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A Shared Anxiety

By Dr. Orr Karassin

CANCUN (Dec. 2, 2010) — Many of us here are experiencing a shared anxiety: We fear that the present conference, held only a year before the Kyoto Protocol is due to expire, will end as some have predicted – with absolutely nothing accomplished.


After little significant progress was made at last year’s Copenhagen Conference — where the participating countries made no comprehensive commitment to continued reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent dangerous warming of over 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above the annual average — this year's conference convened with a sense of urgency. The world, however, is still far from attaining the 2-degree ceiling determined by the Copenhagen Document, which attempted, in the absence of a consensus, to summarize the outcome of the Copenhagen Conference. Now the opening days of the Cancun Conference have strengthened fears that the longer we continue without a binding agreement, the further the world will be from reaching a goal that will stabilize the climate at a point tolerable to most nations.


The results of the delay in achieving worldwide cooperation already have begun to show themselves: Global warming is now evident throughout the world, and the harsh realities of climate change were especially apparent in the descriptions provided in the conference plenum by representatives of the developing world. Many of their delegates told a capacity audience of the serious effects of climate change on their own countries, and urged the moderator to push for negotiations and a fair solution agreed on by all parties.


We in Israel tend to think that we are the only people in the world suffering from a climate that appears to have gone mad, but this, of course, is an illusion. A Venezuelan representative recounted sadly how her country had suffered this year from floods of unprecedented severity, which drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Burundi delegates told of serious drought, as did many other representatives from Africa and South America. The climate changes these and other countries are experiencing make KKL-JNF's upcoming presentation on afforestation and agriculture in semi-arid and arid regions especially relevant, along with Israel's achievements in the fields of water conservation.


Some will seek to clothe the impending failure of the conference in fine words about progress in discussions of the resolution formulations, while others will claim that failure was a foregone conclusion. Part of the problem lies in the huge scientific and political complexity of the issue. The vast interests that will be affected by any international agreement to limit emissions present an equally great difficulty.


The complexity lies in the dozens of negotiations-related texts on the agenda. These cover a multitude of topics, including reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions and the obligations of the developed and developing countries when the Kyoto Protocol expires in a year’s time; accommodation to climate change; cooperation in technology sharing and improving the abilities of developing countries; the establishment of a fund to finance the various activities; and the establishment of a system for the supervision and transparent reporting of emissions. As many countries make agreement on one issue conditional upon agreement on another, a vastly complex web has been created, leaving little room for maneuvering. As the deliberations put more and more issues on the negotiating table, we seem to move further away from a solution than ever.


In the absence of an international policing body with powers of enforcement, the possibility of attaining cooperation by means of the required consensus now seems even more distant. As the United States — which, so far, has been quiet here in Cancun — is losing political ground to China, which has no interest in a strong agreement, the combination of the two countries' stances is deadly, as it allows the countries of the world to engage in a dangerous game of collective suicide.


Much depends on whether or not China will reconsider and be willing — as its chief negotiator has declared it to be — to adopt a low-carbon economy. The floods and droughts that have afflicted China this year may cause the sleeping giant to awake and rally other countries around the cause of abating climate change. Only time will tell whether we are living in an era of mass suicide or one of collective reanimation and recovery. But whichever way we go, our path will be led by China and the United States.



Dr. Orr Karassin is a former Green Zionist Alliance representative to the board of directors of Jewish National Fund in Israel, and an advisory-board member of Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.



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