Copenhagen Climate Change Talks Stall as CO2 Emissions Rise

By Spotts, Peter N | The Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 2009 | Go to article overview

Copenhagen Climate Change Talks Stall as CO2 Emissions Rise


Spotts, Peter N, The Christian Science Monitor


Even as the Copenhagen climate change negotiations have moved into the slow lane, greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating, according to new evidence released today.

Negotiators at a preparatory meeting for the December climate summit said on Tuesday that firm commitments from the US and other industrial heavyweights to curb greenhouse gas emissions at the meeting are now looking unlikely. A binding global treaty on emissions was the initial aim of the conference.

Meanwhile, The Global Carbon Project, an international group of climate scientists, released research on Tuesday that found carbon- dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants, factories, tree-felling and other human activities grew by 29 percent between 2000 and 2008 - a period in which leaders of major industrialized nations took the first fledgling steps to reduce their own emissions and make an international climate treaty work.

The Kyoto Protocol on combating climate change was passed in 1997 by over 180 nations with the intent of reducing global carbon emissions to a 1990 baseline. But in the intervening 12 years emissions have continued to rise, as country's have been unwilling to take the economic hits that reduced emissions are likely to require.

Political leaders are now looking to the US and President Barack Obama to take the lead on climate change, since the US is the second- largest carbon emitter after China. But legislation to curb US emissions is currently stalled in Congress, a factor that also makes broad success in Copenhagen less likely. Also uncertain is aid from the developed world to help poorer countries offset the economic hardships of converting to cleaner power sources.

"We still need more movement," said UN Climate Change head Yvo de Boer in Denmark on Tuesday. "Industrialized countries must raise their targets and financial commitments further... I look to the United States for a numerical mid-term target."

In recent weeks leaders in key countries have signalled that no one should look for a treaty to be approved in Copenhagen next month - a clear hope coming out of global climate talks in Bali in December 2007.

On Sunday Denmark's Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen suggested that countries aim for a more limited political agreement on reducing emissions and building a financial-aid regime for developing countries, with a legally-binding treaty put off until high-level talks in December 2010 in Mexico City. The UN's Mr. de Boer has said he prefers to see a legal document ready for approval in Bonn sometime in mid-2010.

Emissions up in recession

Despite the global economic slowdown last year, emissions rose 2 percent in 2008. The Global Carbon Project estimates that 2009's deep economic contraction trimmed global emissions by nearly 3 percent, but that short term dip is expected to reverse once recovery takes hold.

Noting that population growth and efforts to improve the standard of living in developing countries are among the underlying forces driving rising emissions, the need to cut CO2 emissions "is a very urgent task," says Taro Takahashi, a researcher at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and one of the study's authors.

The question mark looming over the Copenhagen meeting has been the willingness of industrial nations to cap the increase in global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

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Copenhagen Climate Change Talks Stall as CO2 Emissions Rise
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