torsdag 11 juni 2009

Science and reality

The Spanish author JJ Millas used to write a depressingly funny column on Fridays. He was provably trying to be funny but he could not push his phobias and neurosis completely to the side (Millas has lectured on his life as an agoraphobic), and the result was in occasions quite disturbing. The column was about his unfruitful search of reality: wherever he was looking for it, after thorough observation, it vanished. For example the armed conflict in the Basque Country would dilute into unfair medieval agreements, misinterpretations of what the Basque identity is, incapacity to cope with a very strict patriarchal society and high moral exigencies of the Basque culture. After trying to isolate the reality the Basque conflict there was nothing.

Millas essay to reach reality was unfruitful because he looked for reality in cultural objects, which are not self-explanatory like spoons, hand breaks and other real objects. The Basque conflict is in the same way that the rainbow is water and light; its existence cannot be denied arguing that there is not such a thing as a rainbow, but light filtering through water.
This is exactly what the Czech Republic, on behalf of the European Union, is trying to do with global warming: dismember it into conceptual parts and fractions until the reality of climate change and, worse, its solutions, vanishes. Last Wednesday in the city of Bonn the Contact Group for Annex 1 Countries Aggregate Mitigation Target sat down under the UNFCCC to come to an agreement of how much the greenhouse gases emissions should be reduce. After presentation of the South African proposal to reduce 40% of the emissions by 2020 in rich countries soil only, the Czech delegate asked for clarifications on two concepts: what does “historic responsibility” and “atmospheric space” mean? Red dogs crossed the plenary barking and biting the delegates in their ankles, but the quiet Czech did not blink. He argued that the concept of historic responsibility is not in the Convention, neither is in the Kyoto protocol, what does South Africa mean by it? And atmospheric space, what exactly does it refer to?

The Chinese and Brazilian delegates clarified the concept: historic responsibility is the accountability principle applied over time, and atmospheric space refers to the tinier and tinier fraction of greenhouse gases we still can afford to emit before we drive ourselves into a catastrophic temperature rise. The EU representative smiled and replied that the concepts are not in the agreed policy frameworks. The Chinese head of delegation replied that if this is the departure point, “what is the aim of continuing negotiating”.

Historical responsibility and atmospheric space are not part of the climate deal; they are the climate deal in the same way that water and light are not part to the rainbow, but the rainbow itself. There is no deal without historic responsibility and atmospheric space fair sharing. The EU should not play tricks with language; that’s extremely irresponsible given the circumstances.
That Wednesday afternoon in a side event the head of the Uganda delegation concluded that “our hearts are small, and therefore we cannot do as many things as we want to. We met in Bali to see if we could expand our hearts and do everything we wanted to do under the Convention, but apparently it was not enough”. So, now what?

Domingo Torres Santos
Climate Change Policy and Advocacy Officer