As the talks start at COP18 in Doha,  I can’t help but feel that we may all be in for a massive let down once again. ‘We’ in this instance are those like minded individuals, probably in the minority, that are increasingly concerned about our climate and the legacy that we will leave our children and grandchildren. ‘We’ are increasingly concerned about government’s, business and societies inaction in the fight against climate change.

Just last week the UN Environment Programme released a report stating that the concentration of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is up about 20% since 2000.  Are we changing?  No.  Scientists say that those emissions are contributing to climate change and that a failure to contain them could have dangerous consequences, including rising sea levels inundating coastal cities, dramatic shifts in rainfall disrupting agriculture and drinking water, the spread of diseases and the extinction of species.

The UN agency went on to say that if no swift action is taken, emissions are likely to hit 58 gigatons in 2020 – 14 gigatons too much to have any chance of limiting warming to 2° which is the target that most scientists believe we need to remain within. The projected gap is now bigger than it was last year and in 2010.  This means that the the world is headed for an average 3-5 deg C temperature rise this century barring urgent action.

We can only hope that Doha does not turn into another damp squib. COP17 did not deliver any binding targets and looking at Doha it seems there is much to be done around reaching a consensus around Kyoto 2 commitments as well as a binding treaty coming into effect in 2020.  One has to ask the question however, “Is this too little too late?”.

It pains me to say this but we really need a few more Katrina’s and Sandy’s for the world to really wake up and start doing something concrete around emissions reductions.

My main angst however is geared towards South African government and business apathy around sustainability.  If all the climate models are to be believed, sub-Saharan Africa is going to be one of the area’s most affected by climate change.  Expectated outcomes include significant average increases in temperature, significant reductions in rainfall and dramatic climate events when they happen.  You would think that with this as the future scenario we would be doing more about it and taking tangible action.

It is true that the JSE top 100 have embraced the CDP project with open arms and we continue to climb the global league table in this regard.  However, we cannot just rely on these companies to make change, we are all responsible. Yes there is the odd company here and there that is making an effort to reduce energy and espousing green credentials and a desire towards carbon neutrality. Some of this is genuine, some of it is marketing and some of it is frankly ‘greenwashing’ in the worst sense.  What we need is systemic change in everything we do if we are to achieve reduction levels of 80% by 2050.  This cannot be an adaption from ‘business as usual’, this has to be a paradigm shift and it has to start now.

To paraphrase Clem Sunter, we have a high road and a low road.  The high road in this instance is a shift in the way we do business, conduct our private lives and ensure a sustainable future for ourselves and the planet.  This is probably a more costly and difficult road but it has to be done.  The risk of not doing this, rampant climate change, water and food insecurity, societal breakdown and mass conflict over scarce resources is frankly not worth considering.  The low road, our current path is easy.  Carry on with what we are doing; using ancient carbon.  No modification to business and society and continue a status quo.  The problem however is that in this scenario, the risk is enormous and if we fail, we potentially fail as a species.

Irrespective of what comes out of COP 18 in Doha, we cannot wait any longer.  They can talk as much as they like, we need action to avoid greater than 2 degrees.

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