From Frank McDonald - Irish Times Monday September 21st

Call to lobby politicians over climate change FRANK McDONALD Environment Editor

ORDINARY CITIZENS need to mobilise to ensure that world leaders work towards reaching a comprehensive deal on global warming at December’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, according to the head of the European Environment Agency.

Speaking at the end of a meeting in Dublin of environment agency directors from 33 European countries, Prof Jacqueline McGlade said this week’s UN summit in New York would be “really quite critical” in making progress at Copenhagen.

“We have to mobilise citizens to say more can be done to get us out of what [UN secretary general] Ban Ki-Moon has said is ‘the last chance saloon’ – and time is running out. And clearly Europe has a very strong role to play in achieving that.”

Prof McGlade said there was evidence of citizens mobilising on the climate issue, with at least 1,000 events in 88 countries planned to mark the week-long summit in New York – including screenings in 40 countries of the climate change film The Age of Stupid.

“Social networks are taking action under the slogan ‘The Planet Needs Us – Let’s Get Together And Save It’, but more people need to get involved,” she said, adding that from today “flash events” would be taking place on Facebook and YouTube.

“We need to be bold and imaginative in encouraging the direct participation of citizens in dealing with the climate crisis,” she said. “The offers on the [negotiating] table so far would make only a marginal difference to a ‘business as usual’ scenario.”

Prof McGlade, who has made four trips to Greenland since 2006 to see the evidence of melting ice, said the visit that made the most impact was a recent one with a high-powered corporate group “who now felt the impact of climate change in their hearts”.

She was not disheartened by an opinion poll in Britain last week which found that more people were “switched off” by the issue, “resentful” about being made feel guilty about their lifestyles, or “doubtful” about the effectiveness of changing to low-carbon consumption patterns.

“There was a very interesting Eurobarometer survey recently that put the environment at the top of the agenda despite worries about the financial crisis. That’s certainly true in Denmark and Sweden, and the French are also up there in wanting to change things. The message we must get across is that this would give us a much higher quality of life, painting images that will allow people to realise that this is not some far-flung weird idea, and we should want it for our children. It’s not a ‘sackcloth and ashes’ approach.”

The real issue now, as Prof McGlade sees it, is “how do we bend the trend in [greenhouse gas] emissions down to keep us below a two degrees Celsius rise in average global surface temperatures – and how can this be achieved at the Copenhagen conference”.

With the scientific evidence hardening all the time, governments needed to be much more ambitious about delivering a low-carbon economy. “An extra push is needed, with families all over the world putting this message to political leaders.”