UN climate summit starts with little hope

By Joydeep Gupta, IANS
Monday, November 29, 2010

CANCUN - The rate at which the earth is heating up has picked pace again, but the annual UN summit to combat climate change that starts here later Monday is not expected to do anything substantial to halt the causes.

The Nov 29-Dec 10 summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is starting with the convention president, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, saying: “We know that Cancun will not be the end of our road to stabilise the global average temperature, but must be a significant step towards that end.”

After last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen ended in a fiasco, expectations from this summit are down anyway, with the UN pushing for small concrete steps to tackle global warming while an overarching treaty remains bogged down in tussles between developed and developing countries.

Poorer nations are seeking money and cheap technologies so that they can adapt to the climate change effects that are here already, and can move towards a greener economy. The richer nations continue to insist that they must be allowed to monitor all greening projects. Plus, while they themselves are unwilling to commit to a percentage by which they will cut their own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they want to know when emerging economies like India and China will cap their emissions.

India has been playing a mediator’s role, and earlier this month Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh presented a plan by which the global community, rather than a single country, would verify the greening projects - the so-called international consultation and assessment (ICA) scheme. Ramesh told IANS recently: “Some countries have welcomed the idea heartily, while some others have said they need to study it further. No one has rejected it outright.”

While the move does show a way out of the impasse, developing countries are unhappy because they have no clear idea of how much of the $30 billion rich countries promised them between 2010 and 2012 has actually been paid or even committed. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres told IANS “the commitments would total up to $28 billion” but she did not know how much of it was repackaged aid money and how much was “new and additional”, an issue that worries the poor countries greatly.

“Only $3 billion has been formally allocated for adaptation” to climate change, says Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development. “There is also a danger that some of this could come in the form of loans which would further indebt already poor nations and force them to pay to fix a problem that the developed nations created.”

Of the $30 billion, about $4 billion has been earmarked for forestry, and this may be one area which sees substantial progress during this summit, with plantation projects slated to start in some developing countries.

The fight against deforestation has actually seen some success in 2009, according to an international research team led by the University of Exeter in Britain. They have found that “global emissions from deforestation have decreased through the last decade by more than 25 percent compared to the 1990s and account now for about a tenth of the emissions from all human activity”, according to Pep Canadell of Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Canadell is executive director of the Global Carbon Project and a co-author of the study.

Earlier, deforestation used to account for 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is the main GHG which leads to climate change, which is already causing sea levels to rise, affecting farm output worldwide and making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe. A recent study by Indian scientists, coordinated by the environment ministry, confirmed that India, especially its Himalayan region and its long coastline, is one of the worst affected countries.

And the new study has found global emissions of carbon dioxide likely to reach record levels in 2010. The 2009 drop in emissions due to the global financial crisis will be more than offset by renewed growth in fossil fuel burning in 2010.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in 2009 were only 1.3 percent below the record 2008 figures, despite the financial crisis that hit the world last year, the scientists calculated. This is less than half the reduction predicted a year ago. China’s emissions rose eight percent in 2009, and India’s 6.2 percent.

The study projects that if the global economy grows as expected, global fossil fuel emissions will increase by more than three percent in 2010, approaching the high emissions growth rates observed through 2000 to 2008.

Despite this backdrop, the thousands of negotiators from 193 countries gathering here continue to bicker about whether rich countries should continue to commit emission reduction under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol or some other international compact. All developing countries and China are adamant that they must do so, and Mexico’s foreign minister stated the same on the eve of the summit. But the absence of the US from the protocol is prompting other rich countries to move away from it.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at joydepgupta1@gmail.com)

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