Cli­mate par­ley, again

As the world warms, ne­go­tia­tors give cli­mate talks an­other try.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - by CHARLES J. HAN­LEY

THE last time the world warmed, 120,000 years ago, the Can­cun coast­line was swamped by a 2.1m rise in sea level in a few decades. This week in that Mex­i­can re­sort, frus­trated ne­go­tia­tors will try again to head off a new global del­uge.

The dis­ap­point­ment of Copen­hagen – the fail­ure of the United Na­tions con­fer­ence to pro­duce a cli­mate agree­ment last year in the Dan­ish cap­i­tal – has raised doubts about whether the lon­grun­ning, 194-nation talks can ever agree on a legally bind­ing treaty for rein­ing in global warm­ing.

“It’s clear af­ter Copen­hagen that the UN process is ‘ on pro­ba­tion’,” ac­knowl­edged Alden Meyer of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Sci­en­tists, a vet­eran ob­server and sup­porter of the process.

Even the Mex­i­can hosts of the Nov 29 to Dec 10 UN con­fer­ence ques­tion whether “it is the best way to work – with 194 coun­tries,” as Mex­ico’s en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, Juan Rafael Elvira Que­sada, put it. “We must be re­ally open and sin­cere. Do we need to make an evo­lu­tion to a new method­ol­ogy?” Elvira asked in an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ter­view.

The core fail­ure has been in find­ing a con­sen­sus for­mula for manda­tory re­duc­tions in coun­tries’ emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide and other global warm­ing gases, by-prod­ucts of power plants, other in­dus­tries, agri­cul­ture and au­to­mo­biles.

For 13 years, the United States has re­fused to join the rest of the in­dus­tri­alised world in the Ky­oto Pro­to­col, a bind­ing pact to curb fos­sil fuel emis­sions by mod­est amounts. More re­cently, as China, In­dia and other emerg­ing economies ex­empted from the 1997 Ky­oto pact have sharply in­creased emis­sions, they have re­jected calls by the US and oth­ers to com­mit by treaty to re­straints.

No one ex­pects Can­cun to re­solve that stand­off. In­stead, del­e­gates will fo­cus on cli­mate fi­nan­cial aid, de­for­esta­tion and other sec­ondary “build­ing blocks” to try to re­vive mo­men­tum to­ward an um­brella deal at next year’s con­fer­ence in South Africa or at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Sum­mit in 2012.

“We ex­pect a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude and a restora­tion of con­fi­dence in the mul­ti­lat­eral sys­tem at Can­cun,” said Gre­nada’s UN am­bas­sador, Des­sima Wil­liams, chair of an al­liance of is­land na­tions al­ready fac­ing early im­pacts of cli­mate change.

Warm­ing up

While the global talks plod along, those im­pacts seem to be ac­cel­er­at­ing. The world’s warm­ing oceans, for ex­am­ple, are ris­ing at twice the 20th cen­tury’s av­er­age rate, ex­pand­ing from the heat and the runoff of melt­ing land ice, says the Geneva-based World Cli­mate Re­search Pro­gramme. More ice is melt­ing in Green­land and Antarc­tica than ear­lier thought, wor­ried sci­en­tists re­port. Au­thor­i­ta­tive pro­jec­tions of 2007 – that seas might rise by up to 0.59m by 2100 – now ap­pear too con­ser­va­tive.

The Yu­catan penin­sula, where the up­com­ing talks will take place, once ex­pe­ri­enced how quickly warm­ing can re­make coast­lines. Re­searchers study­ing fos­silised reefs near Can­cun re­port that wa­ters rose at least 2m in as lit­tle as 50 years dur­ing the last nat­u­ral warm­ing pe­riod be­tween ice ages.

Tem­per­a­tures then, 120 mil­len­nia ago, were only 1°C warmer than to­day. In their 2007 as­sess­ment, the UN net­work of cli­mate sci­en­tists pro­jected tem­per­a­tures will rise this cen­tury by up to 6.4°C, depend­ing on whether and how much emis­sions are rolled back.

The UN net­work – the No­bel Prize-win­ning In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change – rec­om­mended emis­sions be cut by 25% to 40% be­low 1990 lev­els by 2020 to keep tem­per­a­tures from ris­ing more than 2°C above pre-in­dus­trial lev­els. They al­ready rose 0.7°C in the 20th cen­tury.

In a non-bind­ing Copen­hagen Ac­cord from the 2009 con­fer­ence, in­dus­tri­alised na­tions pledged re­duc­tions of only 18% over­all, an­a­lysts say. The United States pledged a 3% re­duc­tion. China and other de­vel­op­ing na­tions said they would work to rein in emis­sions growth.

Only a bind­ing treaty with deep re­duc­tions can en­sure the world will avoid the worst en­vi­ron­men­tal up­heavals of cli­mate change, sci­en­tists and con­ser­va­tion­ists say. But the takeover of the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives by Repub­li­cans, many of whom dis­miss strong sci­en­tific ev­i­dence of hu­man-caused warm­ing, all but rules out US ac­tion for at least two years.

In­stead, the Can­cun ne­go­tia­tors hope at least for agree­ment on a “green fund” to dis­burse aid that de­vel­oped coun­tries promised at Copen­hagen – US$100bil (RM350­bil) a year by 2020 – for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries to adapt to a chang­ing cli­mate by build­ing sea­walls and shift­ing farm­ing pat­terns, for ex­am­ple, and to in­stall clean en­ergy sources.

The de­vel­op­ing world hopes, too, for bet­ter terms for trans­fer­ring patented green technology from richer na­tions. In a third area, del­e­gates aim to make progress on the com­plex is­sue of com­pen­sat­ing poorer na­tions for pro­tect­ing their forests, key to the planet’s abil­ity to ab­sorb car­bon diox­ide.

Par­al­lel to the UN talks, of­ten with US lead­er­ship, gov­ern­ments have been mak­ing limited, vol­un­tary side deals to chip away at emis­sions. That’s “laud­able and help­ful,” Gre­nada’s Wil­liams said, but “we have to go be­yond that, to take col­lec­tive ac­tion.”

En­croach­ing seas al­ready are con­tam­i­nat­ing drink­ing wa­ter and dam­ag­ing hous­ing in low­ly­ing is­lands, she said. “It is over­whelm­ing our ca­pac­ity to stay alive.” – AP

Wait­ing: A boat lies at a dried-up area of a lake in Caapi­ranga in Ama­zonas state, north­ern Brazil.

Foul­ing our world: A coal mine in Huo Lin Guo Le, China’s north In­ner Mon­go­lia re­gion. New coal plants are still be­ing built glob­ally de­spite con­cerns over global warm­ing.

The peo­ple of Kiri­bati, whose is­land is sink­ing un­der ris­ing sea lev­els, call­ing for ac­tion to curb cli­mate change.

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