Last week the London Assembly Environment Committee and Oxfam jointly organised a Climate Hearing at City Hall, where we heard for the first time from London’s traditional and diaspora communities about the impact that climate change has had on their lives both here and in their ancestral homes. We also heard from experts what cities can do to limit our combined carbon footprints and saw a production by the Blue Elephant youth theatre on the impact of climate change in South Asia. That’s all before we concluded with a panel discussion on the issues brought up during the evening.
This event took place against the background of a raging debate over the alleged manipulation of the time series on increasing global temperatures produced by the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. In a radio interview on LBC following the Climate Hearing, I came to the defence of UEA’s Prof Phil Jones by simply asking: why all of a sudden have 13-year-old emails been given such prominence? It’s not difficult to work out that it must have something to do with the Copenhagen Summit next month and some people’s attempts to undermine it! In fact the UEA time series tallies with that of NASA, and I don’t hear anyone accusing them of manipulating the evidence. In any case, it is not just these time series that show the world is warming but a range of sources including other indicators like sea level rises, glacier retreats and the reduction in Arctic sea ice.
On top of this, the previous week we had the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) suggesting that family planning, reproductive health care and gender relations could influence the course of climate change and affect how humanity adapts to rising sea levels, worsening storms and severe droughts. The spin put on this by the media was that population growth in the developing countries is a major threat to the future of the planet.
Now you can imagine how neo-Malthusian outfits like the Optimum Population Trust jumped at this opportunity to peddle their half-truths. What they do not want to admit is that the fertility rate of half the world is now 2.1 or less, the magic number consistent with stable population, and that it’s expected to fall below this level between 2020 and 2050. (See the recent article in the Economist.) That’s not surprising as poor countries are going through the same demographic transitions that rich ones went through, but at an earlier stage in their development and much more quickly.
As for environmental damage, the poorest people in the world like the Bangladeshis are producing at most 0.3 tonnes of CO2 emissions per capita annually, whereas a US citizen produces 20 tonnes. So, while it’s clear that if the poor countries recreate the same consumption patterns as the US we will certainly have some problems to deal with in the future, at present that is a distant prospect. It is the environmental damage caused by the developed countries that is the immediate challenge.
More recently we have also seen “climate change sceptics” like Melanie Phillips and Nick Griffin coming together in a de facto alliance to question the basis of the Copenhagen Summit. So it’s all too apparent what the political forces are behind the questioning of the science. In fact, if you were genuinely sceptical, as they make out they are, would you not at least adopt the precautionary principle and act now in order to avoid even the possibility of future environmental disaster? Alas that is not their thinking. The Mad Mels and Nick Griffins are not really sceptics but rather climate change deniers who are ideologically committed to rejecting the science, although of course neither would admit that publicly.
We can expect more of this nonsense all the way through to the Summit and during it as well. I am just glad we had the opportunity to hold a Climate Hearing here in City Hall, when London called for a global shout for climate justice.
As for my wish list for the Copenhagen Summit, I would like to see the following: a cap on the developed world’s emissions, a global deal on aviation emissions and the Tobin Tax to fund the climate change adaptation and mitigation required in the developing world. I trust this is not too much to expect!