Rhein on Energy and Climate

In the 21st century the international community will increasingly have to cope with issues going beyond the scope of individual or groups of states.

These issues should be dealt with by UN; but the UN is handicapped by the absence of a proper political authority and the consensus required for all decisions.

In 2015, the international community will be bluntly tested on its ability to take long overdue decisions and implement these if it wants to successfully fight climate change. So far it has failed in its endeavours to fix clear objectives, let alone a fair burden sharing among the 195 countries of the international community. These have not been able to understand the urgency of finding an effective solution. For the last two decades that climate change has been on the international agenda no country really has felt responsible. This might go on indefinitely until climate change may have reached dimensions for effective action to come too late.

The 21st international climate conference (COP 21) to take place in Paris December 2015 will be the crucial test for the international community to start taking necessary action to avoid dramatic consequences for mankind.

Climate change is a particularly complex issue for the international community to decide and deliver.

Only some 20 countries are responsible for having damaged the global climate by emitting rising amounts of green house gases or destroying tropical forests. It would be enough for these countries to agree on taking concrete action to reduce their emissions by 80 per cent until 2050.

But the UN Secretary General, the authority competent to propose such a solution, does not dare to take an initiative. He is only too well aware that 180 mostly poor countries affected by but so far hardly responsible for climate change want exploit their numerical force to extract financial “concessions” from the “developed” countries that have been so far largely responsible for the accumulation of green house gases in the atmosphere.

The prospect of reducing the negotiation format in Paris to the core emitter countries is therefore highly unlikely.

The international community should therefore focus on quantifying global and individual objectives and actions for reducing emissions.

So far it has done no more than “agree” that the average global temperature should not rise by more than two centigrade above the pre-industrial levels at the end of the 19th century. The average temperature today is only about 0.9 centigrade higher than in1870. This might reassure many people. But the rise of temperature has kept accelerating in the last two decades. This trend is most likely to continue unabated as long as green house gas emissions continue to rise.

Humanity therefore better speed up its efforts to reduce emissions. To that end, it needs to define the correlation between temperature and the volume of green house gas emissions. Climatologists have done so by introducing the notion of “climate budget”, the volume of emissions the earth can support without devastating consequences. According to their findings Humanity has spent already about two thirds of its 1000 GT climate budget.

Distributing the remaining 350 GT among 200 countries and surveying their future emissions should therefore be the decisive step to be taken before and after the Paris Climate Conference next December.

These must be quantified. To that end, the climatologists from different parts of the earth having worked on climate budget should propose before the end of April the optimal path for reducing global emissions and its distribution among countries, in conformity with the “principle of common but differentiated responsibility and capability” in order to enable the “Working Group on the Durban Platform for Advanced Action” to prepare its draft text as agreed in Lima.

Most probably the time will be too short to introduce this change which would make negotiations substantive and lead to a meaningful agreement, as demanded by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the COP 20 in Lima.

The failure of the first week of post-Lima negotiations in Bonn appears to confirm this pessimistic view.

To avoid this from happening Ban Ki-oom, assisted by the French host, must focus all its energy on the preparation of a meaningful text with substantive “contributions” annexed and announce that the plenary meeting in Paris will be deferred as long as the parties have not agreed to a succinct and credible document. The failure of the first post-Lima talks in Bonn early January, with Japan coming forward with ridiculous small contributions, proves the dire need for such an approach.

Brussels 15.01.2010 Eberhard Rhein


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