MAC: Mines and Communities

"Below 2C" Opens New Rift In U.N. Climate Battle

Published by MAC on 2010-04-08
Source: Reuters (2010-03-31)

Limiting global greenhouse gas emissions - especially from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels - to "below" 2 degress Celsius, was one of the dubious outcomes of last year's Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change.

Many delegates, and thousands of protestors, considered this as setting far too high a bar - one which risks the deaths of millions. See: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9755

As more than a hundred developing nations and small island states now call for a lower limit, the devil of discussion lies in the detail. 

And any international consensus seem as far away as ever.

"Below 2C" Opens New Rift In U.N. Climate Battle

Alister Doyle

Reuters

31 March 2010

A goal to limit global warming to "below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) is opening a new rift for 2010 talks on a U.N. climate treaty as developing nations say it means the rich must deepen cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

An alliance of 101 developing nations and island states says the temperature target, endorsed by major emitters since the Copenhagen summit in December, is tougher than a previous goal by industrialized nations of 2 degrees as a maximum rise.

"2.0 degrees is unacceptable," said Dessima Williams, Grenada's ambassador to the United Nations who represents the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) which wants to limit temperatures to below 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial times.

But rich nations and some researchers say the Copenhagen Accord's "below" 2 is vague -- it can mean 1.999 degrees and so be indistinguishable for policy purposes from 2. The Accord does not lay down how the temperature goal will be reached.

"It can mean anything until we may agree on what it means concretely," European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said of the temperature target.

"The good thing about saying 'below 2C' is that you then have a ceiling. A number of countries say 1.5 C and this has not been taken off the table," she said.

Senior officials meet in Bonn, Germany, from April 9-11 for the first U.N. talks since Copenhagen, trying to work out a new pact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol after the U.N. summit failed.

Degrees of Difference

"We do not see a redefinition of the '2 degree C limit' through the Copenhagen Accord: in that sense we interpret it as 1.9999 degree C," said Brigitte Knopf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The semantic dispute has huge economic implications for guiding a shift from fossil fuels toward renewable energies.

The U.N. panel of climate scientists said in 2007 that a greenhouse gas goal consistent with 2 degrees C would cost about 3 percent of world gross domestic product by 2030. It did not work out the higher costs of 1.5.

Williams said that promises for cuts in emissions outlined by developed nations so far put the world on track for a 3.9 degrees C rise in temperatures that would bring droughts, floods, mudslides, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

"Climate change leadership is certainly not forthcoming from actions and actors committing to such dangerous levels of emissions," she said. Hedegaard also said current targets are insufficient to meet the 2C goal.

Many analysts doubt that the next annual talks of environment ministers in Cancun, Mexico, in late 2010, will end with a treaty. One reason is that U.S. legislation to cut emissions is stalled in the Senate.

Temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 Celsius above pre-industrial times.

"To stay below 1.5 C is probably impossible given the massive inertia of the socio-economic and biophysical systems," said Pep Canadell, head of the Global Carbon Project at Australia's Commonwealth, Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

"It will be very tough to stay below 2C."

The Copenhagen Accord recognizes the scientific view that the rise in global temperature "should be below 2 degrees C." The Group of Eight and big emerging nations agreed at a mid-2009 summit in Italy that the rise "ought not to exceed 2 degrees."

The Copenhagen Accord also holds out the prospect of $10 billion a year from 2010-12 in climate aid for developing nations, rising to $100 billion a year from 2020.

Knopf noted that the Accord adds a new element by saying that the tougher 1.5 degrees target should be reviewed in 2015.

So far, about 110 nations have endorsed the Copenhagen Accord, including top emitters led by China, the United States, Russia and India. The deal was only "noted" by the Copenhagen summit after objections from a handful of developing states.

Canadell said the world could emit 1,000 billion tons of carbon "starting now and stay at 2 degrees C or below with a 50 percent probability." Limiting emissions to 600 billion would raise the probability to 90 percent, but boost costs.

(Additional reporting by Karin Jensen in Copenhagen; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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