Appropriate Motto? – pictured outside one of the many rounds of climate negotiations in Bonn
An extra 2,000 people converged on Bonn again last week. This “small town in Germany”, as the novelist John le Carré once immortalized it, is the home of the UNFCCC – the unwieldy acronym for the United Nations Climate Secretariat.
It’s time for the next round of haggling over climate change –talks to prepare the talks, to prepare the talks…. and it’s hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm after the Copenhagen debacle and all the negative press the climate scientists are getting (deservedly an undeservedly). No wonder UN climate chief Yvo de Boer is “chucking in the towel” and moving jobs this summer.
Sometimes I think it would take a miracle to achieve a real breakthrough by the big conference” in Mexico at the end of this year. But in general, I’m not given to pessimism, so let’s wish the negotiators plenty of patience and a dose of inspiration.
I read something in “Der Spiegel” recently, one of Germany’s top political magazines, that got me worried. They published a long dossier headlined “Die Wolkenschieber”, or the “Cloudpushers” – a headline I found a little misleading, but that’s another story. The online English-language version has “A Superstorm for Global Warming Research” – much more apt.
There were quite a few things that bothered me in the article, an attempt at a wide-ranging summary of the state of climate science and possible effects – not least the fact that the authors chose to give the last word to German climatologist Hans von Storch, expressing the view that we still have enough time to react because climate change doesn’t happen overnight.
The relevant point for this blog, though, is that the authors describe it as a “widespread legend” that only the developing countries, the “poorest of the poor” would have to suffer on account of climate change. Well I could go along with the “only”. But is there anything in the way of radical and possibly rapid changes in temperature or rainfall patterns, not to mention flooding, storms, droughts, landslides, that don’t affect those without the resources to adapt or respond instantly worse than the rest of us? Come on folks, let’s not distract attention from the fact that the industrialized world has used up more than its share of a lot of our natural capital and changed the planet in the process, and let’s not try to opt out of our responsibility to help the rest cope. Sure, there have been a lot of problems with the science, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Greenland’s massive ice sheet is melting faster than expected, influencing sea level.
One of the climate experts I’ve interviewed a few times is Professor Mojib Latif from the IFM Geomar, or Marine Sciences Department of the University of Kiel in Germany.
When I asked him why he thought people in European countries like Germany or the UK seemed to be becoming less concerned with climate change according to various surveys (Der Spiegel quotes a survey indicating only 42% of Germans questioned were personally afraid of climate change compared to 62 % in 2006), he suggested people were all too keen to find excuses not to do things they don’t really want to do – like reducing their car and plane travel, electricity consumption or generally living a more modest lifestyle. The man is clearly a good observer of human nature as well as one of the country’s top climate experts. If we didn’t feel obliged to mitigate climate change or help the developing world adapt – we might have an easier life.
Amongst the government delegates, business and industry people, ngo reps and researchers who make these regular climate pilgrimages to Bonn are representatives of some of the small island states in danger of disappearing under rising seas. Sitting here in our well-to-do town at the “heart of Europe”,I think we need to offer them something more than a “don’t panic” message and the suggestion that we’ve plenty of time to act.
No delayed action: The Arctic ice is melting - fast.
Irene Quaile is a Scottish-born journalist based in Bonn in Germany.
She works as correspondent on environment, climate change and development issues at Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster. Her work has taken her around the world including Laos, Mongolia, Tanzania, Australia, North America and numerous European countries. Over the past 3 years she’s also been involved in an international media project looking at polar research, and in particular climate research and the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples in the Arctic regions of Europe and North America.
She blogs at http://blogs.dw-world.de/ice-blog