October 20, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College


Since the disappointment of the 2009 COP15 summit in Copenhagen, derailed by the twin distractions of the escalating global financial crisis and the revelations of the so-called ‘climategate affair’, talks to agree legally-binding global CO2 reduction targets have somewhat lost their way. Now, with just over a year to go before the Kyoto Protocol expires, there is little time to waste in securing a new global deal to ensure that countries keep working to reduce CO2 emissions beyond the end of 2012. And, not only that, but this time it’s imperative that we get the US and Australia onboard. We now have less than five months to go before the COP17 talks begin in Durban. For many analysts, this truly is the last chance for us to make significant headway in reaching a new global agreement. Otherwise, we will be consigning ourselves to decades of unprecedented warming.

Speaking to The Guardian recently, Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN in New York, described the progress made at last month’s climate talks in Bonn in pessimistic terms: “The developed countries are not moving. The problem we face is that we are on a path to [warming of] 4-5oC. That is the reality. That worries us very much. The problem is the lack of ambition”.

And, while Boliviahas traditionally been one of the countries pushing for the highest level of CO2 cuts, Solon is by no means alone in his frustration. Yvo de Boer, former executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat, said: “This process is dead in the water…it’s not going anywhere”.

However, Christiana Figueres, the woman who replaced de Boer just one year ago, defended the slow rate of progress, saying: “Climate [change talks] are the most important negotiations the world has ever seen, but governments, business and civil society cannot solve it in one meeting.

In light of the slow progress, there have been calls for the EU to lead a push to extend the Kyoto agreement beyond 2012, at least as an interim measure until a new binding agreement can be reached. Yet, this appears unlikely, as Japan, Canada and Russia have all already signalled that they would be unwilling to sign up to such an extension. Also, European Commission negotiator, Jurgen Lefevere, has said renewal of the Kyoto Protocol alone “is not going to cut it”, since it accounts for just eleven percent of world greenhouse gases. “We need a solution for the remaining 89% as well,” he argues. Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres, says the real need is for an effective carbon trading scheme to finally be agreed. Speaking on KQED TV, Lubber said: “We finally need an honest accounting system. Carbon pollution costs a fortune. To say it’s free is ridiculous, but that’s how it’s priced right now. Putting a price on it is key.”

There was, however, one positive aspect to come out of the talks. The parties have agreed to meet up in Panama in October for a final round of discussions before the COP 17 summit in Durban at the end of November. The inter-sessional meeting will be held inPanama City and will run from 1 to 7 October, 2011. It is hoped that this meeting could provide the platform required for real progress toward a new binding treaty to be made in Durban.

Yet, time is rapidly running out and a recent report by The Global Governance 2020 Group concluded that the agreement of new, binding emissions reductions is “unlikely”. Of course, there is still almost a full year until the start of the Rio 2012 Earth Summit (Rio+20), but, with the Kyoto protocol set to expire in December 2012, there is an urgent need to act sooner rather than later.

Rio+20 is set to focus specifically on issues relating to the link between a green economy and poverty eradication. Fortunately, there has recently been significant progress made in this area. At last week’s Africa Carbon Forum in Marrakesh, African leaders agreed a plan to launch a programme later this year to help the continent access and manage its share of money from the global UN Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund is a product of the 2009 COP15 summit and the UN wants it to be able to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020. The resources will help poor countries brace for the effects of climate change, while also investing in projects that mitigate it, such as renewable energy and protecting forests.

Currently, Africa accounts for only two percent of the 3,220-plus registered Carbon development mechanism (CDM) projects in 71 countries worldwide. This has led to suggestions that African states lack the technology and political knowledge to secure their share of global climate funds. It is hoped that the launching of this programme will enable African nations to secure a larger share of the funds available. Speaking inMarrakesh, Figueres said: “Interest in CDM projects inAfrica is growing. It is extremely important that we build on that interest and growth, for the good of communities and the climate.”

“Africais a region with perhaps the most to gain from a world-wide shift towards a Green Economy”, said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “Rio+20 could represent an evolution of sustainable development that recognizes and values Africa’s assets in a way that reflects the economic, social and environmental realities of a world markedly different from Rio 1992. The challenge for Rio+20 is to accelerate and to scale all this up in a way that meetsAfrica’s challenges, by unleashing its inordinate potential as a major force in a sustainable 21st century”, added Mr Steiner.

So, with the potential for developing nations to significantly benefit from a switch towards a sustainable global economy, it is simply unacceptable for developed nations to continue with the stalling tactics witnessed inBonnlast month. It is vital that a binding agreement is reached at the COP17 summit later this year. We simply cannot afford another cop out; we cannot allow theKyotoprotocol to expire without a new binding emissions agreement in place. Perhaps the announcement of additional talks in Pananma for October is a sign that world leaders are finally starting to get this message.