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UN climate change deal “may not be feasible” by 2015

The 2015 UN climate summit in Paris could mark start of process to develop a global emissions treaty rather than end

The UN says emission levels are 14% above what they need to be in 2020, warning an 8 gigatonne CO2 gap could emerge

By Ed King

The world’s leading economies have indicated 2015 may be too early for countries to agree on mitigation targets under a UN treaty.

Paris has been earmarked as the venue for a global climate change treaty to be agreed in just over two years time. This agreement would come into force by 2020.

Scientists say emissions need to peak this decade to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

But a recent Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) meeting in Poland involving the USA, EU, China and the UN ended with a Chair’s Summary acknowledging that “some considered it would not be feasible to complete the process by 2015.”

The statement added that certain countries do consider this “feasible and important”, and that there is wider support for commitments to be discussed ahead of the Paris summit.

There is no mention of flows of climate finance, which will disappoint many developing countries, but there is a commitment to explore ways of cutting pollution ahead of 2020, including increasing investment in the energy efficiency of buildings.

Climate policy analysts have told RTCC it is significant that 2015 is now being discussed as the start not the end of a pledging process.

“The statement that 2015 might launch a process rather than formalise some 2020 pledges is something that is not currently part of the expectations and discussion within UNFCCC,” said Oxfam Climate Change Policy Adviser Tracey Carty.

“Some governments might be thinking about this but it seems at odds with current expectations, and we do need more information on that.

“Just in terms of the substance, I think it would be a concern to launch a process in Paris because the world does need to see a shift in climate ambition and certainty in climate action.”

 

The 2012 emission gap report by the UN Environment Programme revealed current emission reduction pledges are well short of what is required to avoid two degrees of warming, a level that scientists say could cause dangerous levels of climate change.

Further discussion on mitigation commitments are expected to take place at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September, and at the main UN climate summit in Warsaw this November.

“If we do not get the underlying frameworks in place I doubt whether countries will be politically ready to put forward mitigation targets,” said WWF International Climate Policy Advocate Tasneem Essop.

“It’s essential in the next two years they start unpacking things like equity reference frameworks and the science review process so that when they do put numbers on the table we know that they are fair and ambitious.

“If they could spend the next two years sorting that out and reaching strong agreements on that by 2015 at least, there’s nothing to stop them from looking at the numbers.”

While the MEF involves only a small number of countries, members like China, the USA and the EU are hugely influential in the international climate policy arena.

The statement does seem to indicate that any global emissions treaty may not be one encompassing document as envisaged pre-Copenhagen.

It also suggests the legal aspects of any treaty are likely to be fluid, noting that not everything agreed in 2015 will need to be based under a legal umbrella.

“As NGOs we would have wanted a top-down legally binding agreement, but the political space for that might not be there, and I think quite a few negotiators and even NGOs are looking at other options, like hybrid models of bindingness,” said Essop.

“You could have a strong agreement that all countries have strong domestically binding legislation where the targets would be legally binding at a domestic level. That takes you away from the kind of voluntary pledge and review regime at least.”

Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) – July 2013 meeting

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  • Harold Forbes

    After a generation of talking, they need more time to talk? Politicians are a disgrace.

    We have known about the science of climate change for over 100 years and have had serious warning about the impacts and implication for the past 35 years; warnings that have been becoming more strident in recent years as the global economy has continued to hurtle down the “business as usual” route.

    That “business as usual” persists with the assumption that Earth’s resources and services are so abundant they can be treated as infinite and excluded from the price
    function doesn’t seem to have even entered the frame.

    Price plays a critical role in markets, but the free market is distorted by treating the primary resource as the thing that is “free”. The basis of this thinking was the 18th-century Enlightenment, when human population was much lower: the assumptions on how we could use natural resources were workable then. A world population of 500 million using a resource at a rate that would appear to have it last 500 years could be forgiven for thinking 10 generations was sufficiently far away to be ignored. Unfortunately the same resource would be consumed by a 7 billion
    population in just over 35 years.

    We have a finite Earth and the task in hand is to make human economy symbiotic with the planet’s ecology. If we do not we will not be the first civilisation to push our environment to collapse and cause our own decline but we will almost certainly be the first one to not only choose to do it knowingly but to incentivise people to speed up
    the process.