TH!NK: How High Is The Sky?

The big question at the United Nations climate change talks in Tianjin is how high should global temperature be allowed to rise? The Copenhagen accord, which was put forward by Brazil, China, India, South Africa and the United States at the end of last December’s UN conference, recognised “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2C”. (Guardian, 5 Oct).

However, possible goals of one, one and a half or two degrees Celsius are all being offered in the latest negotiating text and there is still no agreement. Nicola Ranger and Alex Bowen, writing for the Guardian, warn that a 1 degree rise since the 19th Century is almost imminent and that an increase to one and a half degrees is practically certain.

They go on to say that a “warming of 2C could cause localised devastation in some parts of the world. Some low-lying coastal areas and islands would be lost forever to a small but significant rise in sea level, unless they are saved by the costly construction of many thousands of miles of new defences, and most of the world’s coral reefs would also die because of higher sea temperatures”.

Ed Miliband, Labour party leader and former Secretary of State for Climate Change, said that the UK government were not doing enough to confront “the greatest global threat facing our generation”. He notes that the Prime Minister “has decided not to chair the UN group on climate finance which is vital to getting to an agreement and there is no sign of any pressure on the EU or our international allies”.

The talks at Tianjin run from 4 to 9 October and are a precursor to the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010. The conference, encompasses the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP16) and is the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP)

Over a decade ago, most countries joined an international treaty – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – to begin to consider what can be done to reduce global warming and to cope with whatever temperature increases are inevitable. More recently, a number of nations approved an addition to the treaty: the Kyoto Protocol, which has more powerful (and legally binding) measures.

In 2012 the only global deal for limiting greenhouse gas emissions – the Kyoto protocol – expires. According to George Monbiot “there is no realistic prospect that it will be replaced before it elapses: the existing treaty took five years to negotiate and a further eight years to come into force”.

The biggest obstacle is that the United States, one of the greatest greenhouse gas emitters, has not signed up to the treaty and that developed countries like Britain are failing to agree to targets which fall far short of the reductions needed to prevent more than two degrees of global warming. It doesn’t help that the US failed to pass a bill on climate change and the US Senate has a house full of climate change deniers. In a time of recession and an onslaught of cuts to public funding it may also be difficult to find the enthusiasm to sustain spending on a tragedy that will surely last beyond this current parliament.

With two months to go until COP16 and two years for the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol we will have to hope that the countries around the world don’t just sit back and wait to see what happens.

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