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Dr Gideon Polya
Dr Gideon Polya

Summary of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference Synthesis Report

The key moral imperative of the Synthesis Report is “Inaction is inexcusableâ€.
In December 2009 the governments of the world will discuss their responses to the climate emergency facing the planet. Civilized, educated , humanitarian people dread the outcome which is likely to be grossly deficient. However in March 2009 2,500 participants (mostly climate science researchers) gathered for the scientific Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (“Climate Change, Global risks, challenges & decisionsâ€, Copenhagen 10-12 March, 2009, University of Copenhagen, Denmark).

The must-read Synthesis Report from the March 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (“Climate Change, Global risks, challenges & decisionsâ€, Copenhagen 10-12 March, 2009, University of Copenhagen, Denmark) has just been released.

This is a vital synthesis of current climate science from the March 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference that involved 2,500 professional participants, most of them climate science researchers. All were welcome and the program and abstracts of the papers presented are available here.

The key moral imperative of the Synthesis Report is “Inaction is inexcusableâ€.

The members of the writing team for this extensively and expertly reviewed 2009 Synthesis Report are listed below together with their credentialing institutional affiliations.

Professor Katherine Richardson (Vice-Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark),

Professor Will Steffen (Executive Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, Australian National University, Australia)

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany and Visiting Professor, University of Oxford, UK).

Professor Joseph Alcamo (Chief Scientist designate, United Nations Environment Program, UNEP).

Dr. Terry Barker (Centre for Climate Change Mitigation research, Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, UK)

Professor Daniel M. Kammen (Director, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, Energy & resources Group & Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, USA).

Professor Dr. Rik Leemans (Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Netherlands)

Professor Diana Liveman (Director of the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, UK).

Professor Mohan Munasinghe (Munasinghe Institute for Development (MIND), Sri Lanka).

Dr. Balgis Osman-Elashe (Higher Council for Environment & Natural Resources, HCENR, Sudan).

Professor Sir Nicholas Stern (top UK climate change economist, IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government, London School of Economics, UK).

Professor Ole Wæver (Political Science Department, University of Copenhagen, Denmark).

The Synthesis Report was in 6 key areas that are briefly summarized below (with complementary documented comments added).

1. Climatic trends – the Report details the remorseless INCREASING in past decades in sea level; in energy content change for glaciers, ice caps, .Greenland ice sheet, Antarctic ice sheet, contents, atmosphere and Arctic sea ice; Greenland melt area; Greenland ice mass loss; surface air temperature; ocean heat content; atmospheric CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and total greenhouse gases (GHGs) in CO2-equivalent.

For recent, detailed, incisive assessments of the extent of the current climate emergency.

2. Social and environmental disruption – the Report details actual climate disruption realities that have ALREADY HAPPENED such as (a) increased hurricane intensity, drought, fires and flooding and impacts on tropical diseases, agriculture, malnutrition, and health in general; (B) major ecosystem damage including boreal forest die-back (N America), melt of Greenland ice shelf, changes in ENSO amplitude and frequency, dieback of Amazon rainforest, Atlantic deep water formation, European ozone hole, boreal forest dieback (Russia), Permafrost and tundra loss (N America, Russia), Sahara greening, West African monsoon shift, Indian Monsoon chaotic multistability, instability of West Antarctic ice sheet and changes in Antarctic bottom water formation; © huge decrease in ocean pH (increased acidity) in the last 2 centuries that is unprecedented over the last 20 million years and with devastating consequences for coral and crustaceans; (d) increased species extinction rates 1,000 times that of background rates typical of the planet’s history; and (e) huge increased risks in relations to species, extreme weather events, global distribution of impacts, aggregate impacts and risk of large scale discontinuities.

For a series of brilliant power point presentations on the current predicament from top climate scientists and analysts (Including Professor John Holdren, President Obama's science adviser) see "8 top Climate Change power point lectures & 300.org 300 ppm CO2 target".

America is a major GHG polluter and a leading annual per capita GHG polluter but is already being seriously impacted itself by man-made global warming as set out in the key 2009 summary document from the US Administration entitled “Global climate change impacts in the United Statesâ€.

3. Long term strategy: global targets and deadline – “rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid†dangerous climate change†regardless of how it is definedâ€. The equilibrium temperature increase is a very damaging 2.0-2.4oC increase over the pre-industrial for a 85-50% decrease on 2000 GHG and a 445-490 ppm CO2-e or 350-400 ppm CO2 peaking at 2000-2015 (roughly the current situation with CO2-e of 460 ppm but with zero net emissions) – however, this rises to a catastrophic 4.9-6.1oC increase for a 90-140% increase on 2000 GHG and a 855-1130 ppm CO2-e or 660-790 ppm CO2 peaking at 2060-2090 (this latter scenario exceeding the projections of world-leading per capita GHG polluter and world #1 coal exporter Australia which under present policies will increase its Domestic and Exported GHG pollution on the 2000 value by about 80% by 2050).

The most shocking finding (apart from the immense, life-threatening climate disruption already occurring across the world with a temperature of +0.7oC above that in 1900 and with a further circa 1oC virtually inevitable) is the over 50% probability of exceeding very damaging +2oC if we have as our target "zero net emissions" from the PRESENT atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) level of about 460 ppm CO2-equivalent.

