RealClimate logo

Note 3/23/2021: we had a few hiccups with comments after moving the site to https/SSL. Hopefully they're fixed now. Please let us know if there are remaining issues.

The Guardian’s Editorial

Filed under: — eric @ 8 December 2009

The following editorial was published today by 56 newspapers around the world in 20 languages including Chinese, Arabic and Russian. The text was drafted by a Guardian team during more than a month of consultations with editors from more than 20 of the papers involved. Like The Guardian most of the newspapers have taken the unusual step of featuring the editorial on their front page. The Guardian, the editorial is free to reproduce under Creative Commons.

RealClimate takes no formal position on the statements made in the editorial.

Copenhagen climate change conference: Fourteen days to seal history’s judgment on this generation

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”.

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

663 Responses to “The Guardian’s Editorial”

  1. 651
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Despite everything I have said, I believe government subsidies are best directed to renewables.”

    Better yet: Reduction in Need.

    You don’t even have to clear land for a turbine with that one!

  2. 652
    Rod B says:

    Leonard Evens (551), your general point is well-taken. But I think there is a level of scientific discourse and questioning that is not just allowed but encouraged by at least most. Without this the blog becomes an AGW pep rally and/or a shootin’ match; even though the majority of the posts may fall into this category (it’s natural), I don’t think this is the moderator’s primary purpose.

  3. 653
    Hank Roberts says:

    Jonesy — there’s a whole topic about questions like yours, see ‘The CRU Hack’
    This isn’t it. You’ll find your questions answered there; I’d sum them up as:
    1) Copies; yes.
    2) Yes
    3) Copies.
    4) Resigning is included, e.g. Von Storch et al.
    5) Look at the dates on the journal articles.
    6) Enough.

  4. 654
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #651 & “‘Despite everything I have said, I believe government subsidies are best directed to renewables.’ Better yet: Reduction in Need.”


  5. 655
    tamino says:

    After being corrected, Richard Steckis (#648) went looking for an autocorrelation-corrected version of the Mann-Kendall test. Of course, he didn’t actually use it (he says he “will try the method”). My statement that his analysis has no validity is correct — but Steckis insists he stands by it.

    I suspect that Steckis is not really competent to do this analysis. I also suspect that he’ll keep trying until he gets the result he wants.

  6. 656
    Rod B says:

    Hank Roberts (559), my quarrel was with the hyperbole associated with Silk’s comment which was (combining posts) MOUNTAINS of OBSERVED EVIDENCE to [unequivocally] show when CO2 doubles to 550ppm temperature will increase nominally by 3 degrees. His specifics and emphasis, not mine. Your comment is telling when your source says, “…But such observations can provide only limited insight into the response of climate to massive, rapid input of CO2…” It might be picky, but IMO important. AGW does itself no good when excessive exuberant exaggeration is espoused. Us skeptics are supposed to trust you guys with that kind of stuff? Maybe Silk simply misspoke (though he did it a number of times) — and to be fair Silk has some very good posts — but, like foot-in-mouth Gore, it does you all no good.

    Back to substance, your reference looks interesting and I will check it out. BTW, I found a full PDF copy (figures and all) at

  7. 657
    SecularAnimist says:

    Didactylos wrote: “I believe government subsidies are best directed to renewables. If governments can at least avoid stifling nuclear power, then the nuclear industry should be able to finance itself.”

    Well then, for all practical purposes you agree with me that no new nuclear power plants should be built in the USA, because the nuclear industry has said very loudly and clearly that they will not build even one new nuclear power plant unless the taxpayers and the rate payers absorb all the costs and all the risks up front — which is to say, without hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies from the Federal government.

    And you don’t have to take my word for that — look at what the nuclear industry itself has been saying and what they have been asking for in various energy-related legislation in recent years (e.g. in the Senate’s current draft climate/energy bill), since they dreamed up the “nuclear renaissance” propaganda campaign. Look at the financing schemes that are being proposed by utilities, which will allow them to begin charging ratepayers for the costs of new nukes even before the plants have been approved, let alone construction has started.

