The rich nations seeking to cut climate change have this in common: they lie. You won’t find this statement in the draft of the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was leaked to the Guardian last week. But as soon as you understand the numbers, the words form before your eyes. The governments making genuine efforts to tackle global warming are using figures they know to be false.
The British government, the European Union and the United Nations all claim to be trying to prevent “dangerous” climate change. Any level of climate change is dangerous for someone, but there is a broad consensus about what this word means: two degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels. It is dangerous because of its direct impacts on people and places (it could, for example, trigger the irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet(1)and the collapse of the Amazon rainforest(2)) and because it is likely to stimulate further warming, as it encourages the world’s natural systems to start releasing greenhouse gases.
The aim of preventing more than 2°C of warming has been adopted overtly by the UN(3) and the European Union(4) and implicitly by the British, German and Swedish governments. All of them say they are hoping to confine the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to a level which would prevent 2°C from being reached. And all of them know that they have set the wrong targets, based on outdated science. Fearful of the political implications, they have failed to adjust to the levels the new research demands.