Talking the planet away | Ido Liven

Talking the planet away

Apparently, even an event such as the World Climate Conference has its own environmental price tag. The utensils at the reception were made of organic substances, the conference’s website asked the participants “to dress accordingly to the season, in n order to keep energy consumption through air-conditioning at a minimum”, and many arrived at the Geneva International Conference Center by public transportation.

Nevertheless, in every floor you could find water coolers with dispensable cups (even if some were meant for re-use); Every day the press room was flooded with piles of press releases, speeches transcripts and information booklets (even if some were printed on both sides of the paper); and above all the vast majority of the participants in the conference came by airplanes (all of these are practically responsible [.pdf] for immense emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants).

In favor of the conference organizers, it was indeed evident that much thought has been put into reducing the carbon footprint of the event. Contrary to many other cases the World Meteorological Organization doesn’t need any Greenwash for public relations. But this kind of lukewarm trend eventually fit the light-greenish feel which encompassed Geneva earlier this month.

Papers at the Press Room

The third World Climate Conference managed to attract the world’s top professionals in the field along with the best established scholars. However, among the heads of states who attended the event there wasn’t even a single one representing a developed country. While the UN Secretary General arrived directly from a visit to the Arctic, the other leaders represented Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Mozambique and other developing countries which already realize that if nothing is done, climate change would overshadow the difficult problems they’re facing today.

Each day, the many journalists covering the conference and myself among them, tried gleaning a novelty expression, a dramatic announcement, something that could hint on a new direction futilely. In the opening session of the High-Level Segment Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a Nobel laureate, tried clarifying how severe the situation is saying that sea level rise is already inevitable. “We are certainly going to face a dire crisis, if not a catastrophe across the world.” Replying to a question by a German journalist on another occasion, Shere Abbott, one of the top US delegates to the conference, said “the new thing is that we’re fully engaged.” When asked about concrete goals towards the Copenhagen summit she answered she cannot go into details.

Without underestimating the significance of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS [.pdf]) established at the conference, given the somehow deterministic depictions by top experts, it’s not so sure that indeed desperate measures are taken in desperate times. Similar mechanisms for improving the international climate cooperation have been established in the past, and one cannot belittle their contribution to our present knowledge. Nonetheless, even the IPCC now say that their previous projections underestimated the pace of developments.

Plenary session

For most Israelis, climate change is still an abstract term with an unclear connection to Israel. Much like in India, as well as China and the US until recently Israel and Israelis tend to deny the linkage between our very own greenhouse gasses emissions and their global consequences. But the controversial conduct of policymakers is ever more eminent when it comes to states’ abstention from what the IPCC calls “no regret measures” the important actions, like reducing pollutions and enhancing efficiency, which will be worthwhile even in case all predictions related to climate change will be found to be essentially wrong.

Indeed, no one came to Geneva with any expectations for a dramatic turning point. The world is looking toward Copenhagen for quite a while now, even if many don’t see it as a source for hope. In fact, it’s quite likely that if the public in Israel and elsewhere will continue expressing indifference, it won’t be the politicians to take responsibility.

Even though Obama’s entrance to the White House was accompanied by a fundamental shift in the official environmental perspective, it’s rather possible that the outcomes of the World Climate Conference, among others, will be cynically used by the American administration the leading player in the climate negotiations as a so-called argument that more scientific knowledge is required, in order to avoid making any substantial commitments, thus effectively starting an international domino effect.

On the other hand, it would be too easy, and also wrong, to say that at the World Climate Conference, leaders failed and therefore the “ordinary people” can do nothing. The data and analysis the GFCS is intended to provide is indeed a highly essential component for effective action. But the far-reaching implications of the climatic manifestations which had been portrayed at the conference halls in Geneva left no room for doubt as for the urgency of such action. Much like any other cancerous disease, dawdling in tackling climate change and its causes will significantly reduce the chances of fully recovering.