Published in January 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Ask a roomful of climate change experts about whether the cumbersome United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is up to the task of avoiding global climate catastrophe, and the optimists will predict success while the pessimists shake their heads. Both are correct. Tim Flannery, the Australian climate scientist, whose The Weather Makers did much to raise the alarm a decade ago, offers a reliable guide to the conundrum in his new book Atmosphere of Hope.
Before the latest round of negotiations even opened in Paris in early December, it was clear that, though a deal was important, it would not be sufficient: the pledges made would not keep global temperature rises below the critical two degree-threshold, beyond which catastrophe lies. Avoiding disaster will depend on much more vigorous global decarbonisation, and the hope for that lies beyond the UNFCC framework, in the self-interested actions of business and cities—which account for 75 per cent of emissions—states and provinces.
Flannery lays out the familiar strands of the argument: political will, new technologies and finance are the components of the transformation. He is no blind optimist: his opening quotation, from F Sherwood Rowland, a Nobel laureate for his work on the ozone layer, betrays the weary frustration of many climate veterans: “What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” In the end, Flannery believes we can do it. We have to hope he is right.