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|With the UN talks on climate change
beginning tomorrow, what do the experts think the conference will
Founder of Forum for the Future
Copenhagen could turn out to be a real success story (if not a
resounding triumph). It's astonishing how little attention is being
paid to the new commitments made by China, India, Indonesia, Brazil,
Mexico – and even the US – over the past year or so. But to secure
that success, the conference needs to land three big things.
Recover lost ground by powerfully reasserting the scientific
consensus delivered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
in its fourth assessment report. Stay open to legitimate scepticism;
nail the crazy stuff.
Go big on new jobs, technology breakthroughs, innovation, massive
efficiency and productivity gains (available at zero cost), improved
health and quality of life. See off the critics who bang on about
"hair shirt policies", sacrifice costs and so on.
Sign off on the strongest possible political agreement. Get every
country in the world to commit to getting a legally binding treaty
in place by the end of next year, based on deep cuts in the rich
world and much more ambitious reductions in CO2 intensity in
developing and emerging economies. Agree an emergency funding
package to help to prevent further deforestation as part and parcel
of a much bigger financing agreement.
And spice all that up with a few hard-edged decisions, confirming
the agreement of the last G20 meeting to eliminate all government
subsidies for fossil fuels.
Leader of the Green Party
To have even a 50/50 chance of keeping the global temperature rise
below C, industrialised countries need to adopt binding targets to
reduce emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020, based on 1990
levels. Importantly, these should be domestic reductions – not
"outsourced" to poorer countries.
Governments need to recognise that investing in alternatives to
polluting, finite fossil fuels, together with a shift to a more
sustainable economic model, will actually benefit society and the
The Copenhagen summit can be judged a real success only if it
reaches a binding agreement in line with keeping global warming
below the C threshold. The EU can show political leadership and
hopefully win a positive result in Copenhagen by committing to
ambitious policies now. I take heart from the millions of people
campaigning for their governments to act urgently. I very much hope
that the politicians at Copenhagen will listen.
Energy and climate change minister
We need developed countries, which have contributed the lion's share
of emissions in the past, to agree to significant specific emissions
cuts by 2020. But developing countries must also commit to taking
action, because on current trajectories about 90 per cent of future
emissions growth would come from the developing world.
We need solutions to the problem of forestry, which emits more
carbon than every car, boat, train and plane on the planet combined.
People living in forested areas need alternative livelihoods if they
are to refrain from destroying the world's great carbon stores.
We need finance and international co-operation to support
technological innovation. And, because it is too late to avoid some
serious effects of climate change, we need finance to help
developing countries to adapt to risks of flooding and drought.
Inventor of the Gaia theory
I don't think there's a lot one can do seriously to tackle climate
change. The most important thing we all can do is to prepare the
infrastructure of the various nations that we inhabit to cope with
the more probable climate change. I mean the obvious things – you've
got to make sure that the Thames barrier really works, and nobody
ought to cut back on a thing like that just because there's a
recession on. It's that kind of preparing ahead that I think is the
most vital thing we can do. To blazes with vain attempts to stop
global warming by various renewable energy proposals. I think those
are pipe dreams, but also very profitable pipe dreams.
We all do our bit. We've been running low-energy bulbs now for 30
years; we run a small car. I think everybody's got to do their best
that way, but don't bust a gut trying to do it because they are not
I think what needs to happen is for people to be more ready to
accept rather unpleasant changes at some time in the future, and the
catch is we just don't know when it will happen. It could be next
year but it might delay as much as 100 or even 1,000 years, so
there's no great certainty. All we know is that the changes that
have been made, like the increase of CO2, or the change of land
usage, are so great that there's no going back.
Chair of the Government's Climate Change Committee
The target should be a 50 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions
by 2050. That will not prevent global warming. But it will limit the
extent to which warming exceeds C and make a rise above 4C very
unlikely. That matters because the likely adverse impacts grow
dramatically as the temperature increase exceeds C, and could be
catastrophic at 4C or more.
