Berlin (dpa) – Climate change is threatening to flood whole islands in the South Pacific, and traditional ski countries like Germany often must resort to snow machines: things are changing, and they are changing fast.
World climate experts on Monday in Lima launched the year-long UN effort to find a new agreement by December 2015, and more generally to try to negotiate ways to stop the global warming trend.
The polar bear has become the standard bearer for the threat. In 2004, there were still 1,500 polar bears in Alaska and in north-western Canada, but more recently they were down to only about 900.
“The summer pack ice in the sea has been shrinking for years, and without ice, bears lack a platform from which to hunt seals. That makes survival increasingly difficult, especially for young animals,” said Sybille Klenzendorf, of the Global Arctic Programme run by the environmental organization World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).
At the 2010 climate conference, in the Mexican seaside resort of Cancun, attendees agreed to scientists recommondations that they must limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial temperature. However, measures taken so far have been insufficient.
The 12-day UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-20) conference in Lima is bringing together 195 countries, to propose the guidelines for an agreement that is to be formally sealed a year later in Paris.
Hope has sprung from the recent small but historic agreement between China and the United States to limit emissions – the world’s number one and two CO2 producers whose stalemate has blocked progress for the past decade.
US President Barack Obama announced that the United States would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2025, compared with 2005.
China wants to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) starting in 2030. Is that really enough? Hardly. However, climate experts and German government sources note that the Chinese leadership is nervous about thousands of unauthorized demonstrations against air pollution.
India is making progress too.
And yet talks about climate change usually turn into a blame game. After all, for many years it was only western economies that secured economic growth while spewing greenhouse gasses blamed for global warming.
Recently, hope has emerged of a more positive attitude than the one that made climate talks fail in Copenhagen in 2009. All states are required to come up with their own emission reduction goals starting with Lima. The deadline is late March 2015.
In Peru, negotiations will mostly focus on what gases should be targeted for reduction and the milestone year for achievement, said German climate negotiator Karsten Sach.
The European Union plans to reduce its CO2 emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, while China, the world’s largest polluter by far, will by then still pollute more than it does today. But China has already laid out a plan to increase alternative energy and has been experimenting with regional carbon markets with plans to go nationwide in the coming years.
Unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the new framework will not feature binding obligations, but rather a mix of national goals that will put the 2-degree goal out of reach. And yet a legally binding agreement is utopian at this stage, given the spotty support for the Kyoto provisions.
So far, climate talks have mostly been a frustrating zero-sum game. The European Union has made an effort to reduce emissions, while other countries increase their output. Eventually, a global trade in emission quotas – that is, an international price for CO2 emissions – could manage to keep CO2 pollution in check.
Half of the carbon dioxide emissions directly caused by humans since 1750 have been produced since 1970. Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam-based Institute for Climate Research, has a chart that shows the warmest summers in Europe since 1500: 2010, 2003, 2002, 2006, 2007.
Without active and prompt mitigation, global temperatures are on track to rise by 3 or even 4 four degrees Celsius by 2100 – accompanied by drastic rises in sea levels and threat to human lives, climate scientists say.
There is however some good news in the finance sector: the Green Climate Fund, which is part of the UNFCCC framework, has already raised 9.3 billion dollars. It is intended to help countries that are particularly affected by climate change to adapt to imminent threats such as flooding, or to promote wind and solar power.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who signed the original Kyoto Protocol as environment minister and has been a major actor in pushing for a new agreement – will have a chance at the G7 summit in June in Bavaria to push the industrialized world to do more. But even Germany is likely to fall short of its own goal of reducing emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.