St Petersburg Climate Change Seminar of the SI Commission for a Sustainable World Society
14-15 July 2008
The Seminar held by the Socialist International Commission for a Sustainable World Society in St Petersburg, hosted by the Just Russia Party for the first time as a member of the International, reaffirmed that the tasks of promoting equitable economic development, generating clean energy and protecting the Earth’s environment converge and are completely interconnected in humanity’s struggle to address the challenge of global warming and climate change.
Nothing less than the habitability of the planet and global peace and stability are at stake, and the world has but a few years to reverse growing carbon emissions in order to avoid the most severe consequences of global warming.
How to achieve that goal, and how to get there in ways that promote economic expansion and opportunity in order to sustain growing populations without undermining economic growth, is crucial to ensuring a decent life for coming generations.
This will require far greater efforts than have been seen thus far to transform economies based on the combustion of fossil fuels to low-carbon and more energy efficient economies based on alternative and renewable sources of energy.
The Commission believes that national and multilateral efforts to increase the production and use of solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative energy sources, as well as programmes to create and implement the necessary conversion technologies, can provide a strong economic stimulus and enhance the prospects for new job creation.
This can succeed only if governments, in coordination with the business and labour sectors, develop and institute policies to promote public and private research and make the investments necessary to carry out the shift to alternative energy production.
Crucial to the task is cooperation among nations and the political will to follow through at the international and national levels, manifest in binding treaties and legislation, particularly among the major carbon-emitting countries in both the developed and developing world.
The Seminar reiterated that all people have a legitimate right to a clean environment irrespective of their place of residence, social status, income or origin. The defence and protection of the environment should cover not only the current generation, but also future generations. If we are responsible for the future of our planet, we should think of decreasing current consumption levels in developed countries and refraining from superfluous over-consumption. A fair approach to global warming and climate change must be centered on solidarity and aim to reduce the disparity between the developed and the developing countries.
The Commission believes that every effort must be made to promote the use of clean and renewable sources of energy as alternatives to the current dependency on the burning of fossil fuels, a practice that is not only destructive to the environment but also a primary cause of geopolitical tension and conflict.
Among the most promising renewable sources of energy are solar, wind and geothermal power. Harnessing the enormous power of the sun through solar panels and other technologies is a proven and limitless source of clean energy. Increasing public investment in this area while providing greater incentives for use and development in the private sector can substantially increase the still very small percentage of energy humanity now derives from solar power.
Wind power is also a greatly underutilised source of clean, renewable energy. Europe has made headway in this area, particularly in exploiting offshore wind, and is aiming to generate a quarter of all its electricity through offshore wind turbines in little more than a decade. Public policies, as in this case, that promote the use of wind power and the participation of private sector companies in the field of wind power generation can help chart the way forward for other regions of the world in efforts to benefit from wind power.
Also very promising is the field of geothermal energy, particularly given the recent discoveries of huge reserves of heat energy in the Earth’s crust. There are still relatively few geothermal plants operating in the world today, but with new reserves being found, and if the appropriate policies and incentives are put in place, the potential is enormous.
There is also an urgent need for more effective international measures to allow timely responses to climate change. A global system for monitoring and forecasting climate change, an international rescue service, an international center to design new industrial constructions ecologically, should be set up. The establishment of an insurance fund for ecological and climate change risks should be considered.Development strategies and related policies should be monitored for their ecological validity and compatibility.
The Commission underlines the critical need to strengthen and enforce national and international regulations to protect the Earth’s water and forests. Keeping the oceans clean and healthy, ensuring supplies of fresh water and preserving forested lands are critical to ensuring the habitability of the planet and to mitigating the effects of climate change.
Due to global warming the world’s glaciers are melting at a faster rate than ever recorded. Precipitation patterns are changing, putting great strain on the availability of fresh water and causing severe droughts. New supplies of water are becoming more limited as demand is increasing rapidly.
As humanity moves forward in an extended effort to reduce carbon consumption and emissions, in the short term governments and international agencies must do far more to encourage water efficiency, construct better flood protection and water storage systems and stop pollution of the world’s water bodies.
Addressing the food crisis requires, among other measures, the revitalisation of agricultural production and reliance on more traditional crops, and in this context, priority must be given to protecting local watersheds and waterways, and to utilising them carefully and efficiently to support local farming.
Forests act as lungs for the planet by absorbing CO2 and at the same time they generate much of the world’s rainfall.
Moreover, deforestation, particularly the cutting and burning of the rainforests that help to cool the Earth’s atmosphere, is one of the principal sources of carbon emissions and one of the main causes of climate change. Losing the forests means losing the battle against climate change.
The worst deforestation is happening primarily in developing nations that are struggling to find a balance between economic necessity and the need for conservation. The strengthening of national and international regulations to reverse deforestation must therefore be coupled with financial incentives that make conservation economically viable, at both the national and local economic levels.
Some nations of the developed world, particularly in Europe, reward their farmers with subsidies to leave portions of land unused as part of environmental preservation policy. It is incumbent upon the international community to develop, promote and energetically implement a similar system at the global level to preserve and replenish the Earth’s forest lands.
Despite the complexities involved in tackling climate change issues at global level, the Seminar noted positively the outcome of the latest rounds in the international negotiations within the United Nations system and in other fora, bringing hope that the international community will prove its ability to reach a consensus for a global agreement to be concluded in 2009. In this respect, while recognising the advances made at the recent G8 Summit in Toyako, Japan, with regard to a commitment, as a first step, to a particular long-term goal for the developed countries - to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases no less than 50 per cent by 2050 – clearer, more specific targets are required and medium-term objectives and programmes should be established and implemented to this end in each country.