    Again, it isn’t irrationally fearful greenies who find nuclear power to be uneconomical — it is the investors, who won’t touch it, unless their costs and risks are covered and their profits assured by the taxpayers.

    And the idea that the US government has “stifled” nuclear power is utterly absurd. The nuclear power industry in the USA only exists because of government funding and government support, to the tune of many tens of billions of dollars; and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has always been more concerned with promoting the industry than with regulating its safety.

    What has “stifled” the nuclear industry is that it has not been able to compete economically with other sources of electricity, chiefly coal and natural gas.

    And now it cannot compete economically with efficiency and renewables.

    And as for other countries making nuclear an economic success where the USA failed to do so, that is not the case. Nuclear power has never been an economic success anywhere in the world. It has always and everywhere depended on government funding and government support for its very existence.

  8. 658
    Timothy Chase says:

    After I provided Richard Steckis with several links on the significance of global average temperature trends (in 604 and 605), in 619 he replied:

    Thank your for the link. It is interesting but basically useless. Reason being it is a blog thread and not published science. Therefore it has not withstood professional scrutiny. I will refer it however to my statistical adviser.

    (Emphasis added)

    I know better than to try and change the mind of a libertarian ideologue on issues related to climatology. However, I refered to several blog posts by people who are more than qualified to comment on issues related to climatology or statistical significance.

    I refered to:

    Results on Deciding Trends
    Monday, January 5, 2009

    … written by Robert Grumbine (PhD), a professional climatologist who has published peer-reviewed papers in climatology, one of which has been cited by 144 other peer-reviewed papers, who would certainly seem capable of commenting on issues related to climatology.
    Global Temperature from GISS, NCDC, HadCRU
    January 24, 2008

    You Bet!
    January 31, 2008

    … both of which were written by Tamino (PhD) , a professional statician who has published peer-reviewed papers with over 100 peer-reviewed citations. He would certainly seem capable of commenting on the issue of statistical significance.
    The significance of 5 year trends
    Posted on: May 17, 2007 4:02 PM, by William M. Connolley

    … written by William Connolley (PhD) who has published peer-reviewed papers in climatology, one of which received 149 peer-reviewed citations. He would certainly seem capable of commenting on issues related to climatology

    Now you have written above in 633:

    In addition to my claims of a cooling trend for RSS LT data I have used a trend analysis test (the Mann-Kendall test for monotonic trend in environmental time series data).

    … but Tamino points out in 635 that the measure you point to does not take into account red noise. So in short mathematically your blog comment would appear to be worthless.

    You have written above:

    Therefore, it seems that decadal level time series of temperature data can show significant trend. (ibid.)

    … but if you are the least bit informed you will realize that there was a La Nina in the time series, one phase in a climate oscillation, and as your analysis does not in any way take into account the climate oscillation your analysis is worthless.

    Statistically significant? Perhaps — but if so what you are picking up is a climate oscillation that people already knew was there, nothing more. Temperature trend? Climate oscillations are quasi-periodic. And they neither create heat or destroy it, they simply move it about. From the thin slices that we measure in the lower troposphere or at the ocean’s surface to the ocean depths or other parts of the troposphere and back again.

    But you haven’t taken any of this into account.

    On the otherhand, there exists a large body of evidence for a prolonged temperature trend in the lower troposphere, surface stations, ocean surface, and I believe as far down as 150 meters of ocean.

    We know that once you remove the solar cycle there has been no trend in solar radiance since 1960. We do however know that greenhouse gases have been accumulating in the atmosphere over the same period. We understand the mechanism by which the absorb and emit radiation right down to the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics, the most accurately tested physical theory known to humanity. In terms of physical mechanisms we have every reason to believe that the earth must be experiencing a warming trend. The numbers show that it is.
    And what of your qualifications?

