Copenhagen climate conference

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Developed countries including Canada and the US have benefited tremendously from fossil-fuel exploitation. Resources like oil, gas and coal have allowed us to industrialize and expand our economies, making life easier for citizens.

However, just as developing nations started to follow suit in raising their living standards, we began to realize that our current fuels and technologies come at great cost to the world. And even though developed countries have reaped most of the benefits of fossil fuels, developing countries, which have contributed least to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, are feeling the brunt of the consequences.

Droughts, severe weather events, food shortages and waves of refugees are just some of the burdens climate change is forcing on people already facing incredible challenges brought on by poverty and a lack of infrastructure for things we take for granted such as clean air, water and food. At the same time, these countries are being told that they can no longer rely on the fossil fuels we have used to bring about prosperity.

In other words, the countries that have been least responsible for global warming are now most affected by its impact. In Canada, our government believes that developing nations need to aim for the same targets we are expected to meet to fight global warming. Even though some of the larger developing nations, like China and India, have overall levels of greenhouse gas emissions that are higher than Canada’s, their per capita emissions are a fraction of ours. It’s not fair.

World leaders have a great opportunity to correct this imbalance when they meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, from December 7 to 18 to work out an agreement on how best to deal with climate change. Many organizations from around the world are calling on our leaders to sign a fair, ambitious and binding deal.

A fair deal would put much of the onus for reducing emissions that contribute to global warming on the developed nations that are mainly responsible for the problem. Scientists agree that developed countries need to reduce their emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020. Developed countries must also help developing nations with financial and technological support so they can adapt to the worst consequences of climate change, reduce their emissions and benefit from emerging renewable-energy technologies. A fair deal would also compel rich nations to protect poor and marginalized people in developed and developing countries.

The call for an ambitious deal reflects the urgency of the situation. We have already dumped so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that it will take ambitious global efforts to stall the most severe consequences. That means ensuring that global greenhouse gas emissions peak no later than 2017 and then go down quickly so that concentrations in the atmosphere are reduced to less than 350 parts per million.

An ambitious agreement would also ensure that the world takes advantage of the numerous opportunities to create clean jobs and clean energy, which will strengthen global economies. We must also create conditions that will allow people, plants and animals to survive in a sustainable manner.

For an agreement to be effective, it must be legally binding, with mechanisms in place to make sure that countries are meeting their obligations and to enforce those obligations.

This all may seem overly ambitious and overly expensive, but the alternative, doing little or nothing, could be catastrophic. Consider also the speed with which countries such as the US were able to come up with trillions of dollars to bail out banking systems that were largely the authors of their own troubles.

The benefits of an agreement in Copenhagen that is fair, ambitious and binding go beyond simply reducing the severity of global warming. Clean-energy technologies, more attention to the plight of the world’s poor and recognition of the true value of natural systems and the plants and animals that share this world all provide opportunities to create a sustainable and prosperous world.

There’s little time to lose. We must tell our leaders that we expect them to support a fair, ambitious and binding solution in Copenhagen in December. Everyone’s future is at stake.

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