Loopholes in Obama Climate Accord Will Let Rich Nations Increase Emissions

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“The new data shows a frightening chasm between what the science says, what the people have asked for and Earth needs, and what rich countries are saying they are willing to do” —Bolivian ambassador Pablo Solon

by John Vidal
The Guardian, June 9, 2010

Developing countries were today shocked by new UN data showing that rich nations will be able to increase their carbon emissions by up to 8% if they take advantage of a series of major loopholes in their pledges.

Instead of reducing emissions by a minimum of 30-40% by 2020 and holding temperatures to a rise of 2°C – as many campaigners hoped the Copenhagen climate summit in December would achieve – many rich countries would not need to make any domestic cuts to stay within the legal limits of a new global climate deal being negotiated at resumed UN talks in Bonn this week.

The figures, which are far higher than expected, could be achieved by a series of carbon accountancy tricks and devices including:

  • Selling “hot air” or surplus carbon allowances that were created when Soviet economies collapsed in the late 1980s;
  • Using carbon markets to “offset” as much as 30% of rich countries’ emission cuts;
  • Setting new rules to calculate emission gains and losses from logging and planting trees.

The new analysis, prepared by Bolivia and released by the UN today, converts developed countries’ existing pledges into reduction targets as used in the Kyoto protocol. When combined with calculations of loopholes and carbon market mechanisms, it shows a massive gap between the 30-40% cut that scientists have said is needed to stem catastrophic climate change and the cuts which have been pledged by rich countries so far.

The calculations show that if they do not use the loopholes, developed countries would reduce emissions by 10-14% below 1990 levels by 2017. But if the Bonn proposals are adopted, they could increase emissions by between 4% and 8% above 1990 levels.

The wide gap between the pledges of rich countries and what is needed was recognised today by both the new UN climate chief, Christiana Figueres, and the outgoing executive secretary, Yvo de Boer, who will leave the UN next month.

“The pledges that we have on the table are not sufficient to meet the 2°C pledge made in Copenhagen, and certainly not enough to guarantee the survival of the most vulnerable and poorest. The pledges are insufficient,” said Figueres.

In his final speech, de Boer said: “As things stand now we will not be able to halt the increase of global greenhouse gas emissions in the next 10 years. The 2°C world is in danger.”

Countries like Russia and Ukraine have accumulated millions of tonnes of emission credits because of the collapse of the Soviet economy in the late 1980s. They and other eastern European countries want to be allowed to bank their credits to sell on to other rich countries in the coming years.

Irina Stavchuk, from the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine, said: “If these credits are sold to developed countries, that will mean they will not really cut emissions at all. The global levels of emissions will not go down and it will be very hard to keep warming to safe levels”.

“The new data shows a frightening chasm between what the science says, what the people have asked for and Earth needs, and what rich countries are saying they are willing to do,” said Bolivian ambassador, Pablo Solon.

“Rich countries are undermining the entire climate regime, particularly the binding targets of the Kyoto protocol. If this happens we’ll have a world without a legal system to make binding emission cuts, that’s a world of 4°C temperature rise and climate catastrophe,” said Lim Li Lin, an analyst from the Malaysia-based Third World Network.

“The proposals on the table are riddled with loopholes so its not surprising that current targets will do nothing to protect the world from climate disaster,” said Asad Rehman, Friends of the Earth’s international climate change campaigner.