Inside the UN Climate Change Conference
In late November and early December, the United Nations held its annual international climate meetings in Durban, South Africa. Our own Steve Gardiner was there, co-organizing a number of events on climate ethics, including a workshop at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, a symposium webcast internationally by the Bellona Foundation, and a press conference at the international conference center.
The themes of this year's events were climate justice and human rights, and the ethics of the climate disinformation campaign. Special emphasis was placed on the relevance of these topics to the main issues under discussion in Durban, including whether to extend the Kyoto Protocol, how to search for a successor, and how to combat ongoing political inertia. Steve's talk was entitled, 'Human Rights in a Hostile Climate'.
While at the conference, Steve also attended a session on "geoengineering" – roughly, the intentional manipulation of the climate system on a global scale – which is increasingly being hailed as a last resort for preventing climate catastrophe. The session was later the subject of a report from Reuters. In response to the common argument that one good thing about geoengineering is that it is relatively cheap, Steve is quoted as responding: "To say geoengineering is cheap is a bit like saying brain surgery is cheap because scalpels are cheap". In other words, the claim obscures much of what is at stake morally-speaking in climate policy. Steve reports that, sadly, this tendency, like many others highlighted in his recent book,A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (Oxford, 2011), was common in Durban. Although ultimately the delegates did manage to keep the fragile UN process going, setting new deadlines for agreement in 2015 and 2020, the central issues remain unresolved, and the political will to address them continues to be weak. Again, the world seems to prefer the appearance of progress to real action, and global carbon emissions continue to rise at a rate that mainstream science suggests poses severe risks, especially to future generations and the rest of nature.