The result of the Copenhagen Climate Conference caused great disappointment and much worry in a large part of public opinion. In its fourth report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided the figures indicating the CO2 emission reduction that must be achieved in order to stop a dangerous climate trend. This conference ended with no commitments on the part of states with respect to those figures.
Some scientists challenged the statements in the IPCC report concerning the major role of human activities in global warming. The function of the World Federation of Scientific Workers is not to take a position on the validity of these challenges. Scientific debate is normal, and is part of the process of expanding knowledge. Scientific truth is not the result of a majority vote. As regards scientific data entailing political decisions with long-term implications, however, the existence of a majority scientific opinion must necessarily be taken into account, whatever conjectures we might make about the possible fine tuning of this data in the future. We cannot wait to act « to see what happened in the end and who was right »! This is the whole meaning of the Copenhagen Climate Conference and the disappointment that followed it.
The future of the Planet Earth and the human society who inhabits it depends on human activities to such a point that the fulfilment of a common world ambition has become an absolute necessity to control the impact of human activities. The dangers inherent in climate changes are not the only ones caused by social and economic development. All the problems of pollution and other damages to the environment as well as the waste of natural resources and their depletion are also involved. The consequences of this waste will appear sooner or later as just as frightening for our future as those related to greenhouse gas emissions. We must give priority to procedures leading to complete regeneration of inputs, whether for agricultural, industrial, or household effluents. It is urgent to put an end to the waste of raw materials, the wealth of the planet in general and not only the waste of fossil fuels. This « new development » will require a tremendous effort in scientific research in directions hitherto ignored or neglected.
A multitude of voices asserted that the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Conference was predictable. The real obstacle is known: it was the fact that powerful economic interests were challenged. The binding measures that people hoped to see adopted at the conference had powerful consequences for the competitiveness of national economies. Once again the dogma of allegedly free competition on a worldwide scale turned out to be an obstacle to sustainable development. We must put an end to this dogma. We must establish a new type of international economic relations.
We have reached a stage of exasperation at which every company is in danger of being absorbed and disappearing unless that company absorbs others. The « free and undistorted competition » that the WTO watches over is a myth which contributes to destroy existing solidarities and public missions. The free circulation of capital and the domination of financial markets have opened the reign of predators. If you do not want to be swallowed up, you must swallow up others. Under these conditions, how can you not see that the efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are jeopardized? It is a short-term vision and « every man for himself » that will prevail. How can we imagine that it is possible to control growth if we do not put an end to a situation in which there is no solution other than a frenetic race toward growth? And how can we fail to understand that a state which allows its national economy to lose all independence dooms itself to lose all power, to lose every means of action with regard to implementing an international agreement like the one we hoped for in Copenhagen? This type of growth has become unbearable. Billions of human beings are kept in a state of poverty endangering the control of population growth. The harm done by this type of growth is far from limited to hindering efforts toward sustainable development, but it also manifests itself in the choice of scientific policies and in all areas of social and economic life. The world financial crisis that broke out in 2008 is one more proof of this.
We do not consider ourselves to be competent to criticize UN institutions to which certain persons attribute the responsibility for the present deadlock. But our conviction is that the solution requires an agreement between states. It depends on states to pull us out of the present economic situation which is the main obstacle to the control of development. They must agree to:
• put an end to the free circulation of capital by establishing rules protecting in particular states against the flight of capital in reaction to the implementation of sustainable development projects ;
• compel central banks and international financial institutions to promote monetary policies, credit and savings policies privileging the needs of the real economy ;
• replace the dogma of allegedly free and undistorted competition, particularly in the action of the WTO, by the principle of fair trade relations in the framework of international multilateral agreements.
• protect the economy of a state, when this state unilaterally undertakes to introduce transformations in line with the recommendations of the IPCC or other necessities of sustainable development;
• ban the export of polluting agents by rich countries to underdeveloped countries.
• encourage the creation or the restoration of public services in the fields where collective interest requires it: transport, energy, water, health,…
The scientific workers of the whole world, whether they work in universities or industry, have a role to play. What is at stake is the image of science and the public perception of the responsibility of scientists in the content of growth and the meaning of progress.