copcast: more news from COP17

Submitted by JimmySprout on Fri, 2011-12-09 14:05

With COP17 drawing to a close this week, a new deal on climate change and GHG (greenhouse gas) emission policies is hot on the cards. Although outcomes are far from known and 'climate wrangling' is still hampering real action, this week's discussions will have a pivotal role to play in any deals that take shape. Here is our copcast on the latest and most important news, side-line stories, events and more...

south africa and the other 'basic' countries are willing to take the plunge with a new climate contractsouth africa and the other 'basic' countries are willing to take the plunge with a new climate contract

Down to the BASICs

Brazil, South Africa, India and China - collectively known as the BASIC countries - share a common approach in the climate change negotiations: they are all urging that the final text of the COP17 summit must include a second commitment period. While the Climate Fund is also a major priority to these countries (largely representing the developing world), the BASIC nations are encouraging a second commitment period by developed countries that will commence in 2013.

"Today is going to send a signal to the world that the BASIC countries are united firmly in addressing climate change... and we intend to implement was what agreed upon" said Xie Zhenhua, China's head of delegation, late yesterday. India's Environmental Minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, stipulated that BASIC's most important concern in Durban was to achieve a clear, strong and ratifiable decision on the Kyoto Protocol's second commitment period.

The leaders of BASIC nations and their representatives have also expressed their disappointment and lack of commitment by many developed countries, especially those that, according to Natarajan, were planning to "renounce their international obligations."

Climate negotiation knife-edge

The outcome of COP17's latest discussions still hangs in balance. There is a major push however by the 194 member nations and the EU to seal an agreement by today. With Kyoto seen as largely dead or dying, the EU 'road map' seems like a more viable, globally acceptable option. Some countries like Norway have already signed on - in essence extending their commitment to Kyoto Protocol, while being promised a legally-binding treaty for a much larger set of countries by 2015. This deal will include the USA (not a member of Kyoto) as well as the BASIC countries that have committed to climate-change agreements.

There are still some keys concerns however, largely around what the USA will commit to and when. China is concerned that the USA may 'free ride' again, as it did with Kyoto - signing it but not ratifying it. Canada, also confirming that it will not sign up to a second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, has come under fire from many nations. It has also been the butt of several 'fossil' awards for its massive, energy inefficient tar sands project and its complete unresponsiveness to current climate change negotiators. Meanwhile, negotiators are in deep discussions of how different countries will be categorised within the new protocol, and hoping to avoid the 'firewall' between developed and developing nations.

The EU has proposed 2020 as the "latest" start date for any new climate agreement due to the fact that most of the world's countries – including all the biggest emitters, both developed and developing – already have national commitments running to 2020 under deals struck in Copenhagen in 2009 and last year in Cancún.

big emitters to be taxedbig emitters to be taxed

Made to pay: big emitters should 'fit the bill'

Yesterday further talks around the funding of the UN Climate Fund culminated in negotiators pointing to individual countries to raise funds from taxes collected from their nation’s biggest carbon emitters. This was the message delivered from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to COP17 delegates.

The $100 billion a year is needed to help developing countries mitigate the effects of climate change, fund adaptation projects and create more sustainable futures in a world of extreme climate. Ki-moon suggested part of the fund should come from the worst emitters in the public and private sectors of countries. Stoltenberg, who chairs the UN's advisory group on climate change funding, said that these taxations would have a "triple positive effect." These effects would include funding for the UN Climate Fund, a greater effort in carbon emission reductions (ultimate to avoid the taxes) and the social awareness created by such taxes.

Temperamental Temperature

Contrasting reports continue to flood in on the globe's projected 'maximum temperature rise'. Initially speculated at 2 degrees Celsius, fresh reports think we shouldn't be as optimistic and aim the projection at 3.5 degrees Celsius. Although 'achieving' the 2 degree warming target is scientifically possible (and rather essential), politics are said to ruin these chances as too many countries have their own climate agendas and, generally speaking, climate negotiations are not moving fast enough.

With such news in mind, as well as scientific evidence that carbon and GHG emissions are in no way slowing down, new estimates put the figure at 3.5 degrees Celsius - way above the 'safe' 2 degree limit agreed on by all 195 UN Climate change Convention members. This was the warning from groups of international scientists at COP17 yesterday. They also suggested that delaying new action until 2015 or 2020 would make the likelihood of achieving emissions goals significantly more difficult.

With the 2 degrees C maximum estimated to only have a 50% chance of averting catastrophic climate change, some scientists and countries are calling for a 1.5 degree target. But even a 2 degree C target would be greatly challenging says Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics at the Potsdam Institute in Germany. Because of an emissions gap of 11 gigatons, it is highly unlikely that the 2 degree target would be achieved by 2020.

The issues really do come with time - waiting until 2020 to reinstate legally binding emission targets would mean literally doubling the amount of carbon cutting - from 2.2% each year by 2020, while 4.4% a year after 2020.
"To put it bluntly, the longer we wait, the less options we will have, the more it will cost, the less likely we are able to stay below global warming of 2 degrees c and the bigger the threat to the world's most vulnerable" explained Hare.

greenpeace protestors in durbangreenpeace protestors in durban

Brazil is logging out of a greener future

In the midst of the COP17 summit, Brazil has come under severe criticism for allowing new amendments to its Forest Code. Passed on Tuesday evening, the Brazilian senate allowed the new amendments to its landmark Forest Code. Many agree that the new forest code will ultimately wreck Brazil's safeguarding of tropical rainforests and open up its part of the Amazon basin to loggers.

Originally drafted to protect the rainforests of Brazil, Greenpeace suggested that the bill "had been so badly altered that it has become nothing more than an invite to bulldozers and chainsaws to come to the forest." The WWF also slammed Brazil, remarking that the decision "throws into question Brazil's position as a leader in smart, forward thinking development."

Besides widespread fear of rainforest destruction, the new Forest Code will also have significant influence during the last days of COP17. Not only will Brazil face fierce questioning from other nations, but also debate around the importance of the Amazon as a major 'carbon sink'. For now, the decision lies in the hands of Brazil's president - Dilma Rousseff - when the legislation returns to national assembly and will require her ratification on the amendments.

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