CLIMATE CHANGE: Gap Between Science and Pledges Likely to Outlive Cancún

Posted on 23 November 2010 by admin

By Matthew O. Berger

WASHINGTON, Nov 23, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) – Though there is widespread acknowledgement that the ambitions for this year’s climate change conference are considerably lower than for last year’s, the U.N. and other groups say even the deal struck a year ago will not go far enough to stop climate change.

When the parties to the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Cancún beginning Nov. 29, it will be with a slightly lower profile than last year’s highly anticipated and much-hyped conference in Copenhagen.

But they will be trying to continue the work undertaken there, which included a nonbinding Copenhagen Accord whereby some of the countries which emit the most greenhouse gases agreed to reduce those emissions.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Environment Programme released a report that concluded those reductions, even if fully met, are only 60 percent of the reductions needed to keep global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, which scientists – and the accord – say is necessary to prevent catastrophe.

Negotiators in Cancún will try to bridge that remaining 40 percent – or at least start to – among other scaled-back objectives.

“The challenge before us in Cancún and the one that we have been, frankly, focused on all year is to find a way to build on the progress made last year in the Copenhagen Accord,” the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern said Monday.

“It is now widely understood that a legal treaty this year is not in the cards,” said Stern. The U.S., he said, will be seeking a “balanced package of decisions” on financing and on mitigation targets or actions.

In order to lay the groundwork for an eventual treaty, he said there is a “vision of progress within our reach” that would start with decisions on mitigation commitments, a green fund, transparency and technology assistance.

This agenda for Cancún would be broader than the focus on only financial and technological assistance on which other countries have said they would focus.

“We need to be making concrete progress now” toward an eventual legally binding treaty, Stern said. However, he reiterated Washington’s position that it would not be ready to sign a treaty unless it includes mitigation commitments from China and other emerging economies, adding, “We just don’t see this happening soon.”

China joined with India, Brazil, South Africa and the U.S. to create last year’s accord at the Copenhagen summit. Together with other countries that later submitted emissions reductions targets under the agreement, countries representing 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have pledged reductions.

For now, emissions are continuing to rise. A study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience predicts carbon dioxide emissions will reach a record high this year, as a slight decline due to the economic and financial crisis will be offset by increases in emissions from developing countries, most notably China and India.

Monday, Stern noted that emissions from the industrialised world have largely leveled off and that most of the new growth in emissions numbers is coming from emerging economies in the developing world.

It is estimated that in order for the two-degree target to not be exceeded this century, however, global emissions will have to peak in the next 10 years. This means the amount of greenhouse gases emitted each year will, by 2020, have to come down to 44 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – or 44 times the annual emissions of international aviation and shipping activities.

In 2009, total global emissions were estimated to be about 48 gigatonnes, and UNEP says that full implementation of the accord pledges would result in, at best, 49 gigatonnes of emissions in 2020.

In a worst-case scenario, with lax accounting requirements and low political will to stick to the spirit of the accord, emissions could rise to 53 gigatonnes.

This “gigatonne gap” means there are still plenty of commitments and strengthening of commitments that need to be made at Cancún and beyond, the scientists behind UNEP’s report said Tuesday.

“Negotiators need to come to Cancún armed with a commitment to robust accounting rules and to move ahead with ambitious emission reduction pledges to close the gap between what‘s needed and where we‘re currently headed,” said Kelly Levin, a senior associate at the Washington-based World Resources Institute and a lead author on the report, which was jointly researched by 30 scientists at climate modeling centres and institutes on four continents.

But they say the gap is not too big to be closed. If the accord did not exist, emissions would be expected to rise to 56 gigatonnes in 2020, and, says UNEP, 60 percent means there is progress toward keeping temperatures below two percent. With success at future meetings, that progress might reach 100 percent, they hope.

“The results indicate that the U.N. meeting in Copenhagen could prove to have been more of a success than a failure if all the commitments, intentions and funding, including fully supporting the pledges of developing economies, are met,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director.

The remaining gap, he said, might be bridged by further commitments from both rich and poor countries and actions on pollutants such as methane, black carbon and the burning of biomass and animal wastes.


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