The first round of 2013 UN climate negotiations kicked off this morning with a stirring call to urgent action by UNFCCC Chief Christiana Figueres: the world’s average atmospheric CO2 concentration is on the verge of passing the landmark level of 400ppm, with no sign of a noticeable let-up. Many scientists have long-since held that 400 and above represents serious danger of disastrous changes to the climate system. The godfather of climate science, James Hansen, has always maintained that 350ppm is the only safe level. Entire movements have been founded on this basis. Passing 400ppm is a sobering moment indeed.
Faced with this dire warning from scientists transformed into the inspiring oratory of Ms Figueres, the governments of the world duly stepped up and responded by not flocking to Bonn in record numbers. Crowds of excited negotiators could not be seen thronging the corridors of the old West German Parliament building, temporarily hosting the talks to give everyone a break from the ’80s monotone of the nearby Maritim. Hordes of clamouring journalists were not to be seen generating a near total lack of buzz in the world’s media. The sense of urgency was palpable but only when it was time for lunch. Sometimes it felt as though there were more people in bedroom last night than attending the talks.
In fact it was just another day in sleepy Bonn, with the coal barges gurgling past along the Rhine and the thick sausages sizzling in the canteen. Rumours that entire delegations had not been informed about the venue change and are waiting patiently at the Hotel Maritim appear to be unfounded.
And so the UNFCCC juggernaut rumbles into motion, beginning its 2013 programme of mud slinging, procedural wrangling and communal wringing of hands about the inadequacy of the world’s response. Is this really the world’s best hope to avoid climate catastrophe? Let us hope not.