Political acceptance of climate change

Important political progress was also made in 2005, including at a propitious, but rather unexpected, forum. In particular, the issue came up at the G8 summit in Gleneagles and a declaration was published afterwards. This statement (The Gleneagles Communiqué, 2005), signed by President Bush, states:

Climate change is a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the globe. We know that increased need and use of energy from fossil fuels and other human activities contribute in large part to increases in greenhouse gasses associated with a warming of our Earth's surface. While uncertainties remain in our understanding of climate science, we know enough to act now to put ourselves on a path to slow and, as the science justifies, stop and then reverse the growth [in concentration] of greenhouse gasses.

The recent book, Collapse, by Jared Diamond (2005) of the University of California has also galvanized the attention of international leaders. In it, Diamond identifies three stages for dealing with a major environmental problem. Stage one in the process is recognizing or acknowledging there is a problem that needs to be addressed. The next stage in the analysis is working out ways of coping with that problem. And the third stage, of course, is taking the necessary steps to address the problem.

At present, the world stands somewhere between stages one and two. Most nations, to differing degrees, agree there is a major problem. Some have ideas about how it should be dealt with and some governments are putting these ideas into practice. While much international action has, in fact, already taken place, beginning with the creation of the IPCC in 1988, the signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and the start of international negotiations for a post-Kyoto framework taking effect in 2012, the world community has not yet reached the point of taking the necessary action.

In some nations, the situation is advancing significantly. In the UK, for example, stage two is well advanced, and a recent MORI poll found that 91 per cent of the British public agrees that climate change is a problem.

A similar topical poll in the US might not even reach 75 per cent, although awareness is steadily growing as well. The lack of leadership and delay in action in the US has been a problem, but there are encouraging signs of movement at both the national and state levels. President Bush has referred to the US dependence on fossil fuels and the need to do something about it, and the administration is, to some degree, supporting research on new technologies that would reduce carbon emissions. California and Oregon have passed carbon emission regulations and the states in New England are also moving to cut emissions. The US business community, previously at the forefront in the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons, is also showing substantial signs of change with companies such as General Electric starting to take action on their own. Things will likely be substantially different after the next presidential election in 2008. Senators McCain and Clinton have both made the long and difficult journey to Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago in the high Arctic. That these candidates for president think it worthwhile taking the time to see for themselves the rapid changes happening in the Arctic environment is an encouraging sign for future climate legislation.

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