Monday, August 09, 2010

Some Fear Copenhagen Climate Change Deal Unraveling

Aug 6: According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, the governments meeting at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn Germany (August 2 to 6) made progress towards deciding the shape of "a successful result at the November/December UN Climate Change Conference in Mexico," But, she said, the governments now need to narrow down the many options for action on climate change presently under negotiation. The Bonn UN Climate Change Conference was attended by 1656 participants from 175 countries.

    According to a release, many governments said they believed a set of COP decisions which quickly operationalize key elements of the Bali Action Plan would be an achievable outcome of Cancún. Figueres said, "This means countries could agree to take accountable action to, for example, manage and deploy climate finance, boost technology transfer, build skills and capacity to do this and deal with adaptation, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable countries." The Bali Action Plan, agreed in 2007, serves as a basis for work under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA). The negotiating group is tasked to deliver a long-term global solution to the climate challenge. 

    The Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) also met in Bonn in parallel to the AWG-LCA. The focus of this group is on emissions reduction commitments for the 37 industrialized countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol for the period beyond 2012. The chair of the Kyoto Protocol negotiating track, John Ashe, produced a draft proposal text which governments will be able to consider between now and the next UNFCCC negotiating session in October. That text includes a possible set of draft decisions for Cancún, including impacts of agriculture on emissions, carbon markets and mechanisms, greenhouse gases, and the effects on different countries of moving to a low-emissions future.

    The UNFCCC Executive Secretary warned that many countries had reinserted established positions into the texts, increasing the number of options for action. She said, "To achieve desired outcomes in Cancún, governments must radically narrow down the choices on the table." She called on governments to agree further compromises at all levels between now and the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún (November 29 to December 10). Significant opportunities for this are the high-level meetings which are scheduled in Geneva and New York in September, followed by the next UNFCCC negotiating session in Tianjin, China (October 4 to 9).

    Figueres said, "This week has given governments a final opportunity to be clear on their individual stances. Tianjin has to be the place where they make clear what their collective stance is going to be." She also said, "Progress at Cancún would also include a mandate to take the process inexorably forward towards an encompassing agreement with legally binding status, which would take more time."

    Despite the somewhat optimistic report from Secretary Figueres, the UK Guardian reports that, "Global climate talks have sunk to a new low after China and the US clashed and rich countries lined up against poor in a refusal to compromise on emission reduction targets. With just six days' negotiating time left before a critical meeting in Cancun, Mexico, some diplomats fear that the fragile deal struck in Copenhagen last December could unravel. Rather than slim down the negotiating text to allow politicians to make choices at Cancun, the US, China and many developing countries all added pages to draft texts in a series of tit-for-tat moves that critics said had sent the talks backwards after a week of meetings."

    The Guardian also reported that Jonathan Pershing, the lead US negotiator at meeting in Bonn said the U.S. failure to put in place domestic legislation that would commit it to reaching its target cuts was not a problem. He said, "The US stands by its commitments. We are not backing away from legislation. We have multiple tools at our disposal" for cutting emissions. . . Events outside [such as the Russian heatwave and the Pakistan floods] are consistent with what we can expect from climate change . . .But I am very concerned that some countries are walking backwards in the progress made since Copenhagen. If we continue to go down this road, there is no hope of an agreement in Cancun. All parties are stepping back."

    In a related matter, on August 6, a University of Delaware researcher reports that an "ice island" four times the size of Manhattan has calved from Greenland's Petermann Glacier. The last time the Arctic lost such a large chunk of ice was in 1962.  Andreas Muenchow, associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. Muenchow's research in Nares Strait, between Greenland and Canada. Satellite imagery of this remote area about 620 miles south of the North Pole, reveals that Petermann Glacier lost about one-quarter of its 43-mile long floating ice-shelf. Muenchow said, "The freshwater stored in this ice island could keep the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than two years. It could also keep all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days."

    On August 7, Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming issued a statement on the report of the "giant ice island" comes following the warmest six months on record. Markey said, "An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, creating plenty of room for global warming deniers to start their own country. So far, 2010 has been the hottest year on record, and scientists agree arctic ice is a canary in a coal mine that provides clear warnings on climate. Last summer, the House passed landmark legislation to create clean energy jobs that cut carbon pollution. However, it's still unclear how many giant blocks of ice it will take to break the block of Republican climate deniers in the U.S. Senate who continue hold this critical clean energy and climate legislation hostage."

        Access a release from UNFCCC (click here). Access the speaking notes of Secretary Figueres at the Bonn closing day press briefing (click here). Access the UNFCCC website for links to documents and more information (click here). Access the Guardian article (click here). Access a report from the University of Delaware with links to more information (click here). Access a release from Rep. Markey (click here).