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Spotlight on the 'Kyoto II' climate change negotiations in Poznan

03 December 2008

As world nations meet in Poznan, Poland, to continue negotiations on a new climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012, serious questions are being raised about the possibility of slashing global carbon emissions by the necessary minimum of 50% by 2050. 

World temperatures already look certain to pass the 2 degrees centigrade mark (above pre-industrial levels) considered to be 'dangerous' by the EU. As the conference in Poland begun on Monday December 1st, a series of grim warnings were given about the prospect of war, hunger, poverty and sickness that could soon follow if the world fails to tackle worsening climate change.

During the marathon two-week talks, delegates will be poring over an 82-page document with a range of proposals for action beyond 2012, when emissions-cutting pledges under the current Kyoto Protocol run out.  The negotiation process, which begun in Bali before Christmas 2007, is intended to be completed at another UN conference this time next year in Copenhagen.  

But with stock markets around the world plunging, signs are emerging that policymakers could be inclined to back away from climate protection goals in the face of the financial crisis.  As the article bySpiegel shows below, the auto manufacturing industry, currently suffering from the onset of recession, has been increasing calls in Europe to delay the introduction of more stringent rules aimed at decreasing CO2 emission from cars.  The UN's top climate official, Yvo de Boer, has also stressed the need to "focus on the opportunities for green growth", indicating that market expansion will continue to be prioritised over the radical social changes that will be needed in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The reality of what such radical social change could mean, assuming we are to achieve an 80% cut in emissions by 2050 as proposed by both Gordon Brown and Barack Obama, is pondered below byGeorge Monbiot. New research from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research suggests that even this range of cuts, which means reducing emissions by an average of 2% each year, is likely to commit the world to at least 4 or 5 degrees of warming - meaning the likely collapse of human civilisation across much of the planet.  Is this acceptable, asks George?  I have to admit, he says, that we might already have left it too late.  If we are still to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, it could mean a 10% annual cut in energy consumption across the world, which would require a 10% annual cut in total consumption - a deeper depression than the modern world has ever experienced.

Meanwhile, delegates in Poland are privy to more reports being released about the harsh consequences of inaction and the world's unpreparedness to deal with the climate changes already set in motion. According to one study by the WWF UK environmental group, the world needs a new UN pact to compensate victims of climate change or else risk a tangle of billion-dollar lawsuits linked to heatwaves, droughts and rising seas. At present, no UN schemes exist to provide compensation deals for damage from climate change.  In another report, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) says that hundreds of billions more dollars are likely to be needed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by a 2030 target.

In other words, climate change is not just about cutting greenhouse gas emissions; it is equally about helping the most vulnerable people and nations to adapt to the degree of climate change that they are already experiencing. The true challenge of a global climate deal is to find a way of lifting the 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day out of poverty without unmanageable increases in carbon emissions.  If not, the rich countries may need to be prepared for one of the biggest mass migrations in history as people flee their homelands in search of somewhere new to live.

Another critical issue left out of the discussions in Poland is agricultural policy. As argued in the article below by Annie Shattuck, peasant farmers may seem like unconventional advisors for the climate change discussions, but they could be the most important.  Small farmers are not only the victims of global warming, she says, but they also pose a major solution - through small-scale organic farming systems that are more resilient to climate change, more sustainable, more just, and more able to "help cool the planet".  

Further resources

World Development Movement Blog: by Tim Jones, policy officer attending the UN climate conference talks in Poland

Official site: The United Nations Climate Change Conference, Poznań, Poland - COP 14


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