A 50 per cent global cut implies average 2050 emissions of about two
tons CO2 per capita. The US emits 24 tons per capita, the EU about
11, China between five and six, India about one. The good news is
that low-carbon energy sources, energy efficiency improvements and
moderate lifestyle changes make about two tons per capita achievable
with only a small sacrifice of economic growth. The challenge is to
agree a fair allocation of effort, rapidly reducing developed
country emissions, containing and reversing China's emissions
growth, ensuring that India seizes the chance to grow in a
The UK is committed to cutting our emissions to about two tons per
capita in 2050, with the Committee on Climate Change responsible for
ensuring steady progress to that goal. Whatever the outcome of
Copenhagen, sticking to that path will be a fair contribution to the
Professor Brendan Mackey
Chair of the International Union on the Conservation of Nature Task
Force on Climate Change
We must seek to solve the problem through mitigation: achieve deep
cuts in fossil fuel emissions and emissions from the clearing and
degradation of carbon stocks in natural ecosystems, especially
forests and wetlands. There are around 2,400 billion tons of carbon
in the world's terrestrial ecosystems – about three times that in
the atmosphere. Reducing emissions from both sources is now
essential to have any hope of stabilising atmospheric greenhouse gas
concentrations at a safe level.
Furthermore, deep cuts in emissions from both sources must be
achieved in developed and developing countries. The atmosphere does
not care about the GDP of the emitting country. Carbon emitted from
degraded Russian and Canadian forests and wetlands is as potent a
greenhouse gas as those emitted from Brazil or Gabon.
Secretary for State for Energy and Climate Change
There is undoubtedly a positive momentum; you can see the fact that
in the past 10 days or so the US, Brazil, China and India have all
put numbers on the table as a sign that the deadline is working.
There is a real sense that we need to get a deal done at Copenhagen.
The question is not just deal or no deal; it is what kind of deal we
get. I think we need to push for the highest-ambition deal we can
get, including with the EU's position, which is that we all go to 30
per cent, as part of a high-ambition deal.
It is very important that Copenhagen sets a deadline for a legally
binding treaty, and I think that deadline should be within months of
a political agreement.
Given the urgency of the situation I think it is right to say we
need a political agreement in December because the alternative
course, which is letting the 176 pages of negotiating text just run
on, was a recipe for inaction.
As part of a deal we've said we will do a 34 per cent reduction by
2020, compared with 1990, unilaterally.
There has to be a significant financial contribution (for developing
countries) covering adaptation, mitigation and forestry.
We need to take advantage of this moment. I think this is the best
chance we have of getting a high-ambition agreement because the
world is watching. The single most important thing we can get out of
Copenhagen is a peaking of global emissions by 2020.
We will have taken action which will safeguard the world and that
our kids will inherit from us. The stakes are high and the longer we
leave it, the more the cost will rise of action and the more dangers
we store up for future generations.
Professor Hans Schellnhuber
Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
The Herculean task ahead is to decarbonise the global energy system
over the coming decades while addressing the development needs of a
growing population. Despite all previous mitigation efforts, global
carbon dioxide emissions have risen by about 40 per cent over their
1990 levels, and recent scientific results indicate that climate
change is happening faster than previously predicted. Therefore, if
they want to avert dangerous levels of warming, world leaders in
Copenhagen should act in time and agree on three milestones. First,
the C limit of a global mean temperature rise over pre-industrial
times is adopted as legally binding in international law. Second, a
global emissions budget up to 2050 is defined that needs to be
divided in an equitable manner among all nations. This budget must
not exceed 750 gigatons of CO2 for the next 40 years. Third, the
worldwide emissions peak needs to occur in about 2015 to maintain a
realistic chance of reaching the long-term decarbonisation
objectives. It is time for genuine leadership at the highest
political level to demonstrate that the world is prepared to take
responsibility on behalf of current and future generations.
Chair of the 1997 Kyoto climate change talks
In order to organise the international community to answer climate
change, we need to have a solid political compromise. It seems the
possibility to reach complete agreement on emissions is not
realistic now. Since the US has not yet decided on the level of
compromise it's going to take, others aren't in a position to
compromise themselves because these kind of commitments relate
directly to the ways and means of consumption and will affect the
competitiveness of the different parties involved. This has been the
problem from the very beginning and this is still the problem.
