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Inter Press Service

As Politicians Stall, Grassroots Fills Void

Stephen Leahy

An air monitoring device sits on a rooftop in Mexico City, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008. Twenty years ago, birds fell dead from the sky in Mexico City, then home to the world's most-polluted air. Today, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone pollution has been slashed in half and carbon monoxide and lead particle levels cut by 90 percent as restrictions on driving and industry reduce emissions and raise awareness.(AP Photo/ Eduardo Verdugo)

emissions of carbon dioxide must reach a peak in less than 10 years and
then begin a rapid decline to nearly zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophic
disruption to the world's climate, according to a new report.

of carbon dioxide will actually need to "go negative" -- with more
being absorbed than emitted -- during the second half of this century,
according to "State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World" released
by the U.S.-based Worldwatch Institute this week.

Civil society will have to provide unrelenting leadership if these reductions are to be achieved, experts say.

"2009 is a pivotal year to deal with climate change," said
Christopher Flavin, president of well-respected Worldwatch Institute
(WI), a U.S.-based environmental think tank.

"Humanity will face grave danger if we don't move forward now," Flavin told IPS.

Climate change is happening faster and with larger impacts than
previously predicted, concludes the 26th annual "State of the World"
report, devoted entirely to the challenges and opportunities of global
climate change.

Even an additional warming of 2 degrees Celsius poses unacceptable
risks to key natural and human systems, warned climate scientist W.L.
Hare, one of the report's 47 contributors.

Two degrees C. has long been the European Union's hoped for
target to stabilise the climate. But Hare's research and that of others
shows that 2C could cause significant loss of species, major reductions
in food-production capacity in developing countries, severe water
stress for hundreds of millions of people, and significant sea-level
rise and coastal flooding.

"We need a very big step forward on a new international climate agreement this year," said Flavin.

The world community will meet in December of this year in
Copenhagen to create a tough new climate treaty. However, governments
lack courage on this issue and there are "powerful vested interests
that are frightened of change", Flavin said. Non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) will have to play a "huge role" in ensuring there
is a new and meaningful international agreement.

"NGOs have an extremely important role in pressing governments to act," Flavin said.

Global civil society, from billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person
'dot.causes', are providing much-needed leadership on major issues,
noted Paul Hawken, an environmentalist and entrepreneur, and author of
"Blessed Unrest", a book about civil society as the largest movement in
human history.

"NGOs are the oxygen that society needs in order to grow and adapt to change," Hawken told IPS.

This leadership comes from the power of ideas that embody consistent,
ethical values of restoring the environment and fostering social
justice, said Hawken, who has spent over a decade researching civil

Civil society is like nature itself, organizing from the bottom up, in
every city, town, and culture. It is emerging to be an extraordinary
and creative expression of people's needs worldwide. As a result, NGOs
are often key players in creating international agreements, in writing
policy and providing facts and information to policy makers and the

Later this month, the World Social Forum will hold its ninth annual
gathering, this year in Belem, Brazil, drawing activists from some
1,000 civil society groups in 130 countries. Deforestation,
biodiversity and climate change are expected to be high on the agenda.

For many years, NGOs were the only source of information about
how to create a sustainable society, and academic institutions are
still scrambling to keep up, Hawken said.

Formal institutions like governments that provide social stability
change very slowly -- which is a liability in times of rapid change.
NGOs are nimble, open to change and new ideas. "However, they are only
effective when their ideas are taken up by the larger body of society,"
Hawken said.

Worldwatch, along with many other NGOs, is calling on rich
countries like the United States, which have put the vast majority of
carbon into the atmosphere, to not only agree to major emission
reductions but to provide financing and technology to help poorer
countries. But even the new progressive U.S. government led by Barack
Obama, which has already committed to major emission reductions, does
not fully understand the scope of the challenges of climate change,
Flavin believes.

"The U.S. hasn't understood yet that it will have to provide
billions of dollars to help poor countries protect tropical forests,"
he said. Deforestation in tropical countries generates 20 to 25 percent
of global carbon emissions.

In fact, while the U.S. public wants action on climate change, many
people do not understand that transformative changes regarding energy
and resource use are needed. By the same token, few are aware of the
dire consequences of failure to make major emission reductions, Flavin

As the "State of the World 2009" documents, the necessary changes
represent exciting opportunities in renewable energy and efficiency
improvements, agriculture and forestry, and the resilience of societies
for slowing and managing climate change. The book's 47 authors provide
a wealth of real-world innovative and practical solutions.

"Sealing the deal to save the global climate will require mass public
support and worldwide political will to shift to renewable energy, new
ways of living, and a human scale that matches the atmosphere's
limits," said Robert Engelman, project co-director for "State of the
World" 2009.

A complex issue like climate change is hard to convey to
people and requires personal interaction at a one-to-one or small group
basis, said Hawken. Civil society at the neighborhood level is playing
a crucial role in helping people understand the changes that are

"Like raising children, NGO work is not exciting, glamorous or
well-paying, but it is the most important thing you can do in your
life," he said.

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