the world’s wealth.

Yesterday, Lord Stern revised this prediction, saying the cost of inaction would be “50 per cent or more higher” than his previous highest estimate – meaning it could cost a third of the world’s wealth…or a 30% plus reduction in consumption per head. .

“Much of southern Europe would look like the Sahara. Many of the major rivers of the world, serving billions of people, would dry up in the dry seasons or re-route.”  Billions of people would have to relocate as a result, he said.  “What would be the implication of that? Extended conflict, social disruption, war essentially, over much of the world, for many decades.

* * * * *

Stern Attacks Politicians Over Climate ‘Devastation’
The Guardian, David Adam, March 13, 2009

“The climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.”…

Several experts at the conference warned that temperatures are likely to soar beyond the +2 ºC target set by European politicians, though they are reluctant to say so publicly. “The +2 ºC target is gone and +3 ºC is difficult. I think we’re heading for +4 ºC at least,” one said. Oxford University yesterday announced that it would hold a conference in September to discuss the implications of a rise of +4 ºC or more.

* * * * *

The conference also heard that:

Sea Levels Will Rise at Least Twice as Fast as Official Estimates Predict
The Independent, Michael McCarthy, March 11, 2009

Global Warming May Trigger Carbon ‘Time Bomb’, Scientist Warns
David Adam, The Guardian, March 10, 2009

Philippe Ciais, a researcher with the Laboratory for Climate Sciences and the Environment in Gif-sur-Yvette, France, told the Copenhagen Climate Congress that billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane could be freed by just a +2 ºC average rise.

Carbon Emissions Creating Acidic Oceans Not Seen Since Dinosaurs
The Guardian, David Adam, March 10, 2009

* * * * *

Scientists Are Grim, Economists More Optimistic About Climate Change’s Effects
NY Times, Jean-Marie Macabrey, March 13, 2009

At the opening of yesterday’s session, Lord Nicholas Stern, former chief economist for the World Bank, added his own dose of gloom by saying that his now-famous report on the risks of global warming, written for the British government in 2006, had underestimated them. “The reason is that emissions are growing faster than we thought, the absorption capacity of the planet is less than we thought, the probability of high temperatures is likely higher than we thought, and some of the effects are coming faster than we thought,” he explained.

* * * * *

World’s Leading Scientists in Desperate Plea to Politicians to Act on Climate Change
The Telegraph, Richard Alleyne, March 13, 2009

The plea came as Lord Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank whose report two years ago drew attention to the possible results of global warming, told the conference that unless politicians grasped the gravity of the situation it would be “devastating”.

Increases in average temperatures of six degrees by the end of the century were an increasing possibility and would produce conditions not seen on Earth for more than 30 million years, he said.

That could mean massive rises in sea level, whole areas devastated by hurricanes and others turned into uninhabitable desert, he claimed, forcing billions of people to leave their homelands.

He told the summit that politicians continued to underestimate the impact of climate change and that scientists needed to redouble their efforts to get them to understand. “Much of southern Europe would look like the Sahara. Many of the major rivers of the world, serving billions of people, would dry up in the dry seasons or re-route.

“What would be the implication? Hundreds of millions of people would have to move, probably billions. What would be the implication of that? Extended conflict, social disruption, war essentially, over much of the world for many decades.”

The British economist was speaking as the Prince of Wales warned that nations were “at a defining moment in the world’s history” over climate change. As he continued his tour of South America, he delivered his most impassioned and urgent plea yet on the need to tackle global warming, saying there were “less than 100 months” to save the planet.

* * * * *

Scientist: Warming Could Cut Population to 1 Billion
NY Times, James Kanter, March 13, 2009

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said that if the buildup of greenhouse gases and its consequences pushed global temperatures +9 degrees Fahrenheit (+5 ºC) higher than today — well below the upper temperature range that scientists project could occur from global warming — Earth’s population would be devastated.

* * * * *

Leading Climate Scientist: ‘Democratic Process Isn’t Working’
The Guardian, David Adam, March 18

Officials will gather in Bonn later this month to continue talks on a new global climate treaty, which campaigners have called to be signed at a UN meeting in Copenhagen in December. Hansen warned that the new treaty is “guaranteed to fail” to bring down emissions.

