The conference which begins in Cancun today must restart the battle to lower emissions, says Michael McCarthy
From Editorial of The Independent
Snowfalls grip swathes of Britain. Temperatures in Wales dip to minus-17. As Britain shivers in the kind of freezing winter that we normally associate with Eastern Europe, it’s hard to remember that the world is at the tail end of the hottest, or second hottest, year on record. That is the problem with global warming. The steady rise in temperatures is incremental and often almost undetectable, especially in the cold northern hemisphere, where some feel tempted to celebrate the prospect of more Mediterranean-style summers. Unfortunately, the price that the rest of the world stands to pay for more agreeable northern summers is catastrophic in terms of rising sea levels, drought and desertification, which is why progress on curbing greenhouse gas emissions at this week’s climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, is vital.
The article in full
Officials and ministers from nearly 200 countries meet in Mexico today to attempt one of history’s greatest repair jobs: the mending of the world’s project to cope with climate change, which was comprehensively wrecked in Copenhagen a year ago. For the delegates gathering in the Caribbean “super-resort” of Cancun, it will not be possible to achieve the aim of the failed conference in the Danish capital, which was a new, legally binding treaty involving all countries, to slash the emissions of the greenhouse gases which are causing global warming. But what they may be able to do is “put the wheels back on the wagon” and restore momentum to the climate change negotiating process – which after the Copenhagen meeting seemed to have been smashed to pieces – in the hope of achieving a legal treaty at a future United Nations climate conference, perhaps even the next one, which is scheduled for Durban, South Africa, in a year’s time. They badly need to, because although climate change may have fallen out of the headlines and slipped down the political agenda in recent months, not least because of international financial turmoil, the threat of rising world temperatures has continued to mount. Last week, the Met Office in London released a report which asserted that evidence of global warming was stronger than ever, and later this week the World Meteorological Organisation is expected to announce that 2010 has been either the hottest or the second-hottest year ever recorded. Today, another group of British scientists claims that if the warming is not checked, children born today may live to see a world on average 4C hotter, which is unprecedented in human history.
It remains no less a critical issue, then, on the table at Cancun. The two-week meeting it is about to host will be seen, and even defined, in terms of the failure at Copenhagen last December. That was the most traumatic event in the two decades of international talks which have gone on since the global warming issue burst on to the scene in the late 1980s, not least for the enormous weight of expectation which had built up behind it. “Hopenhagen”, the young climate campaigners were calling it beforehand. Never have hopes been so dashed.The disenchantment was the greater for the fact that the 194 countries involved in the talks all accepted that if radical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions were not made, average temperatures might rise by up to 6C by the end of the century. The threshold for dangerous climate change is generally thought to be a rise of about 2C. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated that to be on a path to halt the warming, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) had to be cut by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020. A new, legally binding agreement to achieve this was Copenhagen’s central aim. But such a deal would have to go much further than the existing climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which did not include the world’s two biggest emitters of CO2 – the US and China. George Bush had withdrawn America from Kyoto shortly after taking office in 2001; and under the terms of the protocol, China, along with all other developing countries, was not obliged to make actual emissions cuts. (Only the rich developed nations were so bound). Yet the US and China were each annually emitting about seven billion tonnes of CO2, making up nearly a third of the global total. The project to construct a new, all-embracing legal climate treaty that would incorporate them fell apart principally because of dissension about the form of the new agreement. The developing countries, led by China and India, were strongly attached to Kyoto, and wanted a renewal of its commitments (which run out at the end of 2012), because Kyoto made sure the rich countries were doing something, while they – the developing nations – did not have to do anything. Perhaps not unreasonably, they take the view that the rich world put most of the CO2 up there, and should take the lead in dealing with it. The developed