Climate change: What does Evo's 1°C target mean?

Issue 

At the failed United Nations climate in Copenhagen in December, Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed that, given the lack of an accord among governments, the world's people should be consulted in a global referendum.

Morales put forward five questions for the referendum, which will be discussed at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which Bolivia is hosting in Cochabamba from April 19-22.

The questions are:

• Do you agree with re-establishing harmony with nature while recognising the rights of the Mother Earth?
• Do you agree with changing the model of over-consumption and waste the capitalist system represents?
• Do you agree that developed countries reduce and reabsorb their domestic greenhouse gas emissions for temperature not to rise more than 1° Celsius?
• Do you agree with transferring all that is spent in wars and to allocate a budget bigger than used for defence to tackle climate change?
• Do you agree with a Climate Justice Tribunal to judge those who destroy Mother Earth?

Certainly, the developed countries must bear the main burden of stopping climate change: developed nations' historic carbon emissions are overwhelmingly to blame.

There is a global carbon debt owed. It should be paid not only by action within the developed nations, but in aid to underdeveloped nations for both mitigation (renewable energy technology, for example) and adaptation to avoid the destructive effects of climate change.

However, I don't think this lets developing countries off the hook — the more so the faster they are "developing". It means China and India, though not the biggest global villains, must still close their coal power industries.

If the world abandons fossil fuels rapidly, this will mean great challenges for the oil-exporting economies in the underdeveloped world — Venezuela, for example.

A 1°C target will be surpassed with the carbon emissions already in the atmosphere. Agreeing to aim for 1°C is radical indeed. Educating people on this point is very important.

Such a goal means we have to stop using all fossil fuels as soon as possible — most of them within a decade. This means huge reductions in energy use, combined with a huge program of switching to renewable energy.

The first part is only possible with a full-frontal assault on the waste intrinsic to consumer culture (especially in the rich countries). This is explicit in the second referendum question.

The second part, abandoning fossil fuels, is only possible with a full-frontal assault on the multinational giants that control fossil fuel industries.

Both points require a worldwide political struggle to win. Therefore, it is good that the capitalist system is named as a culprit.

We have to popularise the idea that we can't defend this system, and that an alternative is possible.

Reabsorbing (draw-down) of carbon is also essential. This means big reforestation projects, worldwide. It means switching to "carbon farming" — methods such as no-till agriculture and composting that build up the soil carbon.

We also need to drastically reduce the amount of short-lived but powerful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially methane. This means a huge reduction in the farming of cattle.

That poses a big cultural challenge in countries where a lot of red meat is eaten. It might free up a lot of land for re-forestation, though.

We also need to be careful how we go about stopping our other particulate pollution of the atmosphere, especially sulphate aerosols, as these reflect some of the sun's heat. If we removed them all very quickly, the temperature would rise immediately.

It is a precarious scenario, but the alternative — going with proposed targets to allow a minimum 2°C warming, or more — means catastrophe. Just ask the people of Tuvalu and Kiribas, who will no longer have a country (to say nothing of Bangladesh or the Netherlands).

I wouldn't necessarily put the target in temperature degrees. Below 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere is another good way of expressing the same aim (although I would argue for a limit of 300ppm or lower).

[Ben Courtice is a Socialist Alliance member and climate activist who will be attending the Cochabamba climate summit. This is abridged from his blog, Bccwords.blogspot.com.]

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