It’s not time for a sci-fi Brave New World yet. There is hope in Cancun.

Originally posted on 

Yesterday’s SMH piece on the possible implementation of geo-engineering technologies to address climate change read like the stuff of science fiction. Mirrors in space, fake trees, man-made volcanoes and covering Greenland in a blanket – surely this could not be our preferred method of mitigating climate change!?

Unfortunately, the technologies to be discussed in the IPPC’s next assessment report are very much reality, as much as they may sound like the stuff of fiction. This however, does not at all mean that “UN scientists are plan[ning] for failure” as yesterday’s article was entitled, or that mirrors and fake trees are the only cards we have left to play.

The work of the IPPC is invaluable and indeed forms the backbone of the decisions that 190 countries are negotiating in Cancun currently. As quoted in yesterday’s article, Dr Pachauri said that if emissions continued to be produced at the current rate, catastrophic run-away climate would eventuate within 50 years. It is true that we are running out of time – that our small island nation-states, our coast-lines, our biodiversity and our current way of life are under serious threat.

However, the geo-engineering strategies the IPCC will present in their fifth assessment report should not be taken as a “how to guide” to deal with climate change. It is a last stop plan, if all else fails, not a declaration that we have given up on the process.

Fake trees and sprinkling iron filings in oceans is not the best, the easiest or the most practical way of preventing the increase in global temperatures that will fundamentally damage our planet.

It’s a last resort – and we haven’t run out of options yet.

Official negotiators, delegates, NGO representatives and youth ambassadors have massed in the thousands in Cancun to work towards avoiding the kind of situations Dr Pachauri describes as on the horizon; and to avoid the last-resort strategies Louise Gray outlined in her article yesterday.

COP16 in Cancun presents the world with opportunities to rebuild trust and cooperation between the different countries involved. It is a space where processes can be reevaluated and frameworks can be implemented to ensure that progress can be pushed forward and not stalled by ambiguity or disagreement.

There is a lot to hope for in Cancun, certainly a lot more to hope for than painting roofs white and building our own volcanoes.

Cancun provides a space for confidence to be bolstered. Confidence between countries and in the UNFCCC process which aims to be inclusive, fair and just. Much work has been done in the past year in Tianjin especially by the G77, African Group, AOSIS and Least Developed Countries in addressing issues around mitigation and finance, and there is room in Cancun for consolidation of those gains.

Australia has committed $600 million to the fast-start climate fund. Whilst we are yet to hear about Australia’s long-term financial commitments (and are working to push for a decision), this is a positive demonstration of Australia’s commitment to the process. The European Union has also made a commendable promise of $2.71 billion; indicating the fulfillment of the pledge made by industrialized nations last year to collectively contribute $10 billion to fast start funding for climate action in developing countries.

Cancun also opens the doors to a revival of political energy and ambition. There was a downturn in political will and public momentum at the beginning of the year. However, the massive youth and non-government delegations at both Bonn and Tianjin negotiations served as testimony of a global movement coming together. Youth coalitions are emerging all over the world and are fully functioning in over 30 different countries, applying political pressure to ensure that domestic action is being taken. This foundation has allowed for negotiators to walk into Cancun with the possibility of developing a legally binding framework, decide upon a method and process of delivering financial commitments and setting higher emissions reduction targets.

Yesterday’s article jumped the gun and failed to recognize the determination of many of the negotiators themselves, but also underestimated the political will and dedication of all the other groups campaigning for action to be taken on climate change.

Talk of mirrors and blankets and a white roofed brave new world is premature. Cancun is an opportunity that should be seized, not sabotaged.

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