countries, on the other hand, strongly led by Britain and the other EU states and backed by the US – which under the leadership of President Barack Obama was prepared to re-engage with the process and had set itself an emissions target for the first time – wanted to tear up Kyoto and replace it with a new deal, to set legally binding targets on the developing world alongside those on the rich nations. The gap between these two strongly divergent positions proved unbridgeable and the negotiations foundered. As more than 100 world leaders arrived for what was intended to be the triumphant final agreement, they faced the nightmarish prospect of there being nothing to agree on. The situation, and their faces, were saved by a last-minute, patched-up deal for which the main architect, it is entirely fair to say, was the former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, and for which the credit was taken by Mr Obama. This was the so-called “Copenhagen Accord” – a three-page, 12-clause statement of intent, legally binding on no one, saying in effect that climate change is a Jolly Bad Thing and promising that We’re Jolly Well Going To Work Together To Stop It. On one level – in terms of the legally binding agreement which is needed – it is meaningless. But over the past year, the Copenhagen Accord has proved to have virtues, not least because all countries were invited to submit plans (entirely voluntary ones) for how they might cut emissions, to be inserted into an Appendix of the Accord, and 80 of them have now done so, including the leading carbon emitters, China, the US and India.Some of the targets (China’s and India’s for example) are for reducing the energy intensity of their economies rather than for actual emissions cuts, and the US target, to cut emissions by 17 per cent on 2005 levels, was dependent on the Senate passing legislation which is not, for now, going to happen.Nevertheless, it was unthinkable even two years ago that the US, China and India, along with other major emerging economies such as Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa, would have set out specific pledges to reduce their carbon emissions, yet all have done so, and this is a major step forward – as long as the pledges are carried out. An analysis published last week by the UN Environment Programme calculated that, if implemented in full, they might go 60 per cent of the way towards the emission cuts needed by 2020.This is where Cancun begins. There is no possibility of the 16th conference of the parties of the UN Climate Convention – COP-16, in the jargon – agreeing a new, legally binding climate treaty. The subject is not even on the agenda. So what can it do? The first thing is that it can regularise the Copenhagen Accord and the pledges it contains. The accord is not a decision of the COP, which is what is needed to give it legal status; it is at present merely a document which the conference of the parties has “noted”. More than that, the pledges, which were put forward from the end of January onwards, have not been formally acknowledged by the UN Climate Convention in any way at all, other than by being listed on its website. They need to be brought into the convention legally so they can be regularised and possibly improved. British officials are working towards this.Second, Cancun can make real progress on a number of climate side-issues, of which the most prominent are finance and forestry. The meeting can agree on the structure of a new fund to control the huge sums of money which were promised at Copenhagen, in its main positive outcome, to help developing countries cope with a warming world – $30bn (£19.2bn) by 2012 and $100bn annually by 2020. Third and finally, it can – it must – start out once more on the road to that treaty, and the object of cutting world emissions by 25 to 40 per cent by 2020.For its part, the British Government (along with the rest of the EU) now accepts that the attachment of developing countries to the Kyoto Protocol is very strong. It will contemplate a double deal, with a renewed Kyoto running alongside a new agreement which sets climate targets for developing as well as developed countries.But there is a price. Any new agreement, as far as the UK is concerned, has to be legally binding on the signatories. Countries might set their own targets, but once set, to avoid cheating they must have a legal obligation to meet them.This, potentially, is the crucial stumbling block on the road ahead. The Chinese made it crystal clear at Copenhagen that they were absolutely unwilling to be legally bound with regard to their future emissions.As for the US, Mr Obama’s pledge to cut emissions by 17 per cent last year was predicated on the US Congress agreeing it. Since the triumph of the Republicans in the midterm elections, that agreement and that legislation are dead in the water.The climate project ran into the ground in snowy Copenhagen. Now there is a chance to resurrect it in sunny Cancun. But nobody is saying it will be easy; the road ahead will be long and hard.Climate change: the