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