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Developing Countries Pledging More Emissions Cuts Than Industrial North

Stephen Leahy

BONN, Jun 17 2011 (IPS) - Negotiations over a new international climate agreement are on the brink as new analyses show that carbon emission reduction promises by industrialised nations are actually lower than those made by China, India, Brazil and other developing nations. Even with all the promises or pledges added together they are still far short of cuts needed to prevent global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius, experts reported here.

“It’s a very sad picture we see here,” said Marion Vieweg of Climate Analytics, a German NGO that analyses climate science and policy.

“The rich nations are doing nothing to improve their emissions pledges,” Vieweg told reporters during the final hours of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session here in Bonn. These meetings are intended to work out the details for a new international agreement for government ministers to consider at the 17th Conference of the Parties under the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa in late November.

After nearly 20 years of negotiations and the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions, carbon levels in the atmosphere hit a new record high in 2010 said Bill Hare of the Potsdam Climate Impacts Research Institute (PIK) in Germany. The International Energy Agency reported earlier this month that the world released a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere in 2010 – a ten per cent increase over 2005.

Climate Analytics along with other research institutes had previously identified a large gap between emission reduction pledges and the cuts needed to keep global temperatures from rising beyond two degrees Celsius. Global temperatures have already risen 0.8 degrees Celsius – primarily due to the burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Those fossil fuels release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which traps more of the sun’s heat energy.

If industrialised countries fully meet their emissions reduction promises they amount to only 3.8 gigatonnes by 2020, less than the 5.2 gigatonnes developing nations promised at the last big climate meeting in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010 according to several recent analyses. That leaves a 10.0 to 14.0 gigatonne gap of additional cuts needed to keep temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius.

Historically rich countries are responsible for about 75 percent of the total carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries – making it vital to make cuts as soon as possible.

Not only are rich nations failing to close this ‘emissions gap’ by agreeing to greater cuts in Bonn, they did not clarify how they were going to meet their current pledges, Vieweg told IPS. Instead, the discussion here became fragmented over the questions of how to count emissions and what constituted a reduction.

“Countries want to use what ever suits their needs best… But the atmosphere doesn’t care about anything except how much carbon goes into it,” Vieweg said.

“Developed nations have so many loopholes in the current agreements they could end up not making any emission reductions at all,” said Sivan Kartha a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, an independent international research centre.

These loopholes include accounting tricks, allocations for land use changes, and previously granted emission credits to get Russia and other former eastern bloc countries to join in the Kyoto Protocol, Kartha said in a press conference.

“The simple solution is to close these loopholes but this is very difficult politically,” Kartha told IPS.

Another political challenge is to keep the Kyoto Protocol alive. Kyoto is the only legally-binding treaty to reduce emissions, and developed countries are balking at continuing with Kyoto which is a very serious matter for developing countries says Martin Khor of the South Centre, a Swiss-based intergovernmental think tank.

Signed in 1997 Kyoto obliges industrialised nations to reduce their emissions by five percent between 2008 and 2012. Those nations also agreed at that time to a second round of reductions after 2012. However, Japan, Canada, and Russia have now said they will not participate while the remaining parties – the European Union, Australia and New Zealand – have not said anything yet. The U.S. did not join Kyoto and is pushing for a voluntary “pledge and review” system that developing countries reject, said Khor.

“China, India, Brazil and other developing countries are doing their fair share and making collectively larger cuts than industrialised countries,” he said.

The entire UNFCCC process could unravel if there is no agreement on Kyoto. It is enough for only a few countries to sign on to keep Kyoto alive because it is “the engine” of commitments to emission cuts that “pulls everyone else along”, Khor said.

An agreement to keep Kyoto has to happen in Durban – when government ministers and heads of state meet at the end of November. “This is the European Union’s big opportunity to show leadership. It won’t cost much and they could easily do it,” Khor said.

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