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UN body warns Copenhagen climate targets could be missed

by Staff Writers
Helsinki (AFP) Nov 23, 2010
The Copenhagen accord targets to cut global warming will be missed unless next week's climate change conference transforms promises into action, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said Tuesday.

Representatives from 194 countries meet in the Mexican resort city of Cancun from November 29 to December 10 for a new bid to strike a deal to curb greenhouse gases following on last December's Copenhagen meeting.

"Copenhagen does not have to be the lost summit if we go forward and implement those goals," UN Under Secretary General Achim Steiner told reporters in Helsinki at the launch of UNEP's Emissions Gap Report.

The UNEP's report showed that even if every nation honours the promises it made in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, carbon dioxide emissions levels will still not reach the goal of 44 gigatonnes a year by 2020.

That level is enough to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures.

"If we continue with business as usual, emissions could reach 56 gigatonnes by 2020," the UNEP's chief scientist Joseph Alcamo warned via a video conference from London.

The gap of 12 gigatonnes between the goal and the worst-case scenario is more than double the annual emission output of the entire European Union.

Alcamo told AFP that if Copenhagen's best-case scenario comes true, in which more ambitious pledges were honoured, emissions would be cut to 49 gigatonnes a year by 2020.

Steiner said the major issues are energy efficiency in both the developed and developing world, and the failure industrial and commercial sectors to move to low-carbon technologies.

"We've learned in 10 years that we can't just leave it up to the market, it is dependent on environmental policy," he told AFP.

He said this is why nations in Cancun must set up a system of both sanctions and incentives to encourage the 110 signatory nations to the Copenhagen Accord to honour their pledges.

Copenhagen's summit failed to create a binding agreement, and while Steiner did not explicitly call for a legal pact, he did stress the importance of a framework in order to get the international community to cooperate.

"The issue in Copenhagen wasn't technology and money, it was about what was a fair deal... we cannot continue to ask some countries to take responsibility while others get a free ride," Steiner said, though he declined to say which countries were not living up to their responsibilities.

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