Return to ‘Hopenhagen’ to avert climate crisis?

By Harjeet Singh

After five long years I’m back in Copenhagen. Wait a minute! Should I call the city ‘Hopenhagen,’ as the Danish government named it in the run-up to the climate conference (COP15) held here, back in 2009? While our hopes at the time were dashed by world leaders, who ignored our call for urgent global action to avert climate crisis, I see this week’s meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as another chance to embark on a journey of hope!  Hope to agree on the urgency to tackle climate change; hope to find solutions that work for all, particularly vulnerable people, countries and ecosystems.

On the 2nd November, the IPCC will release the Synthesis Report of their 5th Assessment (AR5) of global climate change, drawing on reports from three different Working Groups that have been released over the last year. Each Working Group has done a comprehensive assessment of the available scientific data from around the world, reviewing many thousands of studies. The IPCC Working Group I assessed the physical science of climate change, while Working Group II outlined its impacts – particularly on those that are most vulnerable – and options for adapting to it. Working Group III then assessed options for mitigating climate change.

The IPCC meeting here is important in many ways. The severity and story of climate change has dramatically increased in the seven years since the last Assessment Report (AR4) was released. The Synthesis Report will be a key guiding document for UN climate negotiations that are set to conclude by the end of next year in Paris, resulting in a binding agreement for climate action. It should also form a basis for countries to design their national policies, and promote regional and international cooperation.

The findings are clear about the role of humans in causing climate change, and the grave impacts that we are going to face during and beyond the 21st century. It stresses that the need for action is more urgent than ever, and also emphasizes the economic benefits of mitigation and adaptation action now, as well as the costs of inaction or delay.

The report recognizes that farmers and food producers in developing countries are already facing the impacts of climate change. It also recognizes that in some parts of the world, climate impacts such as floods, cyclones and slow-onset events such as sea level rise, loss of biodiversity and ocean acidification, can be so extreme that adaptation will not be possible. Such events can be totally devastating to communities and countries. But the report also recognizes that the countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts have done the least to cause the problem.

It is time for rich countries to recognise this injustice, and the plight of the world’s most vulnerable people. In addition to taking responsibility to dramatically cut their greenhouse gas emissions, they must therefore support vulnerable countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to cope with ‘loss and damage’ caused by extreme climate change impacts. Developing countries have been calling for these key policy demands in the new climate agreement.

The UN climate agreement should be based on the IPCC’s latest findings and stark message. It must give clear policy, structure and public finance support from rich nations, so that developing countries can undertake the urgent work of adaptation. Many ActionAiders are working directly with communities already facing these realities on a daily basis. As they know, there is no time to lose!

About The Author:

Harjeet Singh is the International Manager for Climate Change and Resilience at Action Aid. Based in New Delhi, he supports countries across the globe on programme and advocacy related work on disasters and climate change.