Living beyond the means

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
My View - The Sun Daily
December 22, 2015

THE United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris (COP21) that just ended was regarded as "unprecedented" in comparison to that in Kyoto, and more recently, the fiasco in Copenhagen.

The conference produces the Paris Agreement, so-called a global "consensus" on the reduction of climate change, with representation of 196 participating parties subscribing to the text.

Generally, the agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century.

Some deemed this as challenging enough to keep global temperature from rising by less than two degrees (as in the original target) which otherwise could affect an estimated 280 million people due to rising sea levels.

This year is already marked as the hottest on record, topping that of 2014.

Still, that did not stop some leaders from howling in ecstasy.

The French President, as host to COP21, reportedly declared it as "A major leap for mankind" (sic, I thought "humankind" would be more appropriate given the French national motto – liberté, égalité, fraternité).

Not to be outdone President Obama was quoted: "We've transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change."

He called it a "turning point" – alluding to his legacy as his term comes to an end soon, despite the threat that it will be reversed should the Republicans take over his office of presidency.

Indirectly, Donald Trump is already grousing that he is unable to wash his hair properly, calling "it's a disaster".

Regardless, a "turning point" it is not. Taking into account components like land use, carbon footprint, urbanisation, and the like, estimates showed that those in the US "consume enough resources to take up 4.1 Earth's worth of resources". And that those in France, 2.5 times. Indeed, similar for most of Europe.

Hence, it cannot be a "turning point" by any stretch of the imagination until those numbers are realistically brought down to just one planet, as what it should be.

After all, as the UN Secretary-General famously reiterated: "There is no Plan B because there is no Planet B." How it is then that some countries are "privileged" to have more than one planet serving their gullible needs.

And unfairly so because the only plausible explanation is that they have been depriving the larger part of the world what is truly theirs.

Indeed some are barely surviving on a partial planet as a result. In short, there can be no leap for humankind nor any claim to global leadership as long as the current disparities continues.
Oxfam has warned that – on a more micro-level – 1% of the richest person will own more than the rest of the world's population come 2016.

Not surprisingly they are among those who are living on the resources of more than one planet. Yet when the sea level rises as a result of the anthropogenic carbon emissions, they will, for sure, be among the 280 million predicted to be displaced.

The president of the World Bank is right when he was cited as saying "hugely challenging" when it comes to the brass tacks.

For example, research by the International Energy Agency found that US$16.7 trillion is required by 2030 if the Paris pledges to cut emissions is to be met.

Although rich countries have made pledges to funnel at least US$100 billion a year into "poorer" countries from 2020, such lofty promises were hardly kept in the past.

What is more, if the six general aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launched at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 28, 2015 are taken into consideration.

In the final analysis, the advancement of dignity, justice, prosperity, people, planet and partnership for all humanity could be negatively impacted.

Unless the fight against climate change is predicated on the SDGs, then it is premature to jump into ecstasy; not until everyone, every community and nation cease to exceed the limit of one single planet.

This implies that the lavish lifestyles drawing on "stolen" planetary resources belonging to someone else must be immediately stopped.

More than that the squandered resources must be returned to the rightful owners. Only then, is there a possibility for "a major leap for (hu)mankind" and a true display of "global leadership" deserving the rightful legacy.

The inevitable test question therefore is: Can we all live equitably on the resources of just a single, albeit ailing, planet?

If we are unable and unwilling to, then COP21 is another exercise in futility.

Shame on those who are insisting to live beyond their means despite the threat of a climate catastrophe.