Copenhagen, a missed chance?

Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) on a small iceberg drifting in Adélie Land (Antarctica).© CNRS Photothèque/Erwan Amice
Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) on a small iceberg drifting in Adélie Land (Antarctica).
© CNRS Photothèque/Erwan Amice

The IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) had to wait 17 years before seeing its objectives translated into quantified targets, the famous 2°C temperature increase threshold. Although the IPCC Vice-Chair, the climatologist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, believes it is a figure that should be regarded with caution, the progress it has represented should not be under-estimated. Today, governments the world over are being urged to act quickly to review targets that are deemed insufficient.

Our dependence on oil – this fossil fuel that we must abandon, and not only because its reserves are depleted – is slowly beginning to end. There is increasing research on other energy sources. Also, after the false start of the first generation agrofuels that proved so costly, biofuels remain full of promise.

But the situation is urgent, that much we do know. Evidence of the impact of global warming on ecosystems is growing all the time. Until recently we were not sure, for example, that carbon dioxide would change sea water composition to the point of threatening marine ecosystems and biodiversity. We now know this to be the case and ocean acidification has been added to the list of worrying environmental problems.

The figures are growing more accurate and the climate models more refined as the projections acquire more precise degrees of probability but grow ever more sombre in the process. Science is advancing, albeit without absolute certainty and thus amid debate. So much the better. Witness these scientists whom we have grouped together as ‘climate sceptics’ and who continue to doubt the anthropic origin of global warming and/or the sound basis of the measures proposed to combat it.

Recent years have brought demands for greater political commitment and a total review of our consumption practices, but without really achieving the hoped for effects. The agreements reached at the Copenhagen Climate Summit last December are the most recent example. But these injunctions are causing us to leave our fool’s paradise in which we knew nothing and wasted everything. We must now reach the other shore.