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Climate Change

Industrialised Countries Under Critical Spotlight at U.N. Meet

BERLIN, May 18 2012 (IPS) - The latest session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking place May 15-25 in the former German capital Bonn, is the perfect opportunity to reaffirm the enormous and growing body of scientific expertise on policies to tackle global warming.

During the current session, attended by hundreds of scientists, environmental activists, and government delegates from all over the world, the UNFCCC – the agency tasked with fulfilling the obligations of the Kyoto Protocol – is hosting numerous workshops for at least five groups dedicated to debates and decision-making on climate change.

The UNFCCC is also obliged to hold international debates on a follow up treaty that is expected to take effect in 2013. Until now, despite mounting pressure and numerous attempts to reach an agreement on a post-Kyoto protocol, there is no global consensus on how to continue reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), the primary culprit of global warming.

During the negotiations that led to the formulation of the Kyoto protocol in 1997, the world’s leading industrialised countries (including the United States, which later refused to endorse the agreement) collectively agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent on average for the period 2008-2012, relative to their annual emissions in the base year 1990.

Bureaucratic delays

Sadly, workshops hosted by the UNFCCC often suffer a loss of efficiency as a result of bureaucratic hurdles.

The titles of the many sessions alone are often too complicated to follow. In Bonn, the following groups are meeting daily: the subsidiary body for implementation; the subsidiary body for scientific and technological advice; the ad hoc working group on long-term cooperative action under the convention; and the ad hoc working group on further commitments for ‘annex 1 parties’ – U.N. parlance for ‘industrialised countries’, or signatories of the Kyoto protocol.

Still, the red tape surrounding official procedures cannot conceal the collective wisdom of these committees, which represent years of research on how to deal with climate change.

A workshop on equitable access to sustainable development, held here on May 16, allowed a brief glimpse into this wisdom.

During the workshop, a handful of scientists explained the empirical evidence of climate change and the moral consequences that follow, stresseing that sustainable development and climate change mitigation burdens should, in the future, be equitably distributed among the world’s nations.

One of the speakers, Martin Khor, executive director of the Geneva-based South Centre, stressed that in the quest for an international climate agreement to forestall the climate change crisis, “three aspects have to be the basis simultaneously: the environmental imperative, the developmental imperative, and the equity imperative.”

Khor insisted that setting the global goal for emissions reduction “has to take account of the environmental imperative, and also deal with the emission reduction of Annex I and non Annex I parties,” the latter being the developing countries not obligated by the Kyoto protocol to reduce their GHGE.

Khor pointed out that the UNFCCC recognises “the equity principle; that developed countries take the lead in emission reduction, and that developing countries have development imperatives, and their ability to undertake climate actions depends on the extent of support they receive from the developed countries. ”

In other words, “Annex I countries will (have to) meet the agreed full incremental costs of implementing developing countries’ climate policy measures,” Khor pointed out.

Khor recalled that since the beginning of the period of industrialisation – in Western Europe, North America, Australia and Japan – until 2009, about 1,280 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) were emitted, triggering the present processes of global warming and climate change.

Scientists have now determined that, in order to achieve a 67 percent probability of limiting global temperature rise to under two degrees celsius, CO2 emissions between 2010 and 2050 must be kept below 750 Gt. If this probability is to be increased to 75 percent, the carbon budget for the period up until 2050 falls to 600 Gt. Khor said estimates for the “fair share” of emissions for developed and developing countries is based on the size of the population relative to emissions from 1850 to 2008.

“Cumulative global emissions have totalled about 1,214 Gt (from) 1850-2008,” he said. Annex I countries accounted for 878 Gt or 72 percent of the total.

Given that industrialised countries’ share of the global population during this time was about 25 percent, these countries “overused” 568 Gt worth of emissions.

“The industrialised countries are still accumulating (CO2) debt because their actual emissions as a group in 2009 still exceed their fair share,” Khor said.

Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Washington-based Stockholm Environment Institute, also laid out three key components of equitable access to sustainable development. “First, the global emissions peak (and subsequent rate of decline) must be consistent with keeping climate change below the agreed maximum level.”

Second, “Each country must have a sufficient share of the limited remaining greenhouse gas budget, as this determines how soon its national emissions must peak and how quickly they must decline.”

And finally, “Each country must also have adequate financial and technological means to keep within the available greenhouse gas budget, without compromising poverty eradication and development needs.”

To illustrate the double inequity of GHGE origin and development levels, Kartha recalled that while industrialised countries already dispose of annual per capita incomes of between 30,000 and 42,000 U.S. dollars, only a handful of the strong emerging economies might reach the 15,000-dollar annual level in 2050.


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