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Comment: Why 2012 is a landmark year for climate change

By John Parnell

2012 is a lot of things. It is the UN Year of Sustainable Energy for All. The Year of the Dragon. The year Nostradamus predicts the world will end, again. It could also prove to be a crunch year for climate change action.

The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol will come to an end allowing those that took part to take stock of their experiences and those looking to make commitments in the future to learn lessons too.

At the end of June Brazil will host the Rio+20 conference in sustainable development. With the world’s major economies involved in elections and leadership struggles, many believe a ground-breaking deal is unlikely.

One purpose the the Rio Summit will serve is to highlight the continued threat to biodiversity from economic growth and development, as well as the impact increased levels of Co2 are having on the world’s oceans.

COP18, in oil- and gas-rich Qatar, will be met with predictable scepticism. If the UNFCCC and the COP18 presidency and can maintain independence from the fossil fuel lobby then the first blurry shapes of a new globally binding deal may begin to appear.

Throughout 2012 we are likely to see some of the effects of climate change biting. Drought in Eastern Europe this winter has affected the grain harvest raising prices and lowering hopes for famine relief in Africa.

Unseasonal heavy rains in western Africa have also reduced crop yields, further hampering the chances of relief. 2012 will also be the first year in which the world has had 7 billion mouths to feed throughout all 12 months.

2011 was an unprecedented year for climate induced extreme events. UK International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has warned that the world is “dangerously unprepared” for major crises and disaster relief.

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), launched after the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, will start the New Year with a £45 million shortfall.

CO2 emissions grew by 5.9% in 2010, wiping out the 1.4% decrease brought about by the recession, according to figures released in 2011. CO2 levels currently stand at just over 390 parts per million (ppm) and are growing at about 2 ppm annually.

Scientific consensus dictates that we should be looking at 350 ppm as a maximum level. This worrying trend must be arrested in 2012.

Cautious optimism in 2012

Somali refugee

Extreme weather events in 2011 have left an unwelcome legacy of humanitarian crises for 2012. (Source: UN/Stuart Price)

The rate of increase in the adoption of renewable energy is hugely encouraging. Falling costs in solar photovoltaic and offshore wind generation are making their mark.

Germany, France and Spain are well on the way to exceeding their 2020 renewable energy targets and the EU as a whole should meet its collective target with relative ease.

There is now speculation that the EU will set new objectives of 30% for renewable energy consumption by 2030. The Danish government have made it clear they intend to use their six month presidency of the EU Council to incentivise green growth and implement new Energy Efficiency standards.

There are positive signs for green jobs too.

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates that private sector investment of £2.5 billion in renewable energy projects in the 2010-2011 financial year could create as many as 12,000 new jobs.

As the western world lifts itself out of recession, there is an increasing body of evidence that establishing a low-carbon economy is one way to achieve this.

Energy efficiency is being taken more seriously in developing and developed countries. Staying with the UK, the Green Deal scheme will look to emulate the success of Germany’s low-cost loans for energy efficiency improvements at home. The UK will also launch the Renewable Heat Incentive, the first subsidy scheme of its kind for heat rather than electricity generation.

The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) has identified the lack of legislation for heat as a major policy shortfall. 2012 could start to remedy that.

RTCC FACEBOOK DEBATE: What are your 2012 predictions?

2012 is also a US election year. The result, and perhaps more importantly the size of the winner’s majority, could have a huge impact on the direction and the strength of US climate policy.

The Republican candidates remain hostile to climate science and its findings, while Barack Obama appears incapable of pushing any new legistlation through a troublesome Senate.

On January 31, the earth will have a near miss with the second largest asteroid loitering the planet’s orbit, 433 Eros.

That kind of disaster, contrary to Nostradmus, the Mayans and film director Roland Emmerich, will be averted in the next 12 months. The tagline of Emmerich’s end-of-the-world-movie 2012 was “We were warned”.

We now have the rest of the year to continue work on averting the climate disaster, which has been sending very clear warnings indeed.

Contact the author of this story @rtcc_john or email jp@rtcc.org

RTCC VIDEO: NASA Astronaut Dr Piers Sellers reveals the Space Agency’s 2011 climate change findings and explains what work they will be doing through 2012.

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