    I see no paper of yours that has ever appeared in a peer-reviewed journal related to either climatology or statistics.

    As far as I can tell, you on the other hand haven’t authored a single paper that has received any form of peer review. You work in a fishery. I suspect that at best you have a bachelors degree.

    The analyses I refered people to are well thought out. Yours? Not much to say, really.

    As I have said, I don’t expect to change your mind. But there are other readers. I write for them, and barring a political axe I suspect that based upon what I have linked to and what both you and I have written they will arrive at the appropriate conclusion.

  9. 659
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Rod B: “They do not include the cost of the service distributor itself, the long- and short-haul transmission, any profit or cost of investment, etc.”

    And how are these significantly different for non-coal producers?

    Wrong shape of electrons???

    ROI for wind turbines is much shorter than coal and MUCH shorter than nukes. Build-up time shorter and you can generate power when you have 1% completion with wind or solar compared with nearly 100% completion needed for coal and 100% for nuclear.

  10. 660
    Completely Fed Up says:

    PS Rod B, the only real bit left over is the “profit” bit.

    But that is the cost over the marginal rate.

    What are the margins on selling PCs?

    Razor thin.

    Where a $1000 PC will see $s profit (not $100s).

    Because a real free market exists within the box-shifter market.

    Operating systems, not so much…

  11. 661
    Tilo Reber says:

    Timothy: #610
    “Mainstream climatology attributes the lack of warming from 1940 to 1975 to reflective aerosols that reduced the amount of sunlight that reaches the earth’s surface. You can see part of the reason why here:”

    Looking at Tamino’s charts, it looks like there is a 20 year divergence before 1940 between the NH and the SH. Considering the industrialization that was going on at that time, it seems like the divergence should have been reversed.

    The twelve year drop where the SH follows the NH is not adequately explained.

    The sudden acceleration that happens around 1977 would indicate that there was a precipitous drop in the amount of aerosols at that time. Do you know of an aerosol chart over the century that would also show such an extreme drop? If you do, I’d appreciate a link.

    “Moreover, Atmoz will point out that the Pacific Decadal Oscillation itself cannot contribute to the warming trend inasmuch as given its classical definition the warming trend is removed when defining it.”

    I am not suggesting that PDO modifies the supposed warming trend in the long term. I’m suggesting that it modulates the warming trend. And I’m suggesting that the modulation of the warming trend is long enough so that it is not filtered out by using a 30 year period to establish a trend. In other words, if you take the post 1977 period of temperature acceleration and pretend that this corresponds to the forcing by CO2, then you haven’t filtered out ENSO and PDO in making that judgement. My point is that 30 years is still an arbitray number and it does not filter out the natural elements of variation. Also, any look at a long term historical temperature chart will show that there are warming trends that last as long or longer than the supposed current CO2 trend. Those would obviously also not be filtered out by using 30 years. In fact, I don’t see how we can say that those longer periods of natural variation that operated in the past are not operating now.

    From Timothy from the skeptical scientist:
    “As seen in Figure 2, a cool phase PDO is associated with cool sea surface temperatures along the Pacific coast of North America, but the center of the North Pacific ocean is still quite warm.”

    This makes no sense at all. During El Nino there are still other areas of the Pacific that are warm. And during La Nina, there are still other areas of the Pacific that are cool. Yet you wouldn’t deny their effect on global temperature. So the fact that PDO doesn’t conver the entire northern Pacific seems to be irrelevant.

    “Still, some might claim that PDO forces ENSO, but the following seems to suggest that ENSO leads PDO rather than the reverse if one looks at the left-bottom diagram on slide 10 of …”

    It doesn’t really matter to me who forces whom. What matters is the length of the cycle and that it’s effect is not removed by using 30 years of data.

  12. 662
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod, I thought you’d read Zachos and the PETM thread before.
    Seriously, look hard at it and the papers it cites (and the papers citing it as they appear). And look at

  13. 663
    eric says:

    Comments are now closed.