The aim of the UN climate change conference in Paris is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so as to limit the global temperature increase to a maximum of 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Only then could this generation lay any claim to having fulfilled its responsibility to bequeath a sustainable planet earth.
Climate summits are notorious for agreeing targets and then not keeping to them. It is not clear how Paris will be any different. There are huge problems in the way of a committed agreement that could produce an effective and lasting solution. Not the least of which is the fact there will be 196 nations attending, all with different histories, cultures, economies and futures.
An example of these ‘local’ difficulties is the Philippines plan to build 23 new coal-fired power stations in response to growing electricity demand, all too frequent power blackouts and the fall in coal prices. They might, with some justification, argue that if developed nations want the Philippines to invest in renewable alternatives, they should contribute the additional cost.
These practical difficulties caused by the differences between different nations are only part of the story. A bigger problem was identified by MacKay in a Comment in the science weekly, Nature. Agreement would require an ‘upward spiral of ambition’ and the ‘science of co-operation’ in order to ‘harness self-interest by aligning it with the common good’. That head-on collision between the maximisation of self-interest and the protection and development of the common good, is the most fundamental of all the myriad of problems in ensuring the sustainability of life on earth. Solve that and the other difficulties could almost certainly be resolved. But achieving MacKay’s alignment will be difficult. It is not immediately clear how maximising self-interest can be aligned with the common good.
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