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Thoughts on Copenhagen: Michael Pawlyn

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We need to be realistic about how far governments are prepared to go and come up with solutions that work around that, says Michael Pawlyn

The commitment that I would like to see coming out of Copenhagen would combine an acknowledgement of the best scientific predictions with a plan of action to maintain conditions within an acceptable level of risk.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, while inherently conservative, represents the best science we have available and is now backed up by highly sophisticated climate models.

For the plan of action, I believe the Global Commons Institute’s Contraction and Convergence framework [also adopted by the RIBA], which calls for an overall reduction of greenhouse gases to an equal level of per capita emissions, is the most equitable way of achieving major global reductions.  

As far as acceptable risk is concerned, how many of us would board a plane if the pilot said there was a 1 in a 100 chance of not surviving the journey? Hardly anyone would take such a risk. Following the same logic, it would seem reasonable for developed nations to commit to limiting the possibility of dangerous climate change to no more than 1 per cent, according to the best science available. The fact that no developed nation would go this far indicates the extent to which democracy has been corrupted by lobby groups.

In absence of an agreement that meets this criteria, the best we can hope for is an agreement that starts to internalise the costs of emissions so that innovation is promoted rather than obstructed.

At COP15, Exploration will be showcasing its Sahara Forest Project along with project partners Seawater Greenhouse Ltd, Bill Watts and The Bellona Foundation.

The Sahara Forest Project is an ambitious proposal that combines established technologies to grow low-carbon food, create large amounts of renewable energy and significant quantities of fresh water in some of the most water-stressed parts of the planet while locking up carbon in re-vegetated deserts.

Its relevance to the UK is that we are very unlikely to be able to make the shift from a carbon economy to a solar economy without linking up with other countries in Europe and North Africa. While this clearly has significant geopolitical challenges, it presents a more optimistic scenario for the future than one based on fossil fuels.

The choice is between an approach to energy provision based on collaboration and one that is increasingly likely to lead to cost volatility, climate chaos and conflict.

Michael Pawlyn is director at environmental architecture practice Exploration

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Aubrey Meyer

    Michael's comments favouring GCI's C&C as the basis of the global climate deal at Copenhagen in December [COP-15] is welcome.

    His comments on risk are too.

    The Government's are giving us all a 50:50 chance of not exceeding a global temperature rise of two degrees based on the following 'C&C premise': - a 50% cut in emissions globally by 2050 with equal per capita entitlement globally by that date.

    This year, in the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee enquiry into targets in the Climate-Act, GCI has challenged this saying that an 80% cut by 2050 with equal per capita by say 2020 gives us better odds.

    The technical work undrpinning this claim is here: - http://mbf.cc/Lo8F

    Exceeding the two degrees threshold presages runaway rates of climate change. Our Government needs all the help it can can get to organise the avoid this.

    The rule for Copenhagen is simple: - if for reasons of urgency the rate of contraction must be accelerated, the rate of convergence must be accelerated relative to that.

    As Rajendra Pachauri (Chair, IPCC) said recently: "If we are to limit global temperature rise to no more than 2-2.4 degrees Celsius, global emissions must peak no later than 2015 and start declining thereafter… So when one looks at the kinds of reductions that would be required globally, the only means for doing so is to ensure that there’s contraction and convergence and I think there’s growing acceptance of this reality. I don’t see how else we might be able to fit within the overall budget for emissions for the world as a whole by 2050. We need to start putting this principle into practice as early as possible."
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