Chris Huhne robustly defended the need for a new global treaty on climate change on Thursday, in an attack on governments and advisors who want to opt for a weaker commitment that would not be legally binding. The Guardian reports. Follow http://twitter.com/#!/LearnFromNature
But he admitted it could be the end of the decade before such a treaty would come into force, a deadline that many scientists and green campaigners view as too lax if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.
Speaking days ahead of next week’s Durban climate change conference, Huhne said the UK was showing “leadership” in insisting on new treaty, rather than the “bottom-up” approach favoured by some, under which individual countries and industries would set their own greenhouse gas targets.
Citing research showing that a majority of large global businesses were in favour of a deal, Huhne told an audience at Imperial College London: “A global deal covering all major economies is not a luxury. It is not an optional extra. It is an absolute necessity.”
He said a new treaty should be negotiated by the end of 2015, though he added: “If we can get it by 2014, that would be great, and 2016 is doable.”
However, Huhne admitted that even if a treaty was negotiated in 2015, it would be several years before it could come into force. The UK, in common with several other developed countries, has set 2020 as the deadline, as the Guardian revealed earlier this week. Huhne said: “This [treaty] has to be biting on the problem by 2020.”
An official pointed out that the EU Council had agreed in October to aim for 2020 as the date by which all parties would comply with a new treaty.
But this timetable is now a key issue at the talks. Tim Gore of Oxfam said: “Any new agreement that builds on the foundation of the Kyoto Protocol must ensure new emission reductions targets that go beyond the current pledges, and critically, that apply before – not after – 2020. After that it’ll be too late for the 2C target governments have set.”
The UN’s environment chief took the unusual step of attacking the move in strong terms this week. Achim Steiner, deputy director-general of the UN and executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said: “Those countries that are currently talking about deferring an agreement [to come into force] in 2020 are essentially saying we are taking you from high risk to very high risk in terms of the effects of global warming. This is a choice – a political choice.”
The UK government‘s contention is that if countries know a new agreement is due in 2020, they will need to take strong action on reducing emissions before then in order to meet their new commitments. This should, according to the official view, ensure that emissions peak by 2020, which is the outer limit of what scientists have advised if the world is to stay below 2C of warming, beyond which global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible.
However, this depends not only on a new agreement being signed in 2015-16, but on countries agreeing to toughen their emissions targets in line with scientific advice. UNEP showed this week that there remains a large gap between the emissions cuts pledged and those that are required.
Bill Hare, a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “Justifying as ‘realistic’ a delay to 2020 in getting this agreement operational is to excuse a more or less complete failure. The reality is that the big emitters are not wanting to move on this or on increasing the ambition levels set for 2020.
“Scientifically it is clear that the 2020 targets are inadequate and as the IEA has indicated a failure to increase the level of action could lock out the possibility of limiting warming to 2C. This is the real consequence of a delay until 2020 which the big emitters seem not to want to face up to.”
UNEP’s chief scientist, Joseph Alcamo, said: “Every year it becomes more difficult to keep within 2C.
“Every year, we build more power plants. Every year, we build more buildings that are not efficient. Every year, our options [to avoid climate change] get less and less.”
At the two-week Durban meeting, countries are expected to make progress on details of the negotiations, such as the green climate fund to help developing countries cut emissions and cope with the effects of climate change. Huhne announced the UK was planning a “package for Africa” that would help some of the poorest countries with crucial financing.
- UK calls for climate deal by 2015 (bbc.co.uk)
- Letters: UK climate policy (guardian.co.uk)
- Climate change will increase threat of war… (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- One thing that can be said for successive Administrations squandering America’s wealth (junkscience.com)
- UN chief slams rich nations’ plans to delay climate change treaty (guardian.co.uk)
- Chris Huhne faces questions over partner’s lobbying work (guardian.co.uk)
- At Durban, the big emitters will no doubt fail us again on climate change | John Vidal (guardian.co.uk)
- Chris Huhne launches public counter-attack on Lord Lawson (telegraph.co.uk)