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Missing 350: Signing Up For A Catastrophe

By Chris Chang-Yen Phililps, cross-posted from dirtblog.

I’ve been sitting all day in an amazing media hub (and bar) that tcktcktck has set up here called the Fresh Air Centre, watching journalists and bloggers and UN spokespeople come in and out. I’ve been editing stories for Project Survival Media and youthclimate.org, trying to get the word out about the events we’ve been locked out of inside the Bella Center. And I was sitting here when someone announced a report had leaked from the UN that says the current commitments are going to put us on track for 3 degrees global temperature rise, and 550 ppm of CO2.

It’s hard to explain how much of a disaster it could be if this is the agreement the leaders sign tomorrow. An NGO delegate from Peru (I think, although it might have been somewhere else in the Andes) sat in here today telling us about the flooding the mountainous regions are receiving from the melting glaciers. And how people’s entire livelihoods are threatened by the rapid disappearing of their water source. This morning I read an interview with two kids from Nunavut, where Arctic temperatures are rising twice as fast as the global average, and they talked about how permafrost melt in their town has been so bad it’s destroyed the only bridge connecting its two sides. And of course there’s President Nasheed.

Mohamed Nasheed, the president of Maldives, has emerged as one of the true heroes of this conference. The countries arguing for targets based on science and justice here have, not surprisingly, been all from the global south. Not surprising, because while they’re responsible for a fraction of the mess we’re in, they’re suffering, and are going to suffer, the overwhelming majority of the effects. Nasheed has been part of the 350 movement to bring back atmospheric CO2 levels to 350 parts per million, to keep nations like his from literally disappearing. If there are two things you do today, you need to 1) watch the video above and 2) call your MP, and tell them how angry and embarrassed you are that Canada is not doing its part to meet this goal. You can find the text of his talk here.

He talks about being in prison four years ago, fighting for his country’s independence. He talks about how there were times when he felt like the doubters were right, that they would never be free. And how while the dictatorship “had the guns, bombs and tanks… we had no weapons other than the power of our words.” That’s what they have now. (And the moral authority of committing to becoming the first carbon-neutral nation in a decade). It is so important that they win. If sea level rise doesn’t completely drown out the Maldives, ocean flooding might still ruin their freshwater sources. Someone from Bangladesh asked him today what he thought about his people needing to migrate. He said,“In terms of migration… I can move. But you can’t take all the butterflies. You can’t take the language, you can’t take the culture, you can’t take the songs, you can’t take the colour and you can’t take everything that is you.”

Now you know why it matters that the draft agreement commits to completely insufficient goals. It’s great that the US is going to contribute to a $100 billion climate mitigation and adaptation fund by 2020, even if the standoff with China over transparent spending of this money is a distraction here. I was so happy when I heard Hillary say that this morning. But it’s nowhere near enough. According to the Guardian, the UK-commissioned Stern review says these kind of targets mean up to 170 million more people become vulnerable to severe coastal flooding, and over half a billion more at risk of hunger. It’s important that tomorrow our leaders agree not to sign onto a bad deal. I’m convinced now. A bad deal tomorrow, locking us into these kinds of targets, is worse than a good deal in six months or a year.

It’s important to seal the deal. But not this one. We need to talk about what comes after Copenhagen. We need to keep the momentum going.

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