Simon Zadek: Heading over the Carbon Cliff
We are heading for the edge of the carbon cliff, a far more scary prospect than any fiscal cliff we might imagine or create. And like lemmings, that curious small rodent that migrates in large herds and periodically suffers catastrophic population collapse as they, in hysterical error, cascade over cliff edges, we are rushing towards the precipice with behavioral abandon.
In Qatar, that small state perched in the Middle East with the world’s highest carbon emissions per capita, we are witnessing the 18th Annual United Nations Climate Change Conference. With little on the table that would reverse our hurried demise, it is time for a new approach.
The magic number is two – the maximum number of degrees Centigrade that the planet’s average surface temperature can rise without us getting into real trouble. The facts are worrying. According to a report prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the current emissions path will lead to a four-degree increase in global temperatures in the next 50 years, and a six-degree increase by the turn of the century. Likewise, the rich nations` energy think tank, the International Energy Agency, cautions that we are locking in carbon emissions because of our current, ongoing investments into carbon-intensive energy and other infrastructure. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the most authoritative global environmental organization, highlights in its recent Emissions Gap Report the inadequacy of global carbon-reduction efforts, noting that the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere has increased by 20% since 2000.