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Balm to help ease way to climate change deal before G8?

[Senegal] Drought. FAO
Droughts are becoming more frequent and intense as a result of global warming

Experts under the leadership of former UK prime minister Tony Blair have prepared a report described as a "useful balm applied at the right moment to tense muscles" in an attempt to crack a global deal on climate change in international talks ahead of the upcoming G8 summit in Japan, according to a global warming policy analyst.

"It is sending a soothing message: 'don't make target-setting a make-or-break issue in the talks, as action to cut emissions is more important'," said Andrew Pendleton, a senior research fellow with the Institute for Public Policy Research, a UK-based think-tank.

"Cutting emissions will cost money, but may not cost as much as is thought - perhaps less than the current oil-price spike, for instance. Developing countries have to be involved, but this is also where emission cuts are cheapest. In this respect it [the report] is useful and important."

Blair presented his solution in Breaking the Climate Deadlock: A Global Deal for our Low Carbon Future - prepared by the Climate Group, a non-profit organisation working to advance government and business leadership on climate change - to Yasuo Fukuda, the G8 leader and Japanese Prime Minister, last week. The G8 leaders meet in Japan next week, and climate change will be one of the main issues up for discussion.

The last big United Nations meeting, in the Indonesian island of Bali in December 2007, looked at the future of the Kyoto Protocol, a commitment made by developed countries in 1997 to cut their discharge of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and also to help poor countries cut theirs. The meeting was riddled with disputes, mostly between the developed and developing countries. The first commitment phase of the Protocol ends in 2012.

The disputes in Bali were mostly over targets: whether growing economies such as China and India, among the world's biggest emitters of dangerous gases, should also make mandatory cuts, when the US, the world's largest emitter, has refused to endorse the Protocol; who should pay, and how funds should be made available to help poor countries with technology and capacity to adapt and reduce their emissions.

Harald Winkler, one of the main authors of reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the World Meteorological Organisation and the UN Environment Programme, said the significance of this report was that it came from Blair: "and what would really make a difference is if he could use his 'special relationship' with George Bush to shift the US out of its anti-Kyoto stance".
The Blair report makes some useful suggestions on "how to address the current 'I won't if you don't' mentality in UN negotiations," said Pendleton. 

"The bigger developing nations are understandably reluctant to make commitments, at least until they have convincing evidence that the developed nations have set themselves on a low-carbon pathway and are prepared to offer substantial financial incentives for global decarbonisation," he pointed out.

"For instance, the report suggests that developing nations, rather than take on binding reduction targets, could produce action plans in which they detail how reductions might be achieved. These initiatives and investments could then be supported by finance from developed countries." 

''I believe the G8 countries should lead with reductions of 80 percent to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050... the mid-term target for developed countries of a 25 to 40 percent cut by 2020 should remain, with some developing countries also agreeing to cuts by 2020, and all countries agreeing to these cuts by 2050''
The world has until the December 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen, when a new post-2012 agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions is expected to be approved.

"Time is running out," warned Regine Günther, Director of the Climate Change Programme run by The Wasmoeth Wildlife Foundation (TWWF), a German environmental non-governmental organisation (NGO). "We have 10 to 15 years left, in which the global emissions have to peak and decline. The world is at a crossroads, where decisive action now could translate into economic success."

None of the leading industrialised nations are on target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid the threshold level for unacceptable risk of catastrophic climate change, according to new research into national policies and performance, released on 3 July by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), an international conservation NGO.

WWF and Allianz, an international financial services provider, have commissioned a climate consultancy, Ecofys, to compile annual G8 Climate Scorecards on emissions compliance. According to the 2008 assessment, the use of coal is still a major problem. The US and Canada were the worst performers, while the UK, France and Germany were top performers.

"The problem today is not one of political will; the political dilemma is not 'whether', but 'how'. There are good grounds for making this assumption. The attitude of countries like China and India is no longer, 'you, the wealthy, created this challenge; you can solve it'. They know climate change is 'our' problem, not 'yours'," Blair noted at the release of the report.

