Paris (AFP) Nov 29, 2009
The December 7-18 UN climate conference was initially billed as the completion of new pact for tackling greenhouse-gas emissions and their impacts beyond 2012.
Slow progress in the talks, held up especially by US politics, means that the meeting is likely at best to yield a framework accord whose details will be hammered out next year.
Following are the main issues on the table:
-- EMISSIONS CURBS: The big question is mustering pledges for curbing emissions by 2020, a key stepping stone towards the 2050 goal of halving annual carbon pollution.
Reducing emissions carries an economic cost, in energy efficiency and switching to cleaner technologies, and the price factor has sharpened in the light of this year's global financial crisis.
Rich countries are to blame for today's warming and have more capacity to tackle it. But the potential nightmares of tomorrow will chiefly come from developing countries, which already account for at least half of current emissions.
China, India and Brazil have huge populations and are voraciously burning fossil fuels and cutting forests, adding to the greenhouse effect, as they race to prosperity.
Other big questions are whether the conference will endorse a goal of halving emissions by 2050, an aim supported by the Group of Eight (G8) countries but opposed by China, and whether it will set a date by which emissions must peak.
-- MONEY: The goal is to mobilise funds to help developing countries switch to a low-carbon economy and shore up defences against climate change.
Poorer countries want industrialised nations to pledge around one percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) per year, or around 400 billion dollars (270 billion euros), in finance. The European Union (EU) estimates their needs at 100 billion euros (150 billion dollars) annually by 2020.
An interim solution at Copenhagen could be a "fast-start" burst of several billion dollars, starting as early as next year.
A thorny issue, though, is agreeing which institutions should be in charge of disbursing the funds. Poor countries have expressed deep hostility towards the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
-- LEGAL ISSUES: Despite two years of meetings, negligible time has been devoted to the key, and politically explosive, question of the future pact's legal status.
Developing nations want the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which has tough compliance mechanisms, to be extended beyond 2012, when its current roster of pledges expire.
The United States abandoned Kyoto because it binds only industrialised countries, not emerging giants, to targeted emissions curbs. It is pushing the idea of national commitments backed by report-and-verify compliance rather than tough, internationally-enforceable penalty clauses.
Two possibilities have emerged: extending Kyoto but establishing a link to the United States; or gutting Kyoto and placing selected provisions of it in a brand-new accord with variable geometry that would include the United States.
-- DEFORESTATION: Tropical countries with large forests are pushing for a scheme whereby nations that preserve their woodland, a "sink" that absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, are financially rewarded.
But this project is mired in practical problems, such as how to measure conservation and prevent cheating and corruption, and ensure that funds are not drained for technology transfer and other help needed by developing countries.
In addition, deforestation as a share of global carbon emissions has fallen, from 20 percent to 12 percent, the Global Carbon Project (GCP), gathering more than 30 climate specialists, reported in November. This fall may reduce the issue's political traction.
UN climate talks: The key players
GROUP OF 77 AND CHINA
The bloc of developing nations insist rich countries -- deemed responsible for today's warming and best placed to tackle it -- commit to legally-binding reductions of their emissions by at least 40 percent annually by 2020 over 1990 levels.
They refuse to make binding emissions targets of their own, arguing that they need to keep access to cheap, plentiful fossil fuels to haul themselves out of poverty.
Some, though, have agreed to announce voluntary measures for braking their growth in emissions by 2020.
Developing nations are also clamouring for money to help shore up their climate defences and support the switch to low-carbon energy. Industrialised countries are being urged to earmark one percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) per year, or around 400 billion dollars (270 billion euros).
Within the developing world, high-population fast-growing countries are under pressure from rich nations to show earnestness in tackling emissions that started to surge at the start of the century.
Many analysts give high marks to measures that have already been announced, adding the caveat that these are voluntary measures that are unlikely to be policed by internationally enforceable compliance measures.
China, the world's biggest carbon emitter, says it will cut the intensity of its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.
Brazil has promised a voluntary reduction of 36-39 percent by 2020, mainly from tackling deforestation in the Amazon, as compared to its forecast level of emissions in 2020.
Indonesia says it could reduce its emissions by 26 percent by 2020 from forecast trends mainly by tackling deforestation, which would deepen to as much as 41 percent, with international help.
South Korea, still categorised as a developing country under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has promised what it says is a 30-percent reduction by 2020 over "business-as-usual" trends.
India, like South Africa, has yet to put specific proposals on the table, but has taken a hard line on demanding Kyoto-style commitments for rich countries.
Rich countries are divided both in their offers for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and their enthusiasm for the approach, enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol, for legally-binding emissions targets backed by tough compliance mechanisms.
-- The United States, the world's richest country and No. 2 carbon emitter, remains outside the Kyoto framework and is pushing for an accord that would not have Kyoto's compliance teeth.
The US says that relative to a 2005 benchmark, it would reduce carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020, 30 percent by 2025, 42 percent by 2030 and ultimately 83 percent by 2050.
The US target for 2020 means only a fall of four percentage points compared to 1990, the benchmark year widely used as the interim target in the UN process.
-- The European Union (EU), which saved Kyoto after the US walkout in 2001, is unilaterally cutting its emissions by 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, and offering to go to 30 percent if other industrialised parties play ball.
-- Japan has offered 25 percent, but there are conditions.
-- Canada sees a reduction of 20 percent by 2020 compared to 2006, equivalent to a fall of three percent compared to the 1990 benchmark.
-- Australia's parliament is debating a bill for reducing carbon pollution by between five and 25 percent by 2020 from 2000, with the higher levels dependent on the outcome in Copenhagen. Experts estimate that a cut of 25 percent over 2000 equates to 24 percent over 1990 levels.
-- Russia has yet to announce its pledges.
As for climate funds, rich countries have been hazy. The EU says developing nations would need 100 billion euros a year by 2020, but failed to set levels for Europe's contribution.
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Following is a summary of expert opinion of potential impacts from climate change by the end of the century. The source is the Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007 by the UN's Nobel-winning scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The magnitude of impacts will mainly depend on the level of warming, which the panel predicted would be in a range of 1.8-4.0 ... read more
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