By Pascale Palmer, guest blogger from Caritas England and Wales (CAFOD)
I stood 30 feet from President Barack Obama yesterday. It’s the first time in my life that when someone (I didn’t know personally) entered the room, I felt the right thing to do was stand up and cheer. Luckily CAFOD’s head of policy stopped me, but I was nearly on my feet.
At the press conference he was joined on the podium by Prime Minister Berlusconi, then Kevin Rudd of Australia and finally a small huddle including Japan, France and the UK. Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, was looking jolly despite the heat and hours of negotiation on climate change.
It is difficult listening to Obama with any sense of criticism. From the podium he said a lot of positive words about the agreements reached at the Major Economies Forum, and all I could think was “he will save the planet: leave it to him”. There is a sense of powerful calm about the man. Consummate political ability oozes from him. He pitches himself perfectly – being able to talk about averting climate catastrophe and then graciously defusing the awkwardness of the rest of the MEF leaders wandering unannounced onto the stage as Rudd spoke, with a quick “you’ve got back up!”.
What a guy.
But in truth we certainly can’t leave climate to the US and even Obama himself made this clear. He said that fighting climate change was the responsibility of all, but acknowledged the rich nations shouldered the majority of blame. He told the audience, who were in a flurry of taking photos on their phones, that developing countries too must participate in the struggle.
He also said it would take more than a summer to solve climate change.
And that’s when I woke up. Too right, I thought.
And at the rate the G8 et al are going with their semantics of good intentions – by the time concrete, credible, change-limiting, adaptation-promoting targets are agreed, let alone reached – the world may well be at a point of no return. This point will not look good for anyone. But it will be worst for the poorest who already live on the edge of existence. Climate change will remove their buffer zone: it will remove any distance they once had between living and dying.
The longer we hear words of procrastination from the richest, the greater the number of lives at risk.
The UK has done their darnedest all week to strengthen the position of the G8 and Obama thanked Gordon publicly in his address. Now we need our PM to continue leading – at the EU, at the G20 in September and we need him to come to Copenhagen in December.