Long time coming

27th February 2015

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Joseph Gough

It would appear that negotiators are edging closer to a new global treaty to tackle climate change.

The 86-page draft negotiating text agreed in Geneva last month (p.4) builds on agreements made in Lima, Peru late last year. The UNFCCC says the draft covers the substantive content of the new agreement, including mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity-building, adaptation and finance, and is hopeful it will form the basis for a deal at the Paris talks in December. But let's not get too excited just yet. It is worth remembering that we've been here before. Environmentalists had high hopes that COP15, the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, would produce a new legally binding agreement. Those hopes were dashed, with the world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse-gases, China and the US, each blaming the other for the failure.

It is also worth recalling the Geneva talks took place 50 years after president Lyndon Johnson delivered a special message to the US congress. In February 1965, in midst of the Vietnam war, he warned: "This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels." Also, that the Swiss city was the scene, in 1990, of the second climate conference, at which the then UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, declared: "In recent years, we have been playing with the conditions of the life we know on the surface of our planet. We have cared too little for our seas, our forests and our land. We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin. We have come to realise that man's activities and numbers threaten to upset the biological balance which we have taken for granted and on which human life depends."

Given such warnings, many will wonder why today's leaders have so far failed to agree a course of global action. At least the leaders of the three main parliamentary parties in the UK have signalled their intention to pursue robust action on climate change by each signing an agreement reaffirming a commitment to ambitious reductions in emissions (p.6). Unfortunately, some MPs do not share the same aspiration. The general election in two months provides an opportunity, however, to ensure that most MPs in the next parliament will be committed to decarbonising the economy. For UK readers, this month's environmentalist contains a postcard from IEMA setting out some important questions to pose to prospective MPs when they ask for your support. Make sure you use it and let's hope the next government takes swift action on climate both at home and abroad.

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