Sour News From Poznan: Why We Must Avoid Warming of 2 Degrees C

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“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), … has suggested greenhouse gas emission
cuts … to avoid a 2°Celsius increase in global
temperature. …. An increase of this magnitude
is expected to destroy 30 percent to 40 percent
of all known species, generate bigger, fiercer
and more frequent heat waves and droughts, and
more intense weather events like floods and
cyclones.”
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The material contained on www.IRINnews.org comes
to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily
reflect the views of the United Nations or its
agencies.

JOHANNESBURG, 15 December 2008 (IRIN) – Maldives,
an archipelago off the southeastern coast of
India, told the climate change conference in
Poznan, Poland, that even a 2°C rise in
temperature would take the world into the “danger
zone” of irreversible climate change.


The world’s 50 Least Developed Countries (LDCs)
and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) –
some of which are among the most vulnerable to
climate change – urged a limit of 1.5°C
temperature rise and greenhouse gas
concentrations of no more than 350 parts per
million (ppm), as well as 40 percent emission
reductions by developed countries by 2020
compared to 1990 levels.

New studies, including by eminent scientists like
James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute
for Space Studies, are warning that even the
2-degree threshold may not be safe enough to
avoid “global disaster”.

But was anyone listening? There was less talk of
greenhouse gas emission cuts than before, and
hardly any of money to help poor countries adapt
to the impact of global warming, leaving most
feeling “bitter” and “sour” when the two-week
conference ended on 13 December.

“It was really a missed opportunity,” remarked
Antonio Hill, senior policy advisor at Oxfam, the
UK-based development agency. “There is going to
be a huge amount of work that needs to be done
next year.”

“Irresponsible” was how Marthinus van Schalkwyk,
South Africa’s Minister of Environmental affairs
and Tourism, described the rich countries.
“Rather than coming forward with clear numbers
and adopting a range for mid-term emission
reduction targets in a timely manner, as
previously agreed, some developed countries are
still playing hide-and-seek with the climate.”

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),
which hosted the conference, told reporters that
the talks had “caused some bitterness”, but noted
that “from now on, it’s for real.”

According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin of
the International Institute for Sustainable
Development, a Canadian policy research
organisation, the “rapidly worsening global
financial situation” might have engendered a lack
of enthusiasm among the rich countries.

“Many [delegates] were concerned about climate
policy falling victim to the [financial] crisis,
and even the most optimistic were expecting the
crisis to have some impact on the process.”

Some conference participants “felt that
uncertainty about the US position in 2009 [with
Barack Obama as president] caused other countries
to refrain from making significant political
advances in Poznan, and few expect developing
countries to make significant moves before
developed countries have clarified their
positions on emission reductions and financing,”
the bulletin commented.

So why is everyone unhappy?

”Understandably, some participants left Poznan
somewhat worried, feeling that while scientific
evidence on climate change is strengthening, the
“spirit of Bali” [where the last major climate
change conference was held in 2007] is weakening”

The world has until December 2009, when the next
climate change summit will be held in Copenhagen,
Denmark, and a new agreement to cut greenhouse
gas emissions, to become effective after 2012, is
expected to be approved. The Poznan conference
was a half-way mark to the Copenhagen Summit.

A new agreement is needed because the first
commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol – made by
developed countries in 1997 to cut their
discharge of harmful greenhouse gas emissions,
and help poor countries cut theirs – ends in
2012. Scientists and environmentalists say time
is running out.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), a scientific intergovernmental body set
up by the World Meteorological Organisation and
the UN Environment Programme, has suggested
greenhouse gas emission cuts of between 25
percent and 40 percent by 2020 to avoid a
2°Celsius increase in global temperature.

An increase of this magnitude is expected to
destroy 30 percent to 40 percent of all known
species, generate bigger, fiercer and more
frequent heat waves and droughts, and more
intense weather events like floods and cyclones.

In papers published in 2008, Hansen said that if
atmospheric CO2 concentrations were not kept
below at least 350ppm the results could be
disastrous. The current level of atmospheric CO2
is 385ppm, and could exceed 450ppm, which the
world is heading for “within decades, barring
prompt policy changes”.

“Business-as-usual will almost certainly cause a
sea level rise of at least one to two metres by
the end of the century, and quite likely five
metres or more, as West Antarctica is very
vulnerable,” Hansen told IRIN. The European Union
has set a target of 550ppm.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin commented:
“Understandably, some participants left Poznan
somewhat worried, feeling that while scientific
evidence on climate change is strengthening, the
“spirit of Bali” [where the last major climate
change conference was held in 2007] is weakening,
along with the determination to fight climate
change, in light of the serious economic crisis.

Adaptation Fund up but no money

As a success story from Poznan, De Boer noted
that the Adaptation Fund had become operational
and would be able to disburse money to countries
affected by climate change from 2009. The Fund is
expected to raise money from a levy of about two
percent on credits generated by the Clean
Development Mechanism (CDM), set up under the
Kyoto Protocol.

The mechanism allows industrialised countries to
earn trade emissions credits by implementing
projects in either developed countries or
developing ones, and put the credits towards
meeting their greenhouse gas emission targets.

NGOs and developing countries noted that there
was hardly any money to be disbursed. “There
cannot be a new global climate deal without
billions of dollars to pay for it all,” said
Ilana Solomon from ActionAid US. “Rich countries
have turned up here with their wallets empty and
their purses bare.”

Van Schalkwyk noted that at Bali in 2007, “we
agreed to conclude negotiations on extending the
so-called share of proceeds levy on the CDM to
other flexible mechanisms under the Kyoto
Protocol. This would have mobilised significant
additional funding for adaptation in vulnerable
developing countries.

“Unfortunately our negotiating partners arrived
here unwilling to negotiate on this critical
issue, leaving us developing countries with a
sense of disillusionment. This situation does not
bode well for trust-building as we enter the next
phase of negotiations.

“The implication is that, though the Adaptation
Fund has been fully operationalised, it is
virtually empty – the funding from developing
countries themselves is simply not enough, given
the size of the need.”

In August 2008, the developing countries put
forward fresh proposals for greater sharing of
clean technology, but there was no “constructive
response from the developed countries”, noted
Oxfam’s Hill.

“We came to Poznan well prepared with
constructive and substantive proposals, ready for
serious negotiations,” said Van Schalkwyk. “Many
of our negotiating partners from the developed
world appear to have arrived in Poznan
inadequately prepared and unwilling to engage in
real negotiations on the important issues.”

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin noted
optimistically: “Some veterans who are more used
to the ups-and-downs of international negotiating
processes also suggested that Poznan’s modest
outcome could be a positive thing in the larger
scheme of things.

“In the words of one observer, ‘delegates needed
to be reminded that success is not inevitable,
and that without strong political will it is
quite possible that they will fail to make the
historic breakthrough needed in Copenhagen.'”

What’s next?

The work programme of the conference calls for
proposals in February and a negotiating document
by June; heads of state will meet in September at
the opening of the UN General Assembly.

“The role of the UN Secretary-General will be
crucial, working with heads of state who are
committed to an ambitious agreement, including
vulnerable countries,” said Oxfam’s Hill.

“If there is not significant convergence in
positions by March, there will need to be a
Conference of the Parties [to the UNFCCC] around
mid-year, in order to finally … [bring
countries on board]”

jk/he

Themes: (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Environment, (IRIN) Natural Disasters

[ENDS]
Report can be found online at:
http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=81966

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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