Science and Politics
Published 29th September 2009 - 7 comments - 1091 views -
UNEP has just released its Climate Change Science Compendium 2009 (which can be downloaded here).
Just weeks before the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December, this publication presents the latest information, the latest statistics, the latest warnings and more frightening facts about our planet's vulnerability. Ban Ki-Moon describes the compendium as a "wake-up call", and Achim Steiner (UNEP Executive Director) highlights the importance of ensuring taht accurate and up-to-date science informs the political decision-making process.
And there's the rub. I have often wondered - just how much do our political leaders take account of science?
Here are a few examples from the environmental policy world (in no particular order):
1. Baltic sea fishing: The Baltic sea is an environmental mess. Large parts of the sea are so-called "dead zones": areas where there is so little oxygen that nothing can live (due in large part to pollution). According to science, the cod population in the Baltic sea is in severe danger, and only if it were left alone for two years would it recover. Scientists say "do not fish any more cod for two years in the Baltic sea, or the population will not recover". Politicians decide: "we will allow fishing of cod in the Baltic sea to a certain (rather high) level". Hmmm... (read more here)
2. Bluefin tuna: A ban on the trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna was suggested to ensure the recovery of the population of bluefin tuna (one of mankind's favourite dishy fishes). However, the EU failed to support such a ban, endangering this species further. Read more here.
3. Climate change: In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fourth Assessment Report with dire warnings of catastrophic consequences of climate change if no action is taken. The IPCC called on industrialised countries (yes, that means Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada...) to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 25-40%, but by 40% if we wish to avoid the more dramatic impacts of climate change. The EU has pledged to cut by 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels of emissions. Japan has declared its willingness to aim to cut by 25%. The US has pledged to bring their emissions back to their 1990 levels (i.e. cutting by 0%, but still this may be too difficult for them). And to top this all off, ladies and gentlemen, the 2007 Assessment Report of the IPCC is old science.
Of course there are always valid social and economic reasons for not acting. Of course we must think about the livelihoods of our fishermen. It's a pity we don't think about the livelihoods of our fishermen in five year's time when there are no more fish; or about our farmers whose crops cannot cope with the changes in temperatures.
Let's hope our political leaders listen to our scientists this December.
About the author
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