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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


September-October 2011

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Editorial - Tackling Climate Change on a Manageable Scale

Before this year ends, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may well cross the mark of 400 parts per million by volume. For many scientists, and for even more worried parents, this concentration marks the beginning of a “tipping point” that heralds the advent of “dangerous interference” with the natural climate.

The curious, and somewhat disconcerting, aspect of this is that the chances of all nations reaching agreement in the global debate over post-2012 emissions reductions seem to be receding as fast as greenhouse gas concentrations are rising; the prevailing view is that a full planetary agreement on mitigation is beyond diplomatic reach.

Along comes the report by Globe International, in conjunction with the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, discussed in this issue of Environment. Globe International is an interesting organization. It consists of seasoned parliamentarians and legislators, many of whom have held government positions as environment ministers. Its combined knowledge and legislative history are unique. All the more important, therefore, is its welcome report on the emergence of national legislation on climate change across the G20 range of large emitters. This research is equally interesting as it includes the major developing carbon economies of China, Brazil, India, South Africa, Mexico, and Indonesia, all of whom were involved, in one way or another, in the notorious “Copenhagen accord” signed at the turbulent Copenhagen Conference of the Parties in December 2009. Getting action from these nations is vital for any lower carbon future for this beleaguered planet.

What emerges from this important research is the fact that all of these nations are addressing climate change through mitigation and adaptation to some extent. Moreover, there seems to be some sense of direction toward greater energy efficiency, lower land-use carbon release activities, and increased renewables sourcing. The record is admittedly patchy. But this is the most comprehensive study of its kind. And the evidence would not have been so open had the influence of Globe International not been utilized creatively.

Of course, the authors conclude that legislation is not always directed into effective policy. But legislation is a necessary precursor for national focus and pressure-group surveillance. So the fact that a heartening band of legislation is being created, especially in governments where climate change politics are virulent, offers some hope.

The value of national effort and subnational delivery is undeniable. It is very likely that the focus for successful climate change reduction and adaptation will take place more at and below the level of the nation-state than through tortuous and belligerent international negotiations.

In this very important geographical and cultural area, Globe International has done us all a service. Their report is admittedly a long way from revealing a solution. But it does suggest that more constructive action at the national and subnational levels, out of the glare of anguished media spotlights, might offer the best hope of confidence building and effective transformation toward the cherished low-carbon economies we can expect in the run up to the 2012 boundary of current Kyoto Protocol.

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