2020 Climate Deadline Is the Crucial “Litmus Test”

Chile—The fury of Chaitén volcano - nat geo

The atmosphere and the climate is a public good, a commons, and can’t be protected by the private sector.”

— Marianne Haug, Oxford Institute for Energy

By Stephen Leahy

VIENNA, Jun 29 2009 (IPS)

“So who here thinks there will be a meaningful deal in Copenhagen?”

Few of the more than 600 energy ministers, officials and experts from 80 countries attending the Vienna Energy Conference raised their hands in response to the conference moderator’s question about the final round of climate negotiations this December in Copenhagen.

“I don’t think there will be agreement on an emissions cap,” said Andre Amado, Brazil’s vice-minister for energy, science and technology.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels must peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline to prevent dangerous, irreversible climate change, scientists have warned. A strong international agreement on emissions targets for both the industrialised and developing world is widely believed to be the only way to ensure emissions peak and then decline.

“There will be agreement on technology transfer and reducing barriers for technology transfers,” to assist developing countries in cutting their emissions and adapting to the changing climate, Amado told participants last week in Austria’s capital city.

Manfred Konukiewitz, deputy director-general of Germany’s Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and who is involved in the Copenhagen climate negotiations, was more optimistic: “There will be an agreement on emission reductions targets by 2050.”

Specifically, industrialised countries need to agree to emissions reductions of 80 percent from 1990 levels, and China and India must also agree to substantial reductions by 2050, Konukiewitz said. However, agreement on commitments to reductions by 2020 is what is most important in Copenhagen, he said.

“That is the litmus test if we are serious about addressing climate change,” Konukiewitz stressed.

Carbon emissions from developed countries must peak by 2015, Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reminded conference participants.

That’s revolutionary. Reductions can’t be slow and steady, they must be very quick,” Pachauri told IPS.

But instead of an energy revolution, investments in green energy projects are in sharp decline over the last six months, falling 40 percent, reported Fatih Birol, chief economist with the International Energy Agency.

“The lifespan of the average energy investment is 60 years, that’s why it is urgent to have a strong Copenhagen agreement on reductions,” Birol told attendees.

Surprisingly money isn’t really the problem.

Global investments exceed one trillion dollars a year, said Ged Davis, co-president of the Global Energy Assessment Council in Vienna.

“There is more than enough money to deal with climate change. The only issues are making it a priority and having sufficient public support,” Davis said.

There is little new technology on the horizon to help out because of under-investment in energy research and development (R&D), experts agreed. Average R&D reinvestment from the highly profitable oil and gas sector is just 0.3 percent, energy utilities 0.5 percent and the auto industry a mere 4.0 percent, and these are incremental investments not innovations, said Marianne Haug, senior research advisor at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in Britain.

“The private sector is not capable of solving the climate change challenge,” said Haug.

“The atmosphere and the climate is a public good, a commons, and can’t be protected by the private sector.”

For more see 2020 Deadline Is the Crucial “Litmus Test”

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