Saturday, September 5, 2009

Update on Climate Change Talks

Copenhagen seems headed for either collapse, or a vague postponement of the issues, but there are a few scenarios that present brighter possibilities.

The overall goal of the conference is to agree on at least a 25 % cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, with a long-term goal of 50 % by 2050 . Modeling has indicated that this is the type of cut necessary to prevent a rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius in global temperature. Such a rise might trigger chain events - i.e. a tipping point - that would lead to cataclysmic climate scenarios. Given what is going on in the Arctic, these models may already be outdated and conservative. UN chief Ban Ki-moon seems to think so.

There are rumors that the U.S. and China will enter into some kind of an climate change agreement when Obama travels to Beijing in November. This might involve technology transfers to China, so that they are not so dependent upon their coal fueled plants. I'm a bit dubious that this agreement will be followed through, if it begins - like the G20 meeting in the Spring - it might just be an occasion for a good press conference. Whether these kind of production restrictions get adhered to in a time of world recession seems unlikely, but of course, possible. Though this recession is not ending in a significant way any time soon.

In other countries: Japan's Chamber of Commerce came out against a 25 percent cut in emissions by 2020, putting pressure on the new government. Rudd's proposal in Australia faces similar opposition, and a cap and trade bill was defeated in their Senate last month. In the United States, the climate control legislation known as Waxman-Markey is being watered down and may not even face a vote. The E.U. seems more firmly committed, promising a 20 % cut regardless of what happens in Copenhagen, and a 30 % cut by 2020 if there is some agreement by other regions and nations. Obama apparently also has the option of doing an end-around Congress, and implementing policy through the EPA.

In general, the United Nations is the most respected and stable international governmental organization. These talks are really monumental, and difficult, but a failure would severely damage the credibility of this key foundation of the post-World War 2 world order.

1 World heading for climate 'abyss': UN chief - Reuters
2 US-China climate deal likely at Obama visit: Senator - Reuters
3 Great Barrier Reef Said to Face Catastrophic Damage - Bloomberg
4 Japan business lobby to oppose climate target: Paper - Reuters
5 SCENARIOS: Fate of climate change bill in Congress - Reuters
6 Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius - E.U.
7 Climate Change: Halving Carbon Dioxide Emissions By 2050 Could Stabilize Global Warming - Nature/Science Daily
8 U.N. Climate Change Homepage
9 Studies of the Arctic Suggest a Dire Situation - Time

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