Gorbachev was the most high profile speaker but others on the platform included the former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, a former Chilean President, as well as leading lights from the environmental world, such as Jim Hansen, Gunter Pauli, Bill McDonough, Michael Braungart and Ernst von Weizsacker. There were also contributions from business including Philips Electronics, Shell and Triodos Bank.
The two day conference in Amsterdam was organised by the Club of Rome, famous for its Limits to Growth Report in the early 1970s. Worryingly, the over-riding theme was that their concerns and predictions about the depletion of the world’s natural resources were proving to be rather accurate. And that the threats from climate change would shortly be irreversible unless there was a very dramatic change in the world’s response. The culminated with a document called the Amsterdam Declaration. The plan was to present this to the Copenhagen Summit in December as further reinforcement to some significant global commitments.
In my view there were three major conclusions from this conference, as follows:”
1. The world needs to move away from GDP as a measurement for wealth, so that prosperity is not directly linked to depletion of resources.
2. The target for reduction in greenhouse gases should be no more than 350 ppm (parts per million) rather than 450 ppm, if we are to avoid runaway climate change.
3. Developed countries should commit to building no new coal-fired power stations and developing countries, including China should have clear deadlines for phasing them out.
He heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York but is best known for his testimony on climate change to the congressional committees in the 1980s, that helped raise broad awareness of global warming issues. As well as explaining some of the tipping points for climate change he told the conference that “the most essential thing is to put a price on carbon emissions”. His idea was that the US, China and Europe should ramp up the costs of carbon emissions and invest revenue in preventing climate change. Developing countries, exporting carbon intensive products or services, would also have to pay, but the money would be given back to them to pay for women’s education, re-afforestation and other important initiatives.
Gorbachev summed up his views by saying that “This is an emergency – the planet is in a perilous and disastrous state.” And that we need “political will at the highest levels to commit to industrialised countries leading the reduction in emissions”. He also pointed out that the economy was not undermined by environmental concerns but by the ‘glorification of consumerism”.
The Dutch Minister for the Environment, Jacqueline Cramer, made her commitment clear. Her message for the Copenhagen summit was that “We have to turn the Age of Stupid into the Age of Wisdom”. I hope that she’s not alone in pressing for action and innovation. My fear is that she may be overwhelmed by those trying to put the brakes on and explaining why any commitments should be made by someone else.
As well as attending this conference, which I found very motivating, I spent 4 days in Amsterdam with my eldest son Connor and my mother. We went on a canal cruise and did a lot of walking around the city, crossing over quite a few of the 1281 bridges that are an integral part of the city – and we stayed on a barge.
My mother, Minker with my son Connor and me in Amsterdam