Cancun never came near to doing what is necessary to ensure that the human race can survive on Earth. After two summit failures and with the Kyoto Protocol becoming defunct in 2012, can anything be done to obviate Earth’s 6th mass extinction? The brutal truth is that the rich-poor North-South divisions are so deep, the stand-off between US-China so uncompromising, and the political and economic clout of the fossil fuel vested interests so enormous that any major concessions by the powerful in favour of some uncertain future gains that mostly benefit the weak are just not going to happen any time quickly. The financial-business-political neoliberal nexus that is still intact and effectively governs the world is not going to change unless absolutely compelled to. Is there anything at all which will do that?
Probably not in the short run. Governments are going to do the least they can get away with for fear of disadvantaging their domestic businesses and displeasing their voters. Capitalism doesn’t do altruism: the only decisive game changer is likely to be climate disasters with sufficient severity and devastation, and in the right place (in the developed world, where the rich and powerful live), to force governments and their populations to believe that urgent and drastic action to curb fossil fuels are now the lesser of two evils. That is not going to happen any time soon, but the pressures to produce that result, unpalatable and resisted though it will be, are patently mounting.
In Russia in the last few months temperatures rose 7.6C above the global average (the savagery of which is shown by the fact that a reduction of 6C globally would transform today’s average equable climate into a full-scale Ice Age) leading to almost inextinguishable forest fires and widespread destruction of grain crops. In Pakistan 1,500 were killed in catastro[phic floods and 20 million displaced. In Saudi Arabia (one of the main obstacles in climate change talks because of their oil) temperatures touched 52C, and in Morocco nearly 48C. Such heatwaves are lethal – in Europe in 2003 they are estimated to have taken 70,000 lives.
The frequency and ferocity of extreme climate phenomena are steadily growing. The human race, though clever, are not foresightful enough to be wise. Fearful though the consequences are, nevertheless given the inexorability of this process of mounting climate catastrophe, the sooner these consequences rise to a level where change is irresistible, the better for the planet and all its human populations.