Pendleton said it was probably the other way around, with a lack of political will and plenty of "hows". "Plenty, if not all of the 'hows', are already understood," he commented.

"For instance, there are some very easy, under-exploited opportunities for societies to be more energy efficient, but because there is a lack of political will - or perhaps 'political space' is a better way of putting it - to come to an agreement, which is intensified by high food and oil prices, even many of these easy opportunities to act are not being taken up."

Don't get fixed on targets

The IPCC has suggested cuts of between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 to avoid a 2°Celsius increase in global temperature, which is expected to destroy 30 to 40 percent of all known species, generate bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, and more intense weather events like floods and cyclones.

At the release of Breaking the Climate Deadlock, Blair pointed out that there was a big debate over greenhouse gas emission cuts, which is why it was better to decide on an interim target in 2009, because there was a big difference between 25 percent and 40 percent.

"Some will say that to have a reasonable chance of constraining warming to approximately 2°C, we need greenhouse gas concentration to peak at 500 parts per million by volume (ppmv); some at 450 ppmv; some even less. Some insist that 2020 is the latest peaking moment we can permit, beyond which damage to the climate will become irreversible; some, though generally not in the scientific community, say 2025 or even 2030 may be permissible."

At the last G8 summit the rich countries agreed to consider a global 2050 target of at least a 50 percent cut in emissions compared to 1990 levels. "This date is decades away, and decades beyond the political life of any government," said Blair.

"The key challenge is to describe a realistic pathway to it. That implies shorter-term goals, but these are immensely demanding, asking developed economies to move from growth in emissions to significant cuts within 10 to 15 years."

Winkler, who is also an associate professor at the Energy Research Centre of the University of Cape Town, said the G8 + 5 (the industrialised nations plus China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa) meeting would again consider a long-term global goal for emission reductions of at least 50 percent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. 

But, "within that, I believe the G8 countries should lead with reductions of 80 percent to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050."  According to Winkler, the mid-term target for developed countries of a 25 to 40 percent cut by 2020 should remain, with some developing countries also agreeing to cuts by 2020, and all countries agreeing to these cuts by 2050.

"It seems very clear now that developing countries, including South Africa, are willing to sign up to this as a package ... but that depends on financial and technology transfer, very clearly spelt out in Bali," he said. "The problem lies with the US and Japan, who are unwilling to take on credible mid-term targets."

These challenges can be met, said Blair's report, which proposed a special focus on energy efficiency, and called for rich countries to invest in technology to help developing countries.

"The vast majority of new power stations in China and India will be coal-fired; not 'may be coal-fired', 'will be'. So developing carbon capture and storage technology is not optional, it is literally of the essence," said Blair. He noted that some countries would have to engage in a "substantial renaissance of nuclear power", to make any global deal on climate change work.

Breaking the Climate Deadlock calls for special attention to deforestation, which accounts for 15 to 20 percent of emissions, and to sectors such as cement, steel and, of course, power, which account for almost half of all emissions.


Pendleton said Blair's report also provided value in discussions on how funding for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries might be raised. "It considers three options: auctioning a proportion of emissions permits, taxing emissions, and increasing overseas development assistance," he noted.

"The first two of these are the most useful and feasible, as they offer developing countries the prospect of a guaranteed quantity of money over time, rather than volatile voluntary aid, which tends to wax and wane according to political will."

Photo: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN
Poor and vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh need funds to adapt
Blair proposes a Global Adaptation Framework that would include developing country governments, UN agencies and NGOs to help draw up a plan on how to respond in "real time to real needs", which are indentified in national adaptation plans of action, and devise ways to come up with a global insurance plan and micro-insurance schemes.
Pendleton was not wholly convinced that the idea would be feasible. "Certainly, there needs to be very good and clear plans of action from countries - an exercise least developed countries have already gone through, although probably not to the required depth - and there needs to be timely and additional financing to underwrite these plans, and also a very good mechanism to link the two," he said.

"But this might be best put in the hands of people in countries, through monitoring on the ground - there have been some very good examples in the spending of money freed up through debt cancellation, for instance - rather than through a donor-heavy, top-down mechanism."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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