Durban, South Africa: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, ‘…told delegates that failure to agree after 16 days of work would be an unsustainable setback for international efforts to control greenhouse gases’


From the Associated Press (Arthur Max) via Bloomberg Business Week:

South Africa’s foreign minister and chairman of the 194-party conference, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, told delegates that failure to agree after 16 days of work would be an unsustainable setback for international efforts to control greenhouse gases.

“This multilateral system remains fragile and will not survive another shock,” she told a full meeting of the conference, which had been delayed more than 24 hours while ministers and senior negotiators labored over words and nuances.

Nkoana-Mashabane said the package of four documents, which were being printed as she spoke, were an imperfect compromise, but they reflected years of negotiations on issues that had plagued the U.N. climate efforts.

The 100-plus pages would give new life to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose carbon emissions targets expire next year and apply only to industrial countries. A separate document calls on major emitting nations like China and India, excluded under Kyoto, to accept legally binding emissions targets in the future.

After her brief address, Nkoana-Mashabane adjourned the session. The documents were to be discussed and put up for approval later Saturday. The convention operates by consensus, and the package will not be put up for a vote.


More coverage from Louise Gray writing for The Telegraph. From the article:

At the end of the gruelling talks the world decided on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”. The two-page document commits all countries to cutting carbon for the first time. A “road map” will guide countries towards a legal deal to cut carbon in 2015, but it will only come into affect after 2020.

Is this a step forwards for the world or backwards?

It depends who you ask. It is a success in terms of keeping the climate change talks on track after it was feared no decision would be reached, making a mockery of the UN process – especially after the collapse of the last high profile talks in Copenhagen in 2009. The EU, who led calls for the so-called “road map” are hailing it as “an historic breakthrough”. The bloc point out that this is the first time that the world’s three biggest emitters: The US, China and India have signed up to a legal treaty to cut carbon.

However it is a failure in terms of the expectations of certain countries, like the small island states, and the charities, who wanted a much stronger agreement. They argue that the legal language needs to be a lot stronger to force countries to act and dates should be brought forward to stop global warming. They point out that carbon emissions will have to peak by 2020 and start to come down for the world to limit temperature rise to 2C.

What about the Kyoto Protocol?

The EU and a few other developed countries have signed up to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, that ends in 2013. This will ensure that there is still some form of legally binding treaty to cut carbon in place in the interim eight years before the new agreement comes into force at the end of 2020. However most of the developing world and the US remain in voluntary agreements to cut carbon until 2020.

Meanwhile, Dr. James Hansen is warning the the 2 degree celsius target is not enough to head off the disaster of anthropogenic climate change. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

“Limiting human-caused warming to 2 degrees is not sufficient,” Hansen said. “It would be a prescription for disaster … Humans have overwhelmed the natural, slow changes that occur on geologic timescales,” Hansen said. Hansen, along with co-author Makiko Sato, studied how Earth’s climate responded to past natural changes to try and answer one of the fundamental climate science questions: “What is the dangerous level of global warming?”[…]

Based on Hansen’s temperature analysis work at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Earth’s average global surface temperature has already risen .8 degrees Celsius since 1880, and is now warming at a rate of more than .1 degree Celsius every decade. This warming is largely driven by increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, particularly carbon dioxide, emitted by the burning of fossil fuels at power plants, in cars and in industry…

Hansen and Sato compared the climate of today, the Holocene, with previous similar “interglacial” epochs – periods when polar ice caps existed but the world was not dominated by glaciers. Studying cores drilled from both ice sheets and deep ocean sediments, Hansen found that global mean temperatures during the Eemian period, which began about 130,000 years ago and lasted about 15,000 years, were less than 1 degree Celsius warmer than today. If temperatures were to rise 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times, global mean temperature would far exceed that of the Eemian, when sea level was four to six meters higher than today, Hansen said…

Two degrees Celsius of warming would make Earth much warmer than during the Eemian, and would move Earth closer to Pliocene-like conditions, when sea level was in the range of 25 meters higher than today, Hansen said. In using Earth’s climate history to learn more about the level of sensitivity that governs our planet’s response to warming today,

Hansen said the paleoclimate record suggests that every degree Celsius of global temperature rise will ultimately equate to 20 meters of sea level rise. However, that sea level increase due to ice sheet loss would be expected to occur over centuries, and large uncertainties remain in predicting how that ice loss would unfold.

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