paperwork* The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate ChangeThe basic international mechanism under which the fight against climate change is carried on. Signed in June 1992, the convention now covers virtually every country, including the US (which has withdrawn from Kyoto). * The Kyoto ProtocolSigned in Japan in December 1997, this treaty commits countries to making legally binding cuts in their emissions. So far, only the rich nations have targets. The US was part of this group until George Bush withdrew in 2001. Kyoto’s targets do not go far enough to slow down warming, and it does not set targets for developing countries. * The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change A UN body which reviews the science of global warming. There have been four assessment reports so far. The last, published in January 2007, warned that if emissions were not drastically cut, world average temperatures could rise by up to a devastating 6.4C by 2100. * The Copenhagen AccordThe outcome of the 2009 UN meeting (COP-15), at which it was hoped that a new treaty would be signed to make much more drastic cuts in emissions. It fell apart because the industrialised nations wanted a new treaty binding all states; the developing countries wanted to renew Kyoto. The patched-up accord instead consisted of pledges with no official status whatsoever. * Cancun – COP-16The Cancun meeting will try to pick up the pieces of the wreckage of last year; one of its tasks will be to try to make the pledges of the Copenhagen Accord an official part of the convention.WHAT AN AVERAGE TEMPERATURE RISE O F 4 °C WOULD REALLY MEAN FOR THE PLANETOVERVIEWThe average rise will not be spread uniformly, and temperatures over land will be significantly higher (5.5C on average) than over the ocean, as the land heats up more quickly than the sea.THE ARCTICTemperatures at higher latitudes, particularly in the Arctic, will rise much more steeply in a four-degree world as they experience climate feedbacks due to the loss of sea ice and snow cover.Already, scientists have detected signs of unusual permafrost melting in Siberia and the release of vast quantities of underground methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.SOUTHERN EUROPEThe summer of 2003, when night-time temperatures were far beyond normal, caused many thousands of deaths through heat stroke and other related conditions. A four-degree world will make such summerscommonplace, causing environmental as well as medical problems.INDIAN SUB-CONTINENTA growing population puts pressure on water supplies, which will be exacerbated in regions of the world that will experience the greatest increase in numbers of people, such as India. In a four-degree world, however, the problems of water shortages will be primarily caused by climate change – a double whammy for the most populated countries.AMAZONAt higher temperatures, the Amazon rainforest is vulnerable to drought and uncontrolled spread of fires. Some climate models predict increased rainfall, while other “more realistic” computer projections predict severe drying in the Amazon. SOUTH-EAST ASIASea level rise is inevitable in a warmer world, but the problem will be significantly worse in a four-degree world because of melting ice sheets, glaciers and thermal expansion. Low-lying, heavily populated river deltas and coastal regions are especially vulnerable to flooding. Small oceanic islands will experience increased storm surges and problems with increased soil salinity.SUB-SAHARAN AFRICAAt 4°C, virtually all cereal-growing regions of the world experience crop failures or shortages. The areas affected most will be semi-arid regions where agriculture is already difficult, such as parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Some regions may become uninhabitable with widespread famine
From The Independent on Sunday…
As world leaders meet in Mexico, people in poor countries fear little will be done
MY VIEW: We have enough hard visual evidence, we have a very clear picture of the worst case scenario(s). Surely, past is the time for more talk; now it’s onwards to action!…?
Chris Huhne: Cancun needs realism, not blind hope
No one expects a binding deal on climate change in Cancun next month, but we can make real progress – just as we did in the past on key international agreements. The Montreal Protocol on the ozone layer – the only international environmental agreement that every country in the world is party to – is more than 20 years old, and has steadily improved with age. It was described by Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the UN, as the world’s most successful treaty, and it is working. The concentration of ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere is decreasing, and there are early signs that the ozone layer is recovering. Over the next fortnight, much airtime will be given to sceptics – not just about climate change, but about the very process of international negotiations. Next time an armchair theorist holds forth on the impossibility of global agreements, remember the lessons of Montreal.
