The latest round of climate talks began Feb. 8 in Geneva, where representatives of 190 or so countries have their work cut out for them: streamlining a 37-page draft text of an international agreement covering more than 100 issues, each with multiple options and sub-options, so that a full negotiating text is ready by May as a basis for further negotiations in June and ratification at a summit in Paris in December. The draft text reflects a rich country-developing country divide and is “stuffed with options that reflect conflicting interests and demands on many fundamental points,” reported the Associated Foreign Press in the Gulf Times.
With both global Earth surface and global sea surface temperatures reaching record levels in 2014, pressure to reach a final climate accord is intense.
At the outset of the 6-day conference, the only negotiation period scheduled before delivery of national emissions reductions plans at the end of May, European Union negotiator Elena Bardram acknowledged that countries’ Paris targets are unlikely to keep global temperature rise below the threshold of 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers the tipping point for dangerous climate change.
“We are concerned the targets set in Paris may fall short of what is required by science, that it will not be exactly what is required to remain within the 2 degrees,” she said in a United Nations press conference webcast. “By the Paris conference, we need to have a very clear understanding of how well on track we are with keeping global temperature increase within the two degree centigrade limit,” she said. “We have to know how much is on the table and what more needs to be done, should that be the case.”
All major economies must declare their emissions targets by the end of March, and the European Union is wasting no time in its efforts to make its members fall into line. Reuters reported that it will exert “maximum pressure” to extract pledges “by June at the latest.”
But developed country targets are not the only issue. Other sticking points are whether developing countries should make their own carbon-reduction pledges, whether industrial superpowers should compensate these countries for climate change-related losses and damage, and how pledges of financial support to developing countries should be made good.
Days before the latest talks got under way, a group of CEOs called for the Paris deal to include a goal to reduce global emissions to net zero—no more than Earth can absorb—by 2050.
Final Keystone Legislation Headed to President’s Desk
By a 270–152 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed final legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline, the project that during seven years of administrative review overseen by the State Department has morphed into a fight about climate change. The president has 10 days once the bill reaches his deck to issue a promised veto.
Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, the architect of the Keystone XL bill, acknowledged that Republicans lack the votes to overcome a veto but said that Keystone measures could be added to other legislation that have bipartisan support.
The bill endorsed changes made by the Senate—that climate change was not a hoax and that oil sands should no longer be exempt from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
The President has said he would approve the pipeline only if it does not significantly increase the rate of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked the State Department to revisit its conclusion that the project’s impact on those emissions was negligible—a conclusion that the EPA says may no longer hold given the implications of lowered oil prices for oil sands development.
National Security Strategy Report Highlights Threat of Climate Change
Among the eight top strategic risks to the United States identified in President Obama’s National Security Strategy report to Congress is climate change. The report, issued Feb. 6, singles out the phenomenon as “an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water” with “present day” effects being felt “from the Arctic to the Midwest.”
The report echoes many of the Pentagon’s warnings that climate change poses a national security risk, and it alludes to the economic costs of climate change, suggesting that delaying emissions reductions is more expensive than transitioning to low-carbon energy sources.
Although the administration’s last national security strategy, released in 2010, recognized the threat of climate change to U.S. interests, the new report puts global warming “front and center,” according to the National Journal.
The strategy draws attention to the U.S. commitment to reducing emissions 26–28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and to developing “an ambitious new global climate change agreement.”
A White House fact sheet on the report says that the United States will advance its own security and that of allies and partners in part by “confronting the urgent crisis of climate change, including through national emissions reductions, international diplomacy, and our commitment to the Green Climate Fund.”
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.
GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman expressed skepticism about the science on climate change, so now all GOP candidates are on the record as doubting either that the planet is clearly warming, or that people are responsible for most of the warming.
Of all the GOP candidates, Huntsman had been the most supportive of action on climate change: in 2007, as governor of Utah, he signed up his state for a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions.
There has been an increase in climate skepticism in the past year and a growing reluctance to say anything about climate, especially among Republicans. The turning point—argued the National Journal’s cover story, “Heads in the Sand“—was the 2010 Supreme Court decision that lifted restrictions on campaign spending and boosted so-called super political action committees (super PACs) that can take unlimited funds.
The deniers haven’t won yet, though, argued Bill Chameides of Duke University. Most Americans accept the basics of climate change, more investment went into green energy than fossil fuels in 2010, and some of the biggest energy companies—such as ExxonMobil—affirm that climate change is real.
Little Agreement in Durban
As the United Nations climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, come near their close, there is little hope of coming to an agreement. The executive director of the International Energy Agency said the lack of progress is a “cause for concern,” and urged countries: “Don’t wait for a global deal. Act now.”
China showed signs of softening its stance on a climate agreement, saying it may “shoulder responsibilities” for cutting emissions, as long as it is not held to the same standards as richer countries—a move an Oxfam climate campaigner called “really encouraging.”
Meanwhile, a new study reported greenhouse emissions from the developing world have surpassed those of the developed world (using the Kyoto Protocol’s definitions for each group)—and it happened much earlier than expected.
The president of the Worldwatch Institute, Robert Engelman, proposed a “shadow climate regime”—an alternative approach that erases divisions between developed and developing countries as well as caps on emissions, and taxes all emissions, regardless of where they originate.
Because of the slow progress on climate treaties, scientists have been looking increasingly at geoengineering—global schemes for cooling the planet—and a collaboration between Britain’s Royal Society and two other groups called for more research into these methods.
Nuclear Decline, Stormy Rise of Renewables
The world’s nuclear power dropped in 2011, as plants were knocked out by Japan’s tsunami, shut down, or those under construction canceled or postponed. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its recent World Energy Outlook, detailed how the world might get by in a scenario with declining nuclear power, but said meeting the climate change targets under discussion at Durban would require “heroic achievements in the deployment of emerging low-carbon technologies,” in particular for countries like Japan.
China’s wind and solar capacity will soar in the next decade, adding the equivalent of 180 nuclear power plants, the IEA forecast.
The growth of China’s solar industry has been a source of contention with America, leading the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to launch an investigation into China’s support for its solar industry. The ruling said U.S. companies had been harmed by China’s policies, but China’s Commerce Ministry argued the reaction smacks of protectionism. The ITC voted to continue its investigation.
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