World governments are likely to recoil from plans for an ambitious 2015 climate change deal at talks next week, concern over economic growth at least partially eclipsing scientists’ warnings of rising temperatures and water levels.
“We are in the eye of a storm,” said Yvo de Boer, United Nations climate chief in 2009 when a summit in Copenhagen ended without agreement. After Copenhagen, nations targeted a 2015 deal to enter into force from 2020 with the goal of averting more floods, heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels.
The outline of a more modest 2015 deal, to be discussed at annual U.N. climate talks in Warsaw on November11-22, is emerging that will not halt a creeping rise in temperatures but might be a guide for tougher measures in later years.
Since 2009, scientists’ warnings have become more strident and new factors have emerged, sometimes dampening the impact of their message that human activity is driving warming.
The U.S. shale boom helped push U.S. carbon emissions to an 18-year low last year, for instance; but it also shifted cheap coal into Europe where it was used in power stations.
Despite repeated promises to tackle the problem, developed nations have been preoccupied with spurring sluggish growth. And recession has itself braked emissions from factories, power plants and cars, a phenomenon that may prove short-lived.
Emerging economies such as China and India, heavily reliant on cheap, high-polluting coal to end poverty, are reluctant to take the lead despite rising emissions and pollution that are choking cities.
“Our concern is urgency” in tackling climate change, said Marlene Moses of Nauru, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States whose members fear they will be swamped by rising sea levels. “Vague promises will no longer suffice.”
She wants progress when senior officials and environment ministers from almost 200 nations meet in Warsaw to discuss the 2015 deal, as well as climate aid to poor nations and ways to compensate them for loss and damage from global warming.
Yet many governments, especially in Europe, are concerned that climate policies, such as generous support schemes for solar energy, push up consumer energy bills.
Some want to emulate the success of the United States in bringing down energy prices via shale gas – a fossil fuel that can help cut greenhouse emissions if it replaces coal but at the same time can divert investments from cleaner energy.
PATCHWORK OF PLEDGES
Many Warsaw delegates say the 2015 accord looks likely to be a patchwork of national pledges for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, anchored in domestic legislation, after Copenhagen failed to agree a sweeping treaty built on international law.
The less ambitious model is a shift from the existing Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997. That set a central target for emissions cuts by industrialized countries and then shared them out among about 40 nations.
But Kyoto has not worked well, partly because the United States did not join, objecting that the treaty would cost U.S. jobs and set no targets for big emerging nations. Russia, Canada and Japan have since dropped out.