The focus now should be on the political understanding, and that
includes the need to have the US in the game and also to have big
developing countries which are relevant from the point of view of
emissions, such as China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and
South Korea. They need to have clear commitments to mitigate and to
adapt. Some of them will need financial resources to do so.
Starting tomorrow, you have two weeks – it's enough time to get
people together and steer the process for a solely political
understanding, not to have the details.
Time is very short; there is no reason to postpone rational measures
that could be adopted even before the agreement is adopted. If you
could reduce emissions right now, why not do that?
Founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation
The countries will have to realise that this is a blind alley
because there is no basis for agreement between the big developing
countries like India and China and the developed world. The reason
why there is this row between developed and developing countries is
over burden-sharing, and the burden is such a huge one.
The only sensible approach is that if there is any warming, and to
the extent that there is any warming, then we have to adapt. We have
to develop technology further so that we can adapt more effectively.
There are very, very poor countries that might find it difficult,
and we should help them. I think that would cost only a fraction of
what it is being suggested we should spend. It is sensible to
develop, over a longer timescale, economically effective alternative
sources of energy, but that won't happen overnight.
There are two great uncertainties. One is the extent to which CO2
concentrations have a warming effect; I think most people agree that
they have some warming effect. How big is a matter of great dispute.
And there are all the natural factors that affect the climate.
These, including the science of clouds, are very imperfectly
Professor Bob Watson
Defra's chief scientific adviser and former head of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Governments around the world, working with the private sector, have
to double and redouble their efforts to find approaches to
low-carbon production of energy and low-carbon use of energy. We
also need to make sure we've got technology – more efficient cars,
more efficient houses. Government, working with the private sector,
has to drive the low-carbon economy; in parallel to that, as
individuals we have to analyse how we can reduce our carbon
footprint. We need to try to use more renewable energy; we need
carbon capture and storage on the production side and, in many
countries, we need nuclear.
The first priority would be for the industrialised countries to put
some strong commitments on the table. We also need to work with
India, China and Brazil, and the other major emitters from the
emerging economies will start a process of decarbonisation
themselves. Obviously the developing countries will need to have
differentiated responsibilities: I would not expect them to be as
stringent as the developed world, and they will need assistance both
in technology and finance.
We need Europe to work with Japan; to work with the US; to show real
leadership; to decarbonise. So we need to reduce our emissions both
in energy production and use. We also need to reduce emissions from
agriculture and forestry.
Everybody has given up on the chance of a legally binding agreement
and therefore what we have to hope for is a strong politically
binding agreement with a short time-frame – six months to a year –
to convert it into a legally binding framework.
Clapham, south London
I'm 15, so I should be really worried about global warming. But the
truth is, I'm not half as worried as I think I should be. We "do"
global warming at school – I did some coursework on it recently as
part of my geography GCSE. Maybe that's the problem: it's on the
curriculum, so it's like any other subject, something you do at
school. But global warming isn't just any old subject – it could
change my life, and it is changing the world. Perhaps schools need
to rethink the way they teach us about it, because it's a lot more
relevant than most of the work we do at school, and I think they
could encourage us to make that connection.
I know I should do more to cut down my carbon footprint. I've just
asked my friends and most of them feel, like me, that they don't do
enough. Only one of my friends, Hetty, is really interested in
global warming. She's a vegetarian and she never uses plastic bags
when she goes shopping. But she's the only one, out of six of us.
The meeting in Copenhagen sounds boring to me – a bunch of adults
sitting around having talks. But what they decide will affect my
future and my children's future. Lots of the predictions about the
bad stuff that could happen centres on 2050. By then I'll be 56, and
my children will probably be in their mid-twenties. I hope we won't
be saying: "If only they'd acted at Copenhagen, we wouldn't be
facing world disaster." The trouble is, I think we might be.