Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

Discovering Global Environmental Interconnections

Europe Works to End Oil Addiction and Reap Financial, Social and Environment Advantages – Officials say

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Developed World Must Agree to Greater Emission Reductions – 40 per cent cuts by 2020, experts say

Stephen Leahy

BONN, Jun 20, 2011 (IPS)

If we’re lucky, by the time a tough but fair international treaty to meet the climate change challenge is finalised, it will be largely unnecessary. The snail’s pace of negotiations certainly gives countries plenty of time to understand the financial, social and environmental advantages of kicking their dangerous addiction to fossil fuels.

That may be a cynical optimist’s hope, but the European Union is already moving in that direction.

Climate change is now seen as an opportunity to deal with the economic downturn in Europe,” said Jürgen Lefevere, a European Commission negotiator at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session that ended late Friday in Bonn.

“It is no longer just an environmental issue for us,” Lefevere said at a final press conference.

China also understands the opportunity.

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar now account for 11.4 percent of China’s electricity, and that figure will be 20 percent by 2020, says Liu Qiang, a researcher at the Energy Research Institute of the National Development Reform Commission, China.

“China takes this very seriously,” Qiang said, noting that there are significant investments and research in smarter electrical grids and energy storage in China. 
Looking to 2050, the era of fossil fuels will be over in a world of vibrant economies and societies powered entirely by clean, cheap and renewable energy, says Niklas Hoehne, director of Energy and Climate Policy at Ecofys, an energy consulting company based in the Netherlands.

“The cost is about two to three percent of global GDP (gross domestic product) from now until 2035, and then the costs decline,” said Hoehne, a co-author of the Ecofys technical study called “The Energy Report“, which demonstrates how the world could reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

That investment is far less than the costs of climate change will be without major reductions in emissions, he told IPS.

It seems that few nations at these climate negotiations understand the full extent of the calamity the human species and planet face. Negotiators from 190 nations spent the last two weeks attempting to work out the details for an international agreement to be presented to government ministers at the 17th Conference of the Parties under the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa in late November.

They made some progress on technical issues but it seems unlikely there will be a new international treaty for some years yet.

“If developed countries don’t increase their reduction targets to 40 percent by 2020 without offsets, they are risking five [degrees] C of warming and a planetary emergency,” said Asad Rehman, head of the International Climate programme at Friends of the Earth.

At five C, Africa will burn and low-lying areas where hundreds of millions live will be underwater, representatives of civil society reminded delegates time and again. And it is likely even worse than that. Human civilisation has arisen and thrived during a time of little change in global temperature. The current temperature increase of 0.8 degrees C is only about half of what is now guaranteed even if all emissions ended today.

Even a 1.5 to 2.0 C temperature rise puts humanity effectively on a new planet, with a different climate than we have prospered in. Additional warming not only further threatens that prosperity it bring us far too close to the nightmare scenario of runaway climate change that will threaten our very survival, experts warn.

No developed country is close to the 40-percent cut that the science says is needed by 2020 to stay below two degrees C.

The European Union’s emission reductions are already nearly 20 percent and it could easily reach 30 percent by 2020. However, the rest of the developed nations are far behind, with many like Canada, Australia and the United States continuing to increase their emissions, not reduce them.

All industrial nations made additional reduction pledges in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord 2020, but these are not nearly enough. And many countries now insist they cannot be held legally accountable for those pledges.

“You can’t negotiate with the Earth’s natural limits. At the moment, emission reduction pledges take us far over those limits,” said Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environment Institute in a release.

Negotiations between nations are extremely difficult because there is little trust by the global South that pledges by the North will be honoured. Canada’s Stephen Harper government simply said it would not live up to its legal emissions reduction obligations under the Kyoto Protocol that a previous administration had signed in 1997. And it declared here it would not agree to another.

Japan, Russia and the U.S. have taken similar positions.

Pledges by countries of the North are hardly ever fulfilled, says Augustine Njamnshi, Central Africa coordinator of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance involving more than 300 African civil society groups. That is why developing countries are insisting on a second, legally binding phase under the Kyoto Protocol – and with much greater reduction targets than the five percent of the first Kyoto.

However, there are no real teeth in the agreement to punish those that fail or, like Canada, refuse to meet their obligations.

“These are the most important negotiations the world has ever faced,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, reminded journalists at the closing press conference in response to questions about the lack of progress and difficult issues deferred to yet another meeting likely this September.

“We face two realities side by side,” she said. “One is the science that emissions peak in 2015 and then decline. The other is the political reality of what is possible.”

The “magic” of the UNFCCC process is to hold these realities in each hand and keep struggling forward as it has for 17 years, she said.

Bolivia, the self-appointed defender of climate science and the rights of Mother Earth, says the world’s leaders need to get together to talk about how to close “the emissions gap” between what has been pledged and what is necessary to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees C.

“There can be no success in Durban without the developed world agreeing to greater emission reductions,” said Ambassador Pablo Solon of the Plurinational State of Bolivia.

“There has been no movement on the big issue of reducing emissions but instead a proliferation of proposals on new market mechanisms,” Solon said at a press conference. He warned that many of these new markets will amount to nothing more than “hot air” involving lots of money but no real carbon cuts.

“We don’t want just any agreement, only what will get us below two [degrees] C,” he stressed.

First published on IPS 

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  1. [...] Europe Works to End Oil Addiction and Reap Financial, Social and Environment Advantages – Offi… (stephenleahy.net) [...]

  2. [...] “Climate change is now seen as an opportunity to deal with the economic downturn in Europe,” said Jürgen Lefevere, a European Commission negotiator at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session that ended late Friday in Bonn.http://stephenleahy.net/2011/09/15/europe-works-to-end-oil-addiction-and-reap-financial-social-and-e… [...]


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