World lead­ers seek new path to slow warm­ing of planet

2015 set to be warm­est on record

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -

PARIS: Next week, in the wan­ing days of what is set to be the hottest year on record, world lead­ers meet on the out­skirts of Paris for a sum­mit that seeks noth­ing less than to steer the global econ­omy away from its ever-grow­ing reliance on fos­sil fu­els. The chal­lenge is enor­mous and has proven elu­sive in the past. The UN-spon­sored talks are aimed at get­ting 195 coun­tries to agree on a path for cut­ting the green­house gas emis­sions which sci­en­tists say have raised global tem­per­a­tures and be­gun up­end­ing the earth’s cli­mate.

Open­ing the sum­mit at Le Bourget on Nov 30, heads of gov­ern­ment from big car­bon burn­ing coun­tries such as US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and China’s Xi Jin­ping will seek com­mon cause with lead­ers from the small­est emit­ters in Africa and is­land states. When it con­cludes two weeks later on Dec 11 - give or take a couple of days for last­minute wran­gling - their ne­go­tia­tors are likely to claim suc­cess in com­mit­ting both rich and de­vel­op­ing na­tions to wean­ing the world off the coal and oil re­sources that gave rise to the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion. “Done right, it will shape the econ­omy of the 21st cen­tury,” said An­drew Steer, head of the World Re­sources In­sti­tute think-tank. Done wrong, crit­ics warn, the con­se­quences could be cat­a­strophic.

For cli­mate sci­en­tists who over­whelm­ingly say that con­tin­u­ing to burn car­bon even at to­day’s pace will raise global tem­per­a­tures by sev­eral de­grees, a weak agree­ment will trig­ger in­hos­pitable changes to the earth’s cli­mate sys­tems. A hot­ter planet would see dire - if hard to per­fectly pre­dict - ef­fects: ris­ing seas, more in­tense storms and droughts on land and ex­tinc­tion for vast num­bers of life forms in warmer, more acidic oceans. Yet an ar­ray of other voices con­tend that sev­er­ing the global econ­omy from its foun­da­tions on coal, oil and gas risks un­leash­ing pain of its own: ris­ing en­ergy costs that would deny the world’s poor af­ford­able power es­sen­tial to im­prov­ing their lives, and wound en­tire in­dus­tries in wealthy coun­tries.

Rec­on­cil­ing those forces has stum­bled in past UN-backed talks. The last at­tempt to strike a global agree­ment col­lapsed in ran­cor in Copen­hagen in 2009, when a few de­vel­op­ing coun­tries balked at a deal they said did not go far enough in re­quir­ing in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions to cut their emis­sions. Chas­tened by Copen­hagen and aware that an­other fail­ure could dis­solve any re­main­ing ap­petite for col­lec­tive ac­tion, expectations for Paris have been kept lower. And the mood will be somber, amid tight se­cu­rity af­ter the at­tacks that killed 130 peo­ple in Paris.

From draft to deal

Ne­go­tia­tors still have to re­solve deep dif­fer­ences in a 51-page draft but much of the work, in­clud­ing new poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions meant to cur­tail high-car­bon en­ergy use, has al­ready been done back home. About 170 coun­tries have sub­mit­ted plans for curb­ing emis­sions be­yond 2020 in­clud­ing some like Su­dan or Bo­livia that blocked the deal in Copen­hagen. China, re­luc­tant to sub­mit to any out­side over­sight of its car­bon pledges six years ago, has promised to steer its coal-pow­ered econ­omy onto a greener path. And there will be no re­peat of the 1997 Ky­oto Pro­to­col that man­dated spe­cific re­duc­tions for rich na­tions. The agree­ment is un­likely to carry the force of in­ter­na­tional law, some­thing the Euro­pean Union wants dearly but the United States op­poses.

2015 on track

In­stead, most na­tions now seem will­ing to com­mit to re­views of their poli­cies ev­ery five years as a means of hold­ing each other to ac­count. For those push­ing a tough ac­cord, the ur­gency has been cranked up by the lat­est tem­per­a­ture data: 2015 is on track to be the warm­est since records be­gan in the mid-19th cen­tury. Sev­eral sci­en­tific stud­ies project that pledges made so far will - at best - hold the world to tem­per­a­ture rises of any­where from 2.7 de­grees to 3 or even 3.5 above pre-in­dus­trial times by 2100. That’s well above an agreed 2-de­gree UN limit.

But there is op­ti­mism, too. Lead­ers of all ma­jor emit­ting coun­tries have ex­pressed sup­port for an ac­cord. Busi­nesses, city may­ors and re­li­gious lead­ers in­clud­ing Pope Fran­cis have urged greater ac­tion to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment. Even Europe’s ma­jor oil com­pa­nies, such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell, say they fa­vor a price on car­bon. “It’s al­most in­con­ceiv­able that there won’t be an agree­ment given the num­ber of lead­ers who have called for it,” says Alden Meyer of the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists. And big shifts in en­ergy use are un­der way.

Cam­paigns call­ing for in­vestors to di­vest from high car­bon in­dus­tries have added pres­sure on an al­ready squeezed coal in­dus­try. US coal com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Pa­triot Coal Corp and Wal­ter En­ergy Inc have filed for bank­ruptcy as tighter reg­u­la­tions, fall­ing en­ergy prices and an eco­nomic slow­down in China have taken a toll. The UN says in­vest­ment in re­new­able en­ergy has grown 500 per­cent since 2004 to $270 bil­lion in 2014, and prices have fallen sharply. Bri­tain, home of the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion, now plans to phase out coal­fired power plants by 2025. Even some OPEC na­tions are feel­ing the ben­e­fits of fall­ing prices of renewables such as so­lar pho­to­voltaics (PV). “So­lar PV is cheaper than gas - even at Abu Dhabi prices,” said Ah­mad Bel­houl, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the United Arab Emi­rates green en­ergy firm Mas­dar.

Many de­vel­op­ing na­tions say the big­gest ob­sta­cle to a deal in Paris is to se­cure new fi­nanc­ing to help curb their green­house gas emis­sions and adapt to changes in their cli­mate, build­ing flood de­fenses on rivers, for ex­am­ple, or shift­ing to drought-re­sis­tant crops.

Rich na­tions promised in Copen­hagen to mo­bi­lize $100 bil­lion a year in cli­mate fi­nance by 2020, but are re­sist­ing tar­gets for higher amounts be­yond that. By one es­ti­mate fi­nance reached $62 bil­lion in 2014. In­deed suc­cess in Paris may ride on that age-old ar­gu­ment of who pays: most de­vel­op­ing coun­tries have made their own prom­ises con­tin­gent upon fi­nanc­ing from the wealth­ier states. — Reuters

SHANG­HAI: Photo shows cars on an el­e­vated road on a heavy pol­luted day in Shang­hai. Lock­ing in an ac­tion plan to cap global warm­ing at two de­grees Cel­sius will be the ul­ti­mate yard­stick for suc­cess or fail­ure at the Paris cli­mate sum­mit that opens on Novem­ber 30. — AFP

VARGEM: A man checks cracked ground in an area which used to be un­der­wa­ter at the Jaguari dam, in Vargem, 100km from Sao Paulo, dur­ing a drought af­fect­ing Sao Paulo state, Brazil. — AFP

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