A good part of my life was spent watching David Attenborough pop out of seemingly nowhere to stand, implausibly, right in front of, oh, a monkey that had just swung back on its branch, or an eagle feeding its young, or some really dangerous beast that might at any moment notice Sir David and confuse him with lunch. How did he get there? How long has he been waiting in the jungle for this moment? Is his camera team still alive? In front of my TV set, I kept having questions.
Attenborough, along with his American counterpart E.O. Wilson, is the most accessible naturalist alive. That alone makes him a titan, for how can we save our planet if we don’t appreciate it first? What a great choice, therefore, to give Sir David the so-called “people’s seat” at the United Nations climate conference that started yesterday in Katowice, Poland.
Following this conference leads inexorably to despair. Its official goal is to sort out the rules for measuring and reporting greenhouse-gas emissions to implement the reduction targets agreed by more than 180 countries three years ago. But a crucial country, the US, is walking away from that “Paris Agreement” — in disdain.
Moreover, the Paris Agreement’s overall goal already seems out of reach. It was to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, and ideally 1.5 degrees. But a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) spelled out that this would mean reducing greenhouse gases by almost half in the next decade or so. Instead, carbon dioxide emissions have failed to fall, and appear even to be rising again!
To understand such statistics we as human beings need other human beings we respect to explain it all to us. Segue back to Sir David. “If we don’t take action,” Attenborough told the assembled dignitaries, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
Somewhat less dramatically, people have also been working hard at another summit to prevent a looming disaster (ie, another euro crisis). This one is taking place, as usual, in Brussels. The participants are the finance ministers of the euro zone, including Germany’s Olaf Scholz (middle in the picture). A big prerequisite for these gatherings is sheer physical stamina. They started meeting yesterday, and kept going for 18 hours until this morning. We’re now awaiting details, but early signs point to the following:
As expected, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a vehicle set up during the euro crisis in Luxembourg, is to be developed into a sort of European Monetary Fund modelled on the IMF. Germany and France are also intending to push for a new EU-level “digital tax” on the revenues of internet giants.
But it was not yet clear whether the euro ministers were approaching agreement on the most important and controversial step being discussed: whether the euro zone is to get its own common budget and how large and flexible that is to be. As I argued last month, I think that this reform, if it comes about, “will instead leave the euro zone in a dangerous no-man’s-land, neither fixing the currency union nor preparing its orderly dissolution.”
Is it me or does it seem like we’re constantly talking about process rather than actual events? So-and-so is about to attend this summit; now so-and-so is leaving the summit and is on the way back. Now she is on the way to the next summit, where she will clash with so-and-so, who just postponed yet another summit. It makes you want to head for the Alps and find a proper summit, one without cell-phone coverage.
I’ll end my rant there. Guess what? There’s another summit going on in Germany. OK, the “Dieselgate summits” are always going on, in one form or another. But I’m now talking about a summit (is that still the right word?) of B-Listers in Nuremberg. They’re trying to agree on a strategy to let Germany catch up in the digital revolution, and in artificial intelligence (AI) specifically. I can’t wait, I think, to see the press release. Because I’m pretty sure Germany has already lost that race.
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