The latest UN climate conference has strengthened my feeling that these mega-events are not going to lead to the emissions reductions we need to protect the polar ice and the world climate.
Typhoon Haiyan and its devasting effects on the Philippines was a fine warning of what the world could be facing if we are not able to put the brakes on climate change. The newest IPCC report provides impressive evidence of the need for swift and effective action to combat climate change. Otherwise, the world will have to cope with more frequent and severe extreme weather events, rising seas, floods and droughts. The World Bank and the UN have set the alarm bells ringing. We have to reduce emissions by around 85% by 2050 to keep global temperature rise to the two-degree Celsius limit. The International Energy Agency says that would mean leaving 80% of our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.
Climate sinners hosting
Unfortunately the track laid out for the conference in Poland was heading in another direction from the start. Fossil energy providers and huge energy consumers like the steel and car industry were sponsoring the event. The host country Poland is and plans to remain a coal country. So far, Warsaw has blocked more ambitious emissions targets in the EU. The fact that a coal summit was held in Poland during the climate negotiations was clearly demonstrative – and verges on the cynical. The sacking of the Polish environment minister who was chairing the talks shows a lack of respect for the meeting and the issue of climate change itself.
Climate politics: no leadership in sight
But the failure of the conference was not just Poland’s fault. CO2 emissions are continuing to rise globally, and the conference delegates did not have much in their luggage to do anything about it. It was far too little in the way of commitment to binding emissions reductions or to creating an effective and well-funded compensation mechanism for developing countries. The poorest countries, which are already struggling to cope with unpredictable climate patterns, droughts and flooding, went home disappointed and frustrated – once again.
The EU was unable to agree on tighter emissions targets ahead of the conference. Germany, long considered a leader in the field, is currently putting the brakes on its own renewable energy revolution by shifting financial incentives. Japan, Canada and Australia, all took a step backwards. And in spite of some progress at home, the major emitters China and the USA were unlikely to make any substantial announcements.
No progress on a new climate agreement
The Warsaw conference was supposed to come up with an effective timetable to lead to a new international climate agreement, scheduled to be set up in 2015 and implemented in 2020. Instead, it seems countries are playing for time and putting off any binding commitments. The vague document agreed at the very last minute contains no firm deadline for emissions pledges – which will not be binding anyway. The window of opportunity is rapidly closing. Decades of negotiations have produced little in the way of results. Every year without a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions reduces the prospect of keeping to the “two degree” target. Existing pledges fall way short of what is required. The “business as usual” trajectory is heading for a temperature rise of at least four degrees Celsius.
Once more, the UN climate conference has shown its inability to protect the world from the dangers of rapidly progressing climate change. Aside from the annual mega-meetings, which are in danger of disintegrating into mere token events, there are still signs of hope. China, for instance, is making considerable progress on energy issues, although the country refuses to accept internationally binding targets. Climate protection has to become part of daily politics and business in industrialised and emerging countries. Politicians must be prepared to abandon short-term advantages in favour of a long-term perspective, which would guarantee the future for coming generations through a sustainable low-carbon economy. The means turning away from oil and coal, developing renewable energies, ensuring a high price for carbon and providing adequate finance to protect developing nations from climate change caused by past emissions of the industrialised world.