3 Ways to Salvage Upcoming Global Climate Talks


| November 26, 2011 | 0 Comments

Despite intransigence from China and the U.S. — the world’s two leading polluters — the Durban conference can still do some good

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Activists from the WWF demonstrate on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference COP16 in Cancun / Reuters


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As delegates from nearly 200 countries prepare to descend on Durban,
South Africa next week for the seventeenth meeting of the Conference of
Parties (COP-17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change (UNFCCC), pessimism runs high. Privately, the leaders of major
established and emerging economies concede
that no new climate treaty containing binding emissions reductions will
be negotiated before 2016. And even if an agreement were reached, it
would not come into force until 2020–eight years from now. This bleak
outlook comes despite warnings from scientists and economists about the
dangers of delaying dramatic action to mitigate the planet’s warming.

Just this week, the UN World Meteorological Association reported
that the volume of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere reached a new
record during 2010. And emissions appear to be accelerating, with carbon
dioxide rising by 2.3 parts per million over the past year–a
significant jump from the average (2.0) over the past decade. According
to the U.S. Energy Department, recent increases in global carbon
emissions exceed the worst-case projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).   Adding to the warnings, a recent IPCC report predicts
that dramatic planetary warming during this century is “virtually
certain.” Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy
Agency, warns
that the world has a brief, five-year window to stop a worldwide mean
temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius: “If we do not have an
international agreement whose effect is put into place by 2017, then the
door to will be closed forever.” Two degrees Celsius may seem like a
small rise, but scientists regard it as a critical threshold, beyond
which the world will face more extreme weather such as melting icecaps,
devastating droughts, and torrential rainfall and flooding. And without
significant efforts toward mitigation, global temperatures could rise
even more.

The reasons for the diplomatic deadlock are plain. Major parties to
Kyoto, including Japan, Russia, and Canada, have already signaled that
they will not take on a second commitment because China and the United
States–the world’s top two polluters–are not included in it. The
European Union (EU) is prepared to sign up for a second round, but it
insists that major developing countries, whose emissions are surging as
their economies grow, must embrace and follow through on real
commitments. The EU’s preference is to negotiate “a single global and
comprehensive legally binding instrument” including all emitters, though
it would countenance an “interim” solution whereby major emerging
countries would accept a “road map” and timetable for treaty
commitments. Even this fall-back position faces resistance from the
so-called “BASIC” caucus–Brazil, South Africa, India, and China–who are
disinclined to accept binding targets that might jeopardize their
domestic growth and development goals.

The United States, for its part, has abdicated leadership on climate
issues. Heading into an election year, President Obama seldom mentions
global warming any more. And with the laudable exception of John
Huntsman–who actually believes in climate science–his Republican rivals
for the presidency have mostly fallen over themselves to deny its existence or importance.

Given these international and domestic dynamics, is Durban destined
to be a failure? Not entirely. While a successor treaty to Kyoto with
updated, binding targets is off the table, the conferees have an
incentive and the ability to snatch some measure of victory from the
gathering.

  • First, governments can agree to build on the climate mitigation activities
    they are already undertaking individually, bilaterally, and
    multilaterally. Under the broad Kyoto umbrella, parties have adopted
    various mechanisms and initiatives designed to reduce emissions, ranging
    from reporting requirements to market schemes for carbon trading,
    investments in renewable energy, and more robust fuel standards and
    targets for carbon intensity. As in Copenhagen and Cancun, states
    parties will stress the cumulative effect of parallel national efforts,
    rather than a stringent, binding treaty.
  • Second, rather than admitting failure and declaring Kyoto “dead,” the assembled delegations could seek to keep it on life support,
    in the form of a political rather than a legally binding agreement. A
    looser, informal “Kyoto II” could play several roles. It could provide a
    framework for a more robust system to monitor and verify compliance
    with stated national goals. It could offer a mechanism for transfer of
    clean energy technology and climate financing to the developing world.
    And it could hold out the promise, however distant in the future, of a
    successor treaty.
  • Third, Durban will ultimately be judged on whether the wealthy world
    makes good on its financial commitments to help developing countries
    adapt to the climate change the world has failed to mitigate. At Cancun
    last December, delegations to COP-16 agreed to create a Green Climate
    Fund of up to $100 billion to help countries cope with global warming.
    Unfortunately, that target seems increasingly out of reach, as advanced
    market democracies grapple with slow growth, massive fiscal imbalances
    and swelling sovereign debts. This week Ernst and Young reported
    that austerity measures across ten of the world’s major economies had
    created a climate funding “gap” of $22.5 billion–a figure that could
    double to $45 billion should the crisis in the eurozone escalate.

Perhaps coincidentally, the U.S. congressional supercommittee, composed of twelve legislators from the same country, admitted defeat
this week–exhibiting a complete inability to engage in practical
compromise. Given the stakes involved, let’s hope all the delegations a
part of the COP-17–regardless of their diverse interests–do not resign
themselves to the same fate.

This article originally appeared at CFR.org, an Atlantic partner site.

Culled from :Here

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