When representatives from around the world meet in Doha, Qatar, November 26 through December 7, they may feel a new sense of urgency to address their assigned topic, climate change. Experts are not very hopeful, however, about the meeting.
For decades, talk of climate change has evoked images of melting ice and stranded polar bears. But it is not just about the polar bears any more. Experts say warming temperatures and rising oceans are contributing to the creation of larger, more destructive storms.
At the London offices of the environmental group Greenpeace, chief policy adviser Ruth Davis said as more people experience climate change effects, policy changes become more likely.
“More and more people are becoming subjects of the impacts of climate change. And it is really important that governments going into Doha recognize that and take that in with them, so they have a sense of urgency and focus,” said Davis.
Climate disasters not only affect those who lose their homes, but also impact crop yields, food prices, insurance rates, public health and many other issues. The director of the Climate Change Institute at London’s Imperial College, Brian Hoskins, said the key to generating support for policy changes may be when those events happen more often, and more severely, in influential countries.
“There is a tendency to think that disasters might happen in Bangladesh, but they would not happen in New Orleans or New York. But they have happened in New Orleans and New York. We see that however advanced we think we are in terms of development, we are still very dependent on the environment,” said Hoskins.
Greenpeace's Davis said leaders need to recognize the costs of inaction, and also the benefits of promoting alternative ways to produce energy, that do not contribute to global warming - methods like solar, wind and geothermal power generation.
“It would take a decade, maybe longer, to be able to shift the situation. But it would not take so long to be able to get to a place where we began to deploy those technologies on an enormous scale," she said. "Then, once we have started, actually the huge benefits associated with rolling out large-scale renewable energy will be such that this will be a snowball effect.”
But experts do not expect much from the upcoming U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change
. The most they are hoping for is a renewed commitment to reach agreement in 2015 about environmental standards that would take effect five years later.
The experts say an agreement with universal standards, transparency and incentives to use new technologies could at least begin to reverse the effects of global warming. But they worry about whether the political will exists, and how many more people will have to suffer from climate disasters before the process even starts.