Indeed a survey of the Copenhagen Conference participants found that 90% expected 2oC to be exceeded (see “World will not meet 2C warming target, climate change experts agreeâ€, The Guardian, UK, 2009).

4. Equity dimension – “climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world ... tackling climate change should be seen as integral to the broader goals of enhancing socio-economic development and equity throughout the world†.

This indeed is the “elephant in the room†because already 16 million people die avoidably each year from deprivation and deprivation-exacerbated disease (overwhelmingly in the non-European Developing World) (see my book “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950" and my 2008 lecture with the same title). The partial breakdown of 16 million people dying avoidably each year (2003 data) is 0.18 million for the Western European World (including colonization-derived Overseas Europe), 1.1 million for the Eastern European World, 14.8 million for the non-European World, 9.5 million under-5 year old infants, about 7.4 million for the Muslim World, 0.6 million in Bangladesh, 3.7 million in India and 0.9 million in Pakistan) but Professor Lovelock’s estimation of circa 10 billion excess deaths (mostly non-European) due to global warming by the end of the century lifts the average 21st century global annual death rate to an horrendous 10,000 million/100 years = 100 million per year (see: Gaia Vince (2009), “One last chance to save mankind“, New Scientist, 23 January 2009 and Gideon Polya “Climate Disruption, Climate Emergency, Climate Genocide & Penultimate Bengali Holocaust through Sea Level Rise“).

Currently, “annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution†in units of “tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year†(2005-2008 data) is 0.9 (Bangladesh), 2.2 (India), 5.5 (China), 6.7 (the World), 11 (Europe), 27 (the US) and 30 (Australia; or 54 if Australia’s huge Exported CO2 pollution from its world’s biggest coal exports is included) (latest available estimates plus 2005 data from Wikipedia, “List of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capitaâ€).

Top climate scientists say that the atmospheric CO2 needs to be urgently reduced to 300 ppm to make the planet safe for all peoples and all species (see 300.org: http://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/300-org ). However, with global annual greenhouse gas pollution still INCREASING it is clear that World governments still do not appreciate the dire urgency of the problem. The worst offender by far is Australia which has annual per capita Domestic and Exported GHG pollution 10 times that of China, 25 times that of India and 60 times that of Bangladesh – but which under its policy of “5% off 2000 GHG pollution by 2020†is committed to INCREASING its Domestic and Exported GHG pollution from 2000 levels by 40% (2020) and by 80% (2050).

5. Inaction is inexcusable – “Society already has many tools and approaches – economic, technological, behavioural, and managerial – to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. If these tools are not widely and vigorously implemented, adaptation to the unavoidable climate change and the social transformation required to decarbonise economies will not be achieved. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to achieve effective and rapid adaptation and mitigation. These include job growth in the sustainable sector; reductions in the health, social economic and environmental costs of climate change; and the repair of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem servicesâ€.

For a clear statement about climate emergency facts and required actions see the summary provided by the Melbourne-based Yarra Valley Climate Action Group. The key required actions advocated include: 1. Change of societal philosophy to one of scientific risk management and biological sustainability with complete cessation of species extinctions and zero tolerance for lying. 2. Urgent reduction of atmospheric CO2 to a safe level of about 300 ppm as recommended by leading climate and biological scientists. 3. Rapid switch to the best non-carbon and renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tide and hydro options that are currently roughly the same market price as coal burning-based power) and to energy efficiency, public transport, needs-based production, re-afforestation and return of carbon as biochar to soils coupled with correspondingly rapid cessation of fossil fuel burning, deforestation, methanogenic livestock production and population growth.

A clear strategy to get governments to finally take action over the climate emergency is the so-called ABC Protocol that involves (A) Accountability of greenhouse gas (GHG)-polluting climate criminals imposing GHG pollution on all peoples and species (e.g. by naming via an electronic Climate Doomsday Book or virtual Climate Doomsday Monument of bad and good guys; by using a Green Credentialling or Green Certification system to identify products, people, companies and countries we can support and those we must boycott; and by international and intra-national sanctions, boycotts, green tariffs, reparations demands, civil actions and criminal prosecutions); (B) a Badge that activists can wear with a simple core pictorial or word message (e.g. “Climate Emergency†or “Climate Emergency Networkâ€) or a core numerical message (e.g. “300†or “350†to indicate the urgent need to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentration to about 300 parts per million (ppm) or to less than 350 ppm, respectively); and © a Credo or simple core statement of beliefs e.g. “Safe and sustainable existence for all peoples and all species on our warming-threatened Planet requires rapid reduction of atmospheric CO2 to about 300 ppmâ€.

6. Meeting the challenge - the key final conclusion was ultimately one about human values and the enormous risk we face: "Ultimately these human dimensions of climate change [the cultures and worldviews of individuals and communities] will determine whether humanity eventually achieves the great transformation that is in sight at the beginning of the 21st century or whether humanity ends the century with a "miserable existence in a +5oC world".

The ultimate philosophic point is what value do we place on other peoples and other species? The Australia-based 300.org is explicit in its position, a position that is shared by the Climate Emergency Network, the influential Melbourne-based Yarra valley Climate Action Group, and by over 140 climate action groups that attended the January 2009 Canberra Climate Action Summit: “There must be a safe and sustainable existence for all peoples and all species on our warming-threatened Planet and this requires a rapid reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to about 300 parts per millionâ€.

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