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The Copenhagen editorial

Written By: - Date published: 6:15 am, December 8th, 2009 - 20 comments
Categories: climate change, International, Media - Tags:

Yesterday 56 newspapers in 45 countries published a “global editorial” – the same joint statement – most of them on their front page. This is an unprecedented step in the face of a profound emergency. You can find a list of the papers (with links to their copies of the editorial) here. It is sad to see that not one newspaper from New Zealand or Australia is on the list. So here it is published on The Standard instead.*

56-newspapersFourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

This editorial is free to reproduce under Creative Commons

[* This version with links reproduced from The Guardian]
[Update: Now reproduced on

20 comments on “The Copenhagen editorial ”

  1. BLiP 1

    Remind me: why do we have the ETS casino and not a carbon tax? Why are we leaving the future of the planet in the hands of the money changers? Why has John Key given the polluters in New Zealand billions of dollars? Why don’t the print media in New Zealand care? What will we tell the grandchildren?

    • felix 1.1

      Remind me: why do we have the ETS casino and not a carbon tax?

      Because the abstract mechanism of the trading market in imaginary goods has been proven over time to be a reliable way for honest decent people to provide stability and prosperity to the tangible material theatre of our real lives, of course.

  2. gitmo 2

    BLiP Is this you ?

  3. As I have stated before I think that this world has serious problems.

    An ocean of plastic from California to Japan, Eco systems destroyed for unbridled corporate greed, Huge unsustainable food production methods and an unstustainable energy consumption.

    The result of globally owned corporate greed and our unsustainable consumption patterns.

    All of this need addressing. Carbon is a side issue but funny enough the only those self same corporate entities can Tax and build another bubble on top of. Al Gore is laughing all the way to the bank guys, and we are the suckers.

    Just here is what it will cost to have all these leaders congregating in Copenhagen meeting costs in terms of CO2 emmissions pollution and decadence.

    All for something they could have done far easier and ecologically more sound with one frigging non polluting conference call.

    • Come to think of it; If we keep going like this our economies will collapse, (as they are already doing) we will dissapear as unsustainable and the planet will take care of Carbon al by itself as it appears it’s already trying to do.

      • Draco T Bastard 3.1.1

        The Earth will survive – it’s doubtful that we’ll like the new environment though.

        Nothing came out of Kyoto and nothing will happen in Copenhagen.

  4. Rob 4

    It is good to see such a united front. I very much hope it works.

    @travellerev yes we have other problems that need fixing but Carbon pollution is the only one we cannot reverse if we sit on it. In 20 years time we would not be able to simply reduce emissions to live we would actually have to terraform our planet to ensure it stayed habitable which we dont have the technology for. Copenhagen is expensive but it is a symbolic start to getting these issues dealt with so all the corporate murder we deal with every day can fade away. This isn’t just about the leaders agreeing but their public seeing them agree and agreeing. For that you need a big flashy conference not a teleconference.

    • Bullocks Rob,

      The planet had more Carbon dioxide in the air in the past and we were not around at the time to cause it. In fac the amount of CO2 gas has been dropping for a long time and there are now serious doubts as to whether CO2 was the cause of the medieval little ice age.

      I’m planting about a hundred threes in the next three years on my little piece of the planet, producing Oxygen by day and Carbon dioxide by night and it will feed me too so don’t you go patronising me about “global warming”.

      I’m doing the only thing we can do; taking logical steps to neutralise my carbon footprint by reversing the erosion and wounding of the piece of land I’m lucky enough to be allowed to steward.

      How to do that you can torrent here

      I don’t buy that we are going to save our planet by taxing a perfectly natural gas while ignoring the huge destruction caused by the same bloody assholes who now want to impose that tax on us.

      If they want to convince me they have to lead by example instead of organising an event that will produce more tonnes of carbon dioxide in a week as an African country in a year.

      The only way we can counter any damage if there is such a thing from carbon dioxide is by stopping the exaust of that gas and replanting rainforests, and the huge forests lost in the US and Europe the last 50 years due to our neglect and abuse of those forests.

      Perhaps Al Gore could use the billion he earned in the last 8 years with his new fangled CO2 scam for that purpose as I’m doing with my meagre funds.

      Taxing our breath is the only scam they can tax us with next and I’ll be damned if I pay the scamsters a single bloody cent. I’ll plant my own trees thank you.

      And while we’re at it why don’t they discuss another important issue as this is a “climate’ conference; Weather modification.

      • Jonathan 4.1.1

        LOL you’re linking to http://www.prisonplanet.com in half your links! You’re totally insane!

        • travellerev

          I do so in a rare instance and especially when they have alread done a lot of research. So people follow the links in the articles and you’ll find that they in most instances lead to totally respectable mainstream Newspapers.

          And as for totally insane, I don’t know you and you don’t know me so let’s leave it at that.

          • blacksand

            ‘totally respectable mainstream newspapers’ are still not a particularly good source of science, let alone someone trying to stringing together an arguement on a scientific topic and using them as back-up…

      • Draco T Bastard 4.1.2

        The planet had more Carbon dioxide in the air in the past and we were not around at the time to cause it.


        No, we weren’t. That’s because we couldn’t have survived in the environment that was around at that time. It was too hot.

  5. Chris 5

    Granny gave The Guardian the fingers. I can’t think of any other reason for why it didn’t appear in Granny. Tony O’Reilly probably personally gave them.

    Sigh. Such childlike behaviour.

    Thanks to the Standard for publishing it.

  6. tf 6

    So whether one believes in AGW or not,The world obviously does and here we stand in New Zealand on the brink of a great opportunity. On the back of our hard won clean green image we could be the world leaders in new Green technology .
    We should be pouring money into R &D leading from the front.
    But our response seems to be to factory farm milk in a hostile environments and mine National parks. Pathetic
    In twenty years time we will buying our PVC”s from Germany our wind technology from
    China our wave technology from the UK whilst trying to sell dairy products to a world
    who won’t want to know. the warning signs are there ,overseas newspapers are already questioning our Green image
    What a short sighted pathetic response from our political and business leaders

    • rainman 6.1

      @tf: Too true, but, I hate to say it, all too typical for little ole NZ. When we finally figure out how irrelevant we really are, it will be a very harsh awakening – but nothing will be able to be done about it. When the ‘special’ is gone, it’s gone.

  7. lyndon 7

    On Scoop now. Just need to fix up the links 🙂

  8. randal 8

    by the end of the week all the policy wonks will be sitting in the plenary session looking at their rolexes and wondering how to get the next flight out.

  9. ben 9

    I’ve been looking forward to this, the absolute last chance to save the planet, since our last last chance. Can’t wait for the next one.

    The little girl from Fiji on stage reading the statement of orthodoxy was a real low point. I half expected Brian Tamaki to walk on stage with a tambourine.

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