The UK’s position on climate change is ambitious: a legally binding global deal is firmly in our national interest – and in the planet’s interest too. It is our best chance of keeping global temperatures within two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels, without which we will increasingly face dangerous and extreme weather. Achieving a deal will not be easy. Success will demand careful negotiation, compromise – and time. To properly judge progress, we need to put the negotiations into the historical context of other negotiations that were both complex and dealt with powerful economic interests.In the European Union, when a process is particularly complicated, you must make incremental progress. Countries wishing to join the EU must clear a number of separate hurdles. You have to make solid progress on chapter after chapter, knowing that you are nowhere until everything has been agreed. In their complexity, the climate change negotiations are similar to the trade agreements that have defined modern commerce and shaped the global system of trade. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was agreed in 1949, yet it would take four and a half decades of evolution before the World Trade Organisation and its legally binding disputes procedures were born. Of course, we do not have half a century to get to grips with climate change: the situation is far too urgent for that. But we should not expect an instant-coffee deal – just add water and stir. Rome was not built in a week, or even a year. It takes time to get negotiations right.This time round, in Cancun, our expectations will be different. The search is for a renewed sense of momentum, not the finished product. But we are not starting from scratch. Twenty years ago this week, the UN General Assembly commenced negotiations on what became the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It would be another seven years before the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, and a further eight before it came into force. Establishing a worthy successor to Kyoto – with a legal framework encompassing all – will be the culmination of a process that started just two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like the trade or environmental agreements that preceded them, the UN climate change negotiations are also complex, multilateral and deal with powerful vested interests. They will take a number of years to fully conclude. The key test of the negotiations is whether they are making enough progress each year, not whether they produce the polished, final deal this year or even next. Progress toward a binding global agreement will be painstaking. Yet there are reasons to be confident that it will ultimately be successful. First, concern about economic development and objections from industry are consistently overwrought – and over-reported. From the Clean Air Act of 1956 to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, there have always been voices willing to claim that the cost of action far outweighs the benefits. Yet, in a recent paper for the Institute for Economic Modelling, the Oxford economist David F Hendry argues that “in no case has there been a notable impact on any country’s gross national product from solving these problems”. My own department commissioned a study to examine the risk of a competitive threat to our businesses under an emissions trading scheme. Contrary to popular belief, it found a tougher EU emissions reduction target would have a minimal effect on output. Second, we have to see the flexibility needed today alongside agreements we have already made. The commitment we seek on the measurement, reporting and verification of progress on cutting carbon emissions does not infringe on national sovereignty as much as Article IV of the International Monetary Fund agreement, which provides for detailed annual surveillance of the economies and finances of member states.If we accept that economic success is collective, surely we should also accept that global climate change is a threat to us all? The Montreal Protocol showed that, when credible scientific evidence identifies a common threat, the international community can come together to secure an equitable agreement that restricts pollution and protects a common natural resource. We are realistic about prospects for Cancun. We seek progress, but don’t expect finality. The difficult political conditions and the complexity of the task cannot be underestimated, but the Mexicans who are leading the process have learned lessons from Copenhagen last year. Ministers will have a shorter and more manageable list of decisions to take. From deforestation to long-term climate finance, we can reach our destination in the only way anyone ever did: one step after another. We can regain momentum, and send a clear and vital signal to the world that international environmental agreements are achievable, workable and effective. They just need a little time.
Chris Huhne MP is Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
The article in full: Progress towards an agreement to limit climate change is possible at talks in Mexico this week. But it will be slow
As government ministers from more than 190 countries gather today in the Mexican city of Cancun for the start of talks aimed at minimising the impact of climate change, the need for a deal could scarcely be more pressing. The stakes are high, the expectations are low. There is scant sign of the dramatic cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases needed to stop global warming exceeding 2C and devastating vast areas of the planet.Failure to achieve meaningful progress could seal the fate of hundreds of millions of people living in some of the poorest parts of the world and in greatest danger from rising sea levels, drought and famine.
After recently viewing the dramatic – and very unscientific/’hollywood’ – movie ’2010′, I have to ask: What IF humans continue on present course? Now there is nore talk… but what of national and global action …?
The United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010, encompasses the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) and the sixth Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP), as well as the thirty-third sessions of both the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and the fifteenth session of the AWG-KP and thirteenth session of the AWG-LCA.
To discuss future commitments for industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol, the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) established a working group in December 2005 called the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). In Copenhagen, at its fifth session, the CMP requested the AWG-KP to deliver the results of its work for adoption by CMP 6 in Cancun.
