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Experts: ignoring climate change at Rio+20 makes other goals “meaningless”

Turkana children from northern Kenya, a region which suffers prolonged and extreme droughts. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Turkana children from northern Kenya, a region which suffers prolonged and extreme droughts. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

The Climate Change Task Force (CCTF)—made up of 30 climate scientists, other experts and world leaders—warned today that sidelining climate change at the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development threatened progress on the conference’s other goals, which includes combating poverty and building economies that value nature.

“I am very concerned and worried because the draft final document of the Rio+20 conference does not give proper attention to climate change,” says former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev in a press statement. “It looks like there is backsliding on this issue and that is what worries me so much because without addressing climate change, all of the other problems and tasks that will be set by the final document [of the Rio+20 conference] will not be accomplished and will become meaningless.”

The CCTF has released a 33 page report entitled Action to Face the Urgent Realities of Climate Change, which argues that the world must urgently make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and help communities adapt to the inevitable effects of global warming.

“The impacts of climate change are intensifying across the world: unprecedented temperatures, glacier melt, changing rainfall patterns, droughts, floods, storms, fires and widening desertification are degrading the fragile ecosystems of the planet. They are devastating the lives and livelihoods of millions of people today and undermining prospects for progress, stability and peace in the future,” the report reads.

The CCTF further argues that governments need to move beyond their pledge to keep temperatures from warming above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), since the world is already seeing large-scale impacts from a temperature rise of only 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Celsius).

Even as nations have pledged to keep temperature from rising above the 2 degree threshold, the report also notes that current actions means the world is headed toward a climatic disaster, a prediction supported by many climate scientists and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“In spite of years of negotiation and effort and as reliance on coal and unconventional sources of oil (e.g., tar sands, oil shale) increases, we remain on a worst-case path which, if unchanged, will lead to a rise in global average temperature of around 6 degrees Celsius by 2100 and to the destabilization of the climate.”

The Rio+20 SUmmit has been criticized for months for working on a less-than-ambitious document for world leaders to approve this week. Recent late-night wrangling over the document’s wording has not helped according to observers: key elements in the document, entitled “The Future We Want”, have been further watered down.

“We see a lopsided victory of weak words over action words—with the weak words winning out at 514 to 10,” Lasse Gustavsson, World Wide Fund for Wildlife (WWF)’s Head of Delegation, said over the weekend.

Despite the well-known perils of climate change, and the fact that little progress has been made on the issue over the past two decades, Rio+20 has sidelined the issue from the beginning. CCTF says this oversight will mean little-to-no progress on raising the world’s most vulnerable populations out of poverty.

“Twenty years after the original Rio conference, there is overwhelming evidence that the state of the climate and the environment has been treated with a woefully insufficient business-as-usual approach,” Alexander Likhotal, President of Green Cross International, which hosts the CCTF, said. “There has been a breakdown in the multilateral political system that has replaced global good with national greed, and given a free hand to unchecked use up of natural resources. These are the key causes of the climate crisis and the unsustainable system of development that is wracking the world and condemning people all over the world—especially in the poorest parts—to lives of vulnerability, desperation and suffering.”

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