Report from COP18: Leadership is a matter of degrees

Companies and investors want clarity on what is expected and demanded by regulators, the youth wants a world worth living in and demand leadership from regulators and the political leaders, and regulators want everybody to act now and take personal responsibility. You don’t have time to wait for us — why don’t you act? asked Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Mary Robinson, President for Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.

I’m writing this from Doha, Qatar, for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Nearly 200 countries are attending the climate talks (also known as COP18) here, which run until December 7. The aim is to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, a goal nations agreed in 2010 in order to avert ever more droughts, floods, heat-waves and rising sea levels.

While here, I also attended the World Climate Summit. The list of great speakers at the summit was very long and the views on the path forward were very different. One thing everybody agreed on was that action is needed — now.

According to the Global Carbon Project, CO2 pollution increased by 3.1 percent in 2011, which is placing the world on a path to a temperature rise between 4°C and 6°C, and thereby towards more heat waves, droughts, storms, raising sea levels and huge financial and human costs. To stop the warming, emissions growth would have to rapidly come to a halt and then fall quickly. So the big question is if we can manage to get a real movement going within the next 5,000 days, as Joel Makower from GreenBiz has put it.

Mitigate, adapt or suffer? Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the keynote speaker from IPCC — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change —kicked off by offering a choice of mix between mitigation, adaptation and suffering. You will get all, he said, but the choices you take today will determine how much you and your grandchildren will suffer. Not a happy start! And even though all the different speakers are agreeing that we need to reduce the carbon emissions, the mix, the speed and the means differ. The professor also showed how the world has changed through time and how 4 degrees Celsius caused the sea to rise 120 meters in ancient days.

Air-conditioned soccer stadiums: Qatar has the world’s highest emissions per capita of greenhouse gases, but only 1.8 million inhabitants, of which about 250,000 are Qatari. As the host, H.E. the Minister for Energy and Industry of Qatar Dr Mohamed bin Saleh al-Sada, shared his view on the right fuel mix: “Economic and equitable development of nations, fueled by the growing need for energy across the globe, is the priority of the day and it has to be achieved by minimizing the carbon footprint. This is a serious caveat and no country, energy consumer or supplier can afford to ignore it or be indifferent to the clarion call for sustainable development.” In Qatar, this mean a need to minimize the global carbon footprint by using less oil and more natural gas as well as renewable energy such as solar that hopefully will be utilized when the 2022 World Cup will take place here — in 12 to-be-built, air-conditioned stadiums! (Perhaps the soccer games could be moved to wintertime to reduce the need for air conditioning.)

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