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No Time to Waste

The media have reported some doubt about whether the nations of the world will be able to meet the December 2009 deadline to reach a new climate agreement. Even the head of the UN climate agency, Yvo de Boer, has said that the negotiators might not be able to meet the deadline set for new greenhouse gas limits to take the place of those in the Kyoto Protocol that expire at the end of 2012. (The 2009 deadline was set to give governments and industries time to make the changes necessary to comply with new limits.)

But much depends on meeting this deadline. In language cited repeatedly at this conference, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations-appointed group of over 2500 climate scientists, explained last year that the best science suggests that, to have a better than even chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, industrialized nations like the United States must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. That's at least 35 percent below current U.S. levels.

On the first day of this conference, however, the chairman of the IPCC informed us all that the situation has grown more urgent: new evidence demonstrates that the climate is warming faster than previously anticipated, and that some of the most serious impacts are already occurring. Arctic ice is melting faster. The seas are rising faster. This evidence suggests that the IPCC’s recommendations were too conservative—we must make deeper cuts, and make them sooner, if we want to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. As a representative of the small island nations—nations that may disappear in rising seas—said during today's meetings, we should not be talking about reduction targets, we should be talking about reduction imperatives.

Such deep cuts are possible, but they require immediate and substantial changes in the way we power our lives: we must move away from coal-generated electricity to renewable sources of power, replace wasteful technologies with new efficient ones, and limit greenhouse gas emissions from the biggest polluters. Earthjustice is working on all these fronts, as are many others. But a global agreement is crucial. We have joined a coalition of environmental organizations calling on the government negotiators in Poznan not to give up on the goal of a new agreement in 2009. We intend to keep pushing, and expect them to do the same. The stakes are too high not to.