Prophet of Doom — and hope

David Dickson

David Dickson
Editor, SciDev.Net

Sackcloth and ashes may have gone out of fashion. But it was difficult to feel that they would not have been suitable attitire for the conference’s opening speaker, Bob Watson, a former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Watson warned with the intensity, if not quite the fervour, of an Old Testament prophet that the world was heading for catastrophe if it did not change its misguided ways.

Delivering an analysis on Sunday evening on behalf of winners of the Blue Planet Prize – a price awarded annually by the Asahi Glass Foundation – he sketched an apocalyptic vision of what might lie ahead.

Limiting global warming to two degrees centigrade above 1990 level – the Kyoto target – something that “to be honest, we are not going achieve” he told the audience, We had to start planning now for temperatures of five, six or even seven degrees higher by the end of the century.

Sustainable development was “an achievable dream”, said Watson, one of the driving forces behind the Planet Under Pressute conference. But the current system the current system was “deeply flawed” and our current pathway “has no chance of achieving it”.

The needs made a long agenda, from challenging the “vested interests” that dominated political decisions at all levels, through educating and empowering women , to boosting research budgets on topics relating to sustainability — and promoting the communication of the resulting science.

It was almost a political manifesto of its own. And the urgency of the situation was clear. But Watson said that what was missing so far was action.

This was already true at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro 20 years. But since then, the situation had not improved.

The rest of the Planet Under Pressure meeting will hopefully sketch out what scientists believe needs to be achieved at Rio this year – and in the years ahead – if Watson’s “achievable dream” has any chance of becoming true.

This blog post is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

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