No time to dwell on past failures

In the aftermath of the perceived failure of the climate change conference at Copenhagen, pessimism abounds regarding the ability of the world’s leaders to formulate an effective and universally acceptable strategy for tackling climate change. This is due in large part to the hyperbolic media frenzy that surrounded the December summit, dubbed by some commentators as “Earth’s last chance”. In addition, the triumphant reaction of climate sceptics to the recent leak of hundreds of email exchanges allegedly demonstrating the collusion of a number of global warming scientists in exaggerating climate data has contributed to the current air of gloom among those who believe climate change is a very real phenomenon.
Whatever the reasons for the Copenhagen disappointment, it is imperative that the focus shifts to the future of climate change politics rather than morbid post-mortem examinations of the conference. Encouragement can be drawn from the participation of the emerging powers of the East in the Copenhagen conference.  With China and India ranking among the top greenhouse gas emitters in the world, the importance of their participation is evident. One must acknowledge, however, the injustice inherent in asking these states to curb their usage of those energy sources with which the Western world fuelled its prosperity. Moreover, the economic consequences of an industrial slowdown as a result of reduced energy consumption in the East would quite obviously be disastrous in the current global financial situation.
Therefore, it seems clear that a multi-strand approach will be necessary in order to forge an effective solution. Myriad options exist. First, legally-binding emission reduction targets, the goal of the Copenhagen negotiations, could still be introduced for those countries who wish to participate on an opt-in basis. Meaningful economic incentives could be provided to developing nations who endeavour to curb their emissions, with sanctions for those who do not. Multilateral negotiations must continue with the large developing emitters. Despite the current financial difficulties in the West, subsidising the development of clean energy in developing nations should not be ruled out. In tandem with emission reduction, serious consideration must be given to further development of technology-based solutions, not just in the development of clean energy, but also for the removal of harmful gases from the atmosphere utilising techniques such as carbon capture and sulphur injection.
In refusing to describe Copenhagen as a failure, world leaders alluded to the conference as “the beginning of a process”. What is certain is that a limited timeframe exists for this process to be completed. The consensus among scientists seems to be that drastic action will need to be taken within the next decade if we are to avoid the more devastating consequences of global warming. Indeed, some researchers have suggested that we may already have passed a “tipping point” leading to the inevitable loss of the Arctic ice sheets. Time is clearly of the essence. As a result, every citizen has a responsibility to play their part in ensuring that the world does not fail in its struggle against the greatest challenge in our history, and that our leaders do not fail us when we need them most.