The Copenhagen negotiations will hopefully prevent dangerous global climate change
Halfway to Copenhagen
2nd July, 2009
Copenhagen is where the future of our planet will be decided. So why is there such little media interest in the run-up to the talks, asks Phil England.
You could be forgiven for not knowing it was happening - media coverage of the most important story on Earth has been virtually negligible. Compared to the positive buzz on the Guardian website last December for example, when everyone and their grandmother was blogging from the UN climate talks, at the halfway point to Copenhagen, the news value of how the talks are progressing is apparently considered slight.
And yet, if we don't understand the issues, follow the talks as they unfold and subject our government's negotiating positions to close scrutiny, then there might be no scope for getting things back on track by the time December comes around.
So here, in a nutshell, is what happened in Bonn in June.
Rich countries put forward weak unilateral targets for cuts in greenhouses gases for 2020. The roll-call of shame is as follows (with cuts expressed relative to 1990 levels): Canada 2.7%; United States 0-4%; Japan 8%; EU 20%-30%; Norway 30%; and Russia 10-15% (which actually represents an increase on current levels). New Zealand have said that they won't announce their target until later in the year and Australia's pitch is unclear as it is expressed using a base year of 2000. Even these weak targets look better than they actually are, as they include significant amounts of offsets.
No surprise then that scientists have concluded that these offers - as well as statements of intent from poor countries - are virtually certain to take us over the largely outdated two degrees threshold.
This bottom up approach, guided by narrow national interests will never work. That's why back in Poznan last December, the Kyoto Protocol part of the talks was given a mandate for deciding on a group target for rich countries. In four weeks of formal talks this year, they have failed to do this. So a group of 40 developing countries have put forward formal proposals that rich countries undertake cuts of at least 40 per cent by 2020. The Association of Small Island States have gone further and demanded cuts of 45 per cent with the aim of limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5C and thereby guaranteeing their right to survival.
If the deal is to be fair - and without fairness there will be no deal - these cuts need to be made entirely at home without offsets. In addition, the rich minority needs to provide finance to the poor majority for adaptation, damage and losses; and to enable their transitions to low-carbon economies.
A radical crash programme of action and massive transfer of resources is now necessary, arising from the failure of the rich to act in accordance with their duty to lead which was enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change back in 1990. Their failure to act has also brought us perilously close to the brink of climate catastrophe and left the developing world little room for growing out of poverty.
No matter how the rich world tries to spin it, after two decades of negotiations the ball remains firmly in their court. As a guide to how far we have to go in the next six months however, the head of International Climate Change at the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change, Peter Betts, said in Bonn that 40 per cent reductions are 'laughable.'
It seems governments are going to take a lot of shaming and pressurising to get them to commit to the necessary scale of action. In less than five months there needs to be a collective epiphany on the part of rich world heads of states, that it is in their own interests to decarbonise their economies as soon as possible. Avoiding the high-carbon lock-in of new coal, roads and airports will make it cheaper and easier for us to achieve and bring numerous co-benefits. It is also the only option left available to us to ensure that our life support system comes off the endangered list.
Phil England is producer of 'The 300-350 Show' for Climate Radio and The Ecologist: www.climateradio.org
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