Thursday, December 10, 2009

Copenhagen: Context and Controversy

The latest round of UN climate talks are under way in Copenhagen. Pressure for an agreement is growing as those living with climate impacts become ever more vocal and the risks of 'business as usual' greenhouse gas emissions become better understood. Seventeen years of negotiations with rising global emissions is enough to convince some that 'business as usual' is now an accurate way of describing not only the worlds emissions trajectory but the climate talks as well. The Copenhagen talks do have the possibility of proving the doubters wrong but there are a great many areas of contention still to be settled.

The distance that needs to be travelled is illustrated well by a statement by Sir Nicholas Stern who tried to play the optimist(1):

"[we] may be closer than some observers realise to agreeing the emissions cuts required to give the world a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of more than two degrees"

Stern backed up this statement by saying that if all the countries take on the most ambitious targets they have proposed and meet those targets we will be emitting 46GtCO2 equivalent by 2020. That is a slight reduction on today levels.

If we achieved this much we would only have a 50% chance of achieving less than two degrees of climate change. That's like playing Russian roulette with 3 bullets; reasonable?

Unfortunately not all groups are so optimistic about the outcome even if we sign on to this best case commitment and successfully live up to it. McKinsey state we would still be on 49GtCO2.

So Stern's optimism assumes that: 1. We take on the most ambitious targets on the table 2. We are lucky and the atmosphere acts in a manner that is only 50% likely 3. Stern has done his accounting better than McKinsey and finally 4. All the loopholes in land use change and forestry are tied up rather than supported by Europe.

If Nicholas Stern gives us the good news, the bad news would have to be provided by the Ukraine(2) who won 1st prize for fossil of the day by the Climate Action Network. First prize was awarded for their emissions reduction target of -20% on 1990 levels. That is 75% higher than their emissions actually are. This gap was created because the baseline projection of emissions didn't take into account the breakup of the Soviet union. All of these emissions permits that haven't been used where then sold to Japan so it can now comply with Kyoto for 300M euros. No real emissions where saved in this farce.

The ugly would have to be represented by the International Civil Aviation authority which is planning to increase efficiency by 2% per year. This will still lead to ever increasing emissions from aviation. I`m not sure thats commensurate with the urgency of the problem.

(1) Climate Action Network, ECO Newsletter, December 8th

(2) Climate Action Network, ECO Newsletter, December 7th

(3) IISD, Earth Negotiations Bulletin, December 8th

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