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Climate talks inch ahead toward modest deals
Question of the Day
_Taking voluntary pledges of emissions controls made under the Copenhagen Accord by the U.S., China and other nations, and “anchoring” them in a Cancun document, giving them more formal U.N. status.
_Agreeing on methods for monitoring and verifying that developing nations are fulfilling those voluntary pledges.
U.N. officials had described these secondary items as “building blocks” to restore momentum to the U.N. process after the failure of last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, to produce a long-anticipated global emissions-cutting pact.
In the 1992 U.N. climate treaty, the world’s nations promised to do their best to rein in carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases emitted by industry, transportation and agriculture. In the two decades since, the annual conferences’ only big advance came in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, when parties agreed on modest mandatory reductions by richer nations.
But the U.S., alone in the industrial world, rejected the Kyoto Protocol, complaining it would hurt its economy and that such emerging economies as China and India should have taken on emissions obligations.
Since then China has replaced the U.S. as the world’s biggest emitter, but it has resisted calls that it assume legally binding commitments _ not to lower its emissions, but to restrain their growth.
Here at Cancun such issues came to a head, as Japan and Russia fought pressure to acknowledge in a final decision that they will commit to a second period of emissions reductions under Kyoto, whose current targets expire in 2012.
The Japanese complained that with the rise of China, India, Brazil and others, the 37 Kyoto industrial nations now account for only 27 percent of global greenhouse emissions. They want a new, legally binding pact obligating the U.S., China and other major emitters.
The upcoming takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives by the Republicans, many of whom dismiss strong scientific evidence of human-caused warming, rules out any carbon-capping legislation for at least two years, however.
While the decades-long talks stumble along, climate change moves ahead.
The atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide now stands at about 390 parts per million, up from 280 ppm before the industrial age. Scientists project average global temperatures, which rose 0.7 degrees C (1.3 degrees Fahrenheit) in the 20th century, will jump by as much as 6.4 degrees C (11.5 degrees F) by 2100 if too little is done.
The U.N. Environment Program estimates the voluntary Copenhagen pledges, even if fulfilled, would go only 60 percent of the way toward keeping the temperature rise below a dangerous 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above preindustrial levels.
Oceans are rising at twice the rate of the 20th century, researchers say, and Pacific islanders report they’re already losing shoreline and settlements to encroaching seas.
“It’s worrying to imagine what will happen 10 years from now at this rate,” said Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho, a spokesman for poorer nations.
“Climate change is a problem that has to be solved. There is no other way.”
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