At its thirteenth session in Bali, the Conference of the Parties launched a comprehensive process to enable the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action, now, up to and beyond 2010, in order to reach an agreed outcome and adopt a decision at its fifteenth session in Copenhagen. This process has been conducted under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA). In Copenhagen, the COP decided to extend the mandate of the AWG-LCA to enable it to continue its work with a view to presenting the outcome to COP 16 for adoption.
South Africa maps first deep-sea preserve
Underwater canyons, deep-sea coral reefs and sponge banks are part of a unique ecosystem that South Africa wants to save within its first deep-sea marine protected area. After 10 years of consultations, South Africa has mapped the boundaries for the proposed reserve stretching 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the eastern KwaZulu-Natal coast.The mapping required synthesising the many divergent interests in the Indian Ocean waters, with 40 industries from fishing to gas lines to jet skis operating in an area home to about 200 animal species and their ecosystems.”All of this data was then entered into conservation planning software in order to identify areas of high biodiversity while avoiding areas of high (economic) pressure,” said Tamsyn Livingstone, the researcher who heads the project.The conservation area is being born in a spirit of compromise, which will allow people and companies to continue using the protected waters in zones designated as lower-risk threats to biodiversity.The scheme still needs to be passed into law, but would join South Africa’s existing network of marine preserves strung along its 3,000-kilometre (1,800-mile) coast stretching from the warm Indian Ocean to the cold southern Atlantic.South Africa has embraced this “participatory” method to protecting species living in its water, an approach pioneered in California and Australia.Global goals for protecting biodiversity have been debated for two weeks at a UN summit in Nagoya, Japan (http://www.cbd.int/cop10/), in an effort to set goals on saving habitats which would help to end the mass extinction of species.Environmental groups want 20 percent of coastal and marine areas protected, they say China and India are lobbying for six percent or lower. Talks are supposed to wrap up on Friday.Part of the challenge is in protecting species that are more often than not still unknown. Only one quarter of the estimated million species in the oceans have been discovered.A global census of the oceans unveiled in early October uncovered prehistoric fish thought dead millions of years ago, capturing researchers’ imaginations about what else lurks in the deepest parts of the sea.”Offshore biodiversity is not well known,” said Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute.Exploring the seas remains an expensive project, prompting South African researchers to reach agreements to share information with fisheries, coastal diamond mines and the oil industry.”South Africa’s plan is unique in covering all industry sectors to ensure that biodiversity planning minimizes the impact on industry,” she said.”Healthy offshore ecosystems underpin healthy fisheries and keep options open for future generations.”With growing worries about climate change, scientists say the deep seas could become an important source of protein for the planet, because water temperature changes less at great depths.That assumes that the growth of industry can be managed alongside the marine life, especially as oil companies find ways to drill in ever-deeper waters.The explosion of a BP oil rig in April off the Louisiana coast, rupturing a 1,500-metre deep well, highlighted the risks.It took five months to shut off the leak which caused the biggest the oil spill in US history, with 205 million gallons of oil flowing into the Gulf.
Marine Reserves in UK http://www.marinereserves.org.uk/
South African Biodiversity Inst http://www.sanbi.org/
Countries of world resolve, finally, to seek to save earth’s #biodiversity. Will real action now follow?
A historic deal to halt the mass extinction of species was finally agreed last night in what conservationists see as the most important international treaty aimed at preventing the collapse of the world’s wildlife. Delegates from more than 190 countries meeting in Nagoya, Japan, agreed at the 11th hour on an ambitious conservation programme to protect global biodiversity and the natural habitats that support the most threatened animals and plants.After 18 years of debate, two weeks of talks, and tense, last-minute bargaining, the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity agreed on 20 key “strategic goals” to be implemented by 2020 that should help to end the current mass extinction of species.
At the very least, the signing of the agreement in Nagoya late last night is the moment when the international community at last began to take the destruction of the natural world seriously.
Biodiversity loss has long been the Cinderella of global politics. For many years, while governments have prioritised the reduction of world poverty, and more recently, have taken on board the real threat of climate change, the remorseless destruction of the world’s habitats, ecosystems, species and natural genetic material has been an afterthought.