Hansen said: “What’s being talked about for Copenhagen is a strenghening of Kyoto [protocol] approach, a cap and trade with offsets and escape hatches which will be gauranteed to fail in terms of getting the required rapid reduction in emissions. They talk about goals which sound impressive, but when you see the actions are such that it will be impossible to reach those goals, then I can understand the informed public getting frustrated.”

He said he was growing “concerned” over the stance taken by the new US adminstration on global warming. “It’s not clear what their intentions are yet, but if they are going to support cap and trade then unfortunately i think that will be another case of greenwash. It’s going to take stronger action than that.”

* * * * *

If we Behave as if it’s Too Late, Then Our Prophecy is Bound to Come True
The Guardian, George Monbiot, March 17, 2009

Quietly in public, loudly in private, climate scientists everywhere are saying the same thing: it’s over. The years in which more than +2 ºC of global warming could have been prevented have passed, the opportunities squandered by denial and delay. On current trajectories we’ll be lucky to get away with +4 ºC. Mitigation (limiting greenhouse gas pollution) has failed; now we must adapt to what nature sends our way. If we can.

This, at any rate, was the repeated whisper at the climate change conference in Copenhagen last week. It’s more or less what Bob Watson, the environment department’s chief scientific adviser, has been telling the British government. It is the obvious if unspoken conclusion of scores of scientific papers. Recent work by scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, for instance, suggests that even global cuts of 3% a year, starting in 2020, could leave us with +4 ºC of warming by the end of the century. At the moment, emissions are heading in the opposite direction at roughly the same rate. If this continues, what does it mean? Six? Eight? Ten degrees? Who knows?…

There’s a limit to what this money could buy anyway. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that “global mean temperature changes greater than +4 ºC above 1990-2000 levels” would “exceed … the adaptive capacity of many systems”. At this point there’s nothing you can do, for instance, to prevent the loss of ecosystems, the melting of glaciers and the disintegration of major ice sheets. Elsewhere it spells out the consequences more starkly: global food production, it says, is “very likely to decrease above about +3 ºC”. Buy your way out of that.

And it doesn’t stop there. The IPCC also finds that, above +3 ºC of warming, the world’s vegetation will become “a net source of carbon”. This is just one of the climate feedbacks triggered by a high level of warming. Four degrees might take us inexorably to +5 ºC or +6 ºC: the end – for humans – of just about everything….

Until recently, scientists spoke of carbon concentrations – and temperatures – peaking and then falling back. But a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that “climate change … is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop”. Even if we were to cut carbon emissions to zero today, by the year 3000 our contribution to atmospheric concentrations would decline by just 40%. High temperatures would remain more or less constant until then. If we produce it, we’re stuck with it…

Yes, it might already be too late – even if we reduced emissions to zero tomorrow – to prevent more than +2 ºC of warming; but we cannot behave as if it is, for in doing so we make the prediction come true. Tough as this fight may be, improbable as success might seem, we cannot afford to surrender.

* * * * *

Time to Change ‘Climate Change’, The Guardian, George Monbiot, March 12, 2009
What’s clear from Copenhagen is that policymakers have fallen behind the scientists: global warming is already catastrophic.

Apart from the sheer animal panic I felt on reading these reports, two things jumped out at me. The first is that governments are relying on IPCC assessments that are years out of date even before they are published, as a result of the IPCC’s extremely careful and laborious review and consensus process. This lends its reports great scientific weight, but it also means that the politicians using them as a guide to the cuts in greenhouse gases required are always well behind the curve. There is surely a strong case for the IPCC to publish interim reports every year, consisting of a summary of the latest science and its implications for global policy.

The second is that we have to stop calling it climate change. Using “climate change” to describe events like this, with their devastating implications for global food security, water supplies and human settlements, is like describing a foreign invasion as an unexpected visit, or bombs as unwanted deliveries. It’s a ridiculously neutral term for the biggest potential catastrophe humankind has ever encountered.

I think we should call it “climate breakdown”.



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