TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Sept07/03)

27 September 2007

Below please find an article by IPS news agency on the UN high-level event on climate change held on 24 Sept 2007 in New York.

With best wishes
Martin Khor

"Fifteen years and C02 still rising"
Published in SUNS #6331 dated 26 September 2007

New York, 24 Sep (IPS/Haider Rizvi) -- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the industrialised countries to task here Monday for their failure to take drastic actions against climate change.

"Fifteen years have passed since the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was finalised," he told an international gathering of heads of state. "Yet, the industrialised country emissions are (still) rising."

Noting that their per capita level of carbon emissions remains "unacceptably high", he urged industrialised nations to assume an "enhanced" leadership role in tackling climate change and to support poor countries in expanding the use of clean energy.

Ban, who sees climate change as "a serious threat to development", convened the meeting of the heads of state Monday amid hopes that it might help produce meaningful results at the next round of global talks on a climate change agreement in Bali, Indonesia, due in December.

Not surprisingly, US President George W. Bush decided not to attend the one-day conference, although his country is known to be the largest polluter of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.

In criticising industrialised nations for their relative inaction on emission cuts, Ban did not specifically mention the US role, but in a veiled reference to Washington's isolationist approach and its reluctance to join global efforts, he did express his sense of disapproval.

"Given the nature and magnitude of the challenge, national action is insufficient," Ban said. "No nation can address this challenge alone. No region can insulate itself from climate change."

Parallel to the UN process, the Bush administration is hosting a separate meeting of the industrialised countries in Washington later this week, an initiative that has not been warmly welcomed by the developing countries.

Many developing countries hold that the fight against climate change requires a global framework that could guarantee the highest level of international cooperation.

Ban's position seems much closer to this view. "This (climate change) is precisely the kind of challenge that the UN is best suited to address," Ban told participants at Monday's meeting. "The UN is the appropriate forum for negotiating global action."

Despite their close ties with the United States, the industrialised nations of Europe have been trying hard to engage Washington in negotiations on a comprehensive global agreement that might emerge as a result of the Bali conference.

"We already have taken action, but we have to do more," said Jose Manuel Barrosso, president of the European Union (EU), regarding measures to mitigate the rise of global temperatures.

At the high-level meeting, Barrosso also said that the EU was willing to reduce its share of carbon emissions to at least 20% by 1990 levels by the year 2020, adding that the region might go for further cuts "if there is a fair and effective global agreement for the post-2012 period when the Kyoto Protocol expires."

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC currently requires member countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 to an average of 5% below 1990 levels.

Last month, a UN meeting in Vienna focused on talks to advance the Kyoto agreement, but failed to produce any concrete results in the wake of industrialised nations' reluctance to agree to strict 2020 guidelines for greenhouse gas cuts.

At the meeting, a draft text dropped a demand from the developing countries that developed nations should be "guided" by a need for deep cuts in greenhouse gases of 25% to 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 in the long-term efforts to combat global warming.

Civil society groups that have observed international negotiations on climate change very closely say that rich countries must heed Ban's call for an urgent political response to the problem.

"Climate change is increasing poverty and vulnerability among poor people who are least responsible for the problem and least able to bear its effects," the London-based anti-poverty group Oxfam International said in a statement Monday, adding that the measures needed to tackle climate change must be both "adequate and fair" to the world's poorest people.

Citing the widespread scientific consensus that the ramifications of global warming reaching above 2 degrees Centigrade will be catastrophic, particularly for poorer countries, the group urged rich countries to make sharp and binding carbon reductions in a post-2012 deal.

"The significance of this meeting is that all countries are at the table, including developing countries that are in the front-line of climate change," said Greg Puley, head of Oxfam's New York office.

"Rich countries must lead the way for a global binding deal at the UN on emissions reductions. They can build trust by providing the kind of support that the world's poorest people need to prepare for the damaging impacts of climate change - at least $50 billion or more a year," he said.

"Rich countries have come up extremely short in providing finance for adaptation, despite being most responsible for the problem. Current pledges are less than 1% of what's needed. At this meeting, they could start to set that right and make adaptation a central part of a future deal," said Puley.

Greenpeace International, the influential environmental group, also made similar calls at the end of the one-day conference on climate change.

"Sober scientists and economists are raising alarm bells that can be ignored only at great peril to us all," said Greenpeace China campaigner Lo Sze Ping in a statement. "Governments must not be diverted by rhetoric and posturing such as the upcoming major emitters' meeting in Washington. Kyoto: Just do it."

Greenpeace and many other environmental groups want governments in the industrialised world to agree to a Bali mandate by introducing drastic cuts in emissions, helping poor countries to be part of the Kyoto system, and pay for the impacts of climate change in the developing world.

Just two days before the high-level conference, both the scientist who is leading UN researchers on climate change and the head of the UNFCCC warned the world community of disastrous consequences if it failed to take immediate actions now.

"The people in Bali have to be very, very clear about their options. It's time for action," Rajendra Pauchuri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told IPS at a news conference last weekend.

"The breakthrough at Bali is essential. It must provide political answers to what IPCC is asking for," added Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. +