56 newspapers in 45 countries Speak for Wisdom and commitment at Copenhagen

Published: December 06, 2009 7:10 PM ET

NEW YORK Tomorrow 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the perhaps
unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial.
Many if not most will publish it on the front page, warning of a “profound
emergency.”

The Guardian of London, which helped draft the editorial, published it
today, with a note at the end. Here it is.
*

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our
planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been
becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11
of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is
melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of
future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether
humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the
damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will
endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in
the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries
gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to
blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure
of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor
world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must
be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take
steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global
emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger
rise of 3-4C – the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow
inaction – would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of
all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be
displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by
British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data
has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which
these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty;
real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President
Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism.
Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics,
for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US
Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements
of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning
it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their
deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t
afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the
developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be
divided – and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion
or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to
dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no
solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than
they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the
accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon
dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed
country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a
decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the
problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest
hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge
meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of
what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the
world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important
steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its
pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change,
and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing
their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned
down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting
forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the
burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce
polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that
the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into
account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much
poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for
bailing out global finance – and far less costly than the consequences of
doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our
lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the
airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more
intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more
opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that
embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality
lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first
time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing
electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of
engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas
putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and
competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative
effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism,
of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the
better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united
behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political
perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can
too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on
this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid
that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to
make the right choice.
*
This editorial will be published tomorrow by 56 newspapers around the world
in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted
by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors
from more than 20 of the papers involved. Like the Guardian most of the
newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their
front page.

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