Countdown to Copenhagen

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UN leader: “If we continue at this rate we’re not going to make it”

by Julio Godoy
Inter Press Service, Aug 17, 2009

The disappointing results of negotiations in Bonn last week are indication that industrialised countries are unwilling to make substantial contributions to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

They failed once again to meet the expectations formulated in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In a report in February 2007, the IPCC called for reductions of up to 40 percent up to 2020. Without substantial reductions, it warned, the average earth temperature would rise by more than two degrees Celsius by 2050.

Two degrees is considered the most that earth can tolerate if it is to maintain its ecological equilibrium. A temperature rise beyond this point, the IPCC said, would lead to environmental catastrophes from severe droughts to further melting of glaciers and rise in sea level, and stronger and more frequent cyclones and hurricanes.

The industrialised nations – other than the U.S. – responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, proposed reduction by 16 to 24 percent by 2020 relative to 1990 levels.

The U.S., the largest polluting country per capita by far, did not commit itself even to this. The total reductions offered by industrialised nations add up to far less if U.S. emissions are taken into account.

“If we count the U.S. emissions, then the reductions proposed in Bonn by industrialised nations fall to 10 to 15 percent,” Martin Kaiser, climate change expert with the environmental organisation Greenpeace told IPS.

“If we continue at this rate we’re not going to make it,” Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which hosted the meeting in Bonn, told a news conference after the closing of the negotiations. Some 2,000 delegates from 192 nations took part in the Bonn talks.

The conference in Copenhagen is expected to produce a binding global agreement on reducing emissions, to take over from the Kyoto protocol on climate change which expires in 2012.

De Boer said there are now only 15 days of negotiations left until the Copenhagen meeting. “A climate deal in Copenhagen this year is an unequivocal requirement to stop climate change from slipping out of control,” he said.

The talks are scheduled to continue in Bangkok in late September and in Barcelona in November.

Eighty least developed countries, including several small island states, collectively called for reductions of at least 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, in order to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees.

There is little sign of any such pledge. “Industrialised countries are playing poker with climate change,” Stephen Byers, chair of the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE), told IPS.

Byers said industrialised countries are waiting until the very end of the negotiations for reduction commitments by emerging economies, and only then reveal their hand. “This is a gambler’s behaviour, and it’s as wrong.”

Byers urged the industrialised countries to “take a strategic approach to the climate change negotiations and commit to medium-term emissions reductions in line with the IPCC’s analysis and an overall goal of limiting global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius.”

Byers also demanded that the industrialised countries “recognise the scale of the required financial support from developed to developing economies to ensure effective implementation of the diverse outcomes of the Copenhagen conference.”

GLOBE estimates that some 90 to 140 billion dollars a year might be needed to pay for climate change mitigation technologies and adaptation. GLOBE says predictable and sustained finance must be raised “according to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, for example a levy on bunker fuels or aviation.”

Delegates from the emerging new economies such as India and China accused industrialised countries of trying to shift the burden of reductions on to poorer countries.

“We still have the same problems that have been holding back an agreement,” China’s climate ambassador Yu Qingtai said at a press conference in Bonn.

Yvo de Boer had said at the last round of talks in June in Bonn that there remained “tough nuts to crack.” Those nuts still remain, and remain just as hard.