The huge gulf between climate science and climate negotiations

The huge gulf between climate science and climate negotiations

By Chris Lang

The gap between climate science and climate negotiations was dramatically illustrated at the UN climate meeting in Bonn. While scientists tell us that we need big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, governments set reduction targets so low that they almost guarantee runaway climate change.

The gap between climate science and climate negotiations was dramatically illustrated at the UN climate meeting in Bonn earlier this month. While scientists tell us that we need big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, governments set reduction targets so low that they almost guarantee runaway climate change.

At a side event organized by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, scientists made a series of presentations under the title: “Emissions and the target of staying below 2 ° C - will current proposals achieve it? ”. Katje Frieler of the Potsdam Institute noted that more than 100 countries are demanding a target limiting global warming to 2 ° C or less. "How much does it take to reduce emissions to reach that goal?" He asked. The graphics he showed were scary. If emissions continued as before, the increase in temperature would range between 3 ° C and 8 ° C by 2100. But the important figure was 1 trillion tons of CO2. That is the total amount of emissions that we can produce between 2000 and 2050 so that the possibility of exceeding 2 ° C does not exceed 25 percent. The bad news is that we already broadcast a third of that number in the last nine years.

Joeri Rogelj showed that the situation was even worse. It looked at the emission reduction targets that countries are currently setting and concluded that, if they meet these targets, it is “practically certain that we will exceed 2 ° C”, with average CO2 concentrations of more than 700 parts per million by 2100 .

Bill Hare, from the Potsdam Institute and Climate Analytics, summarized the implications of the findings that were published in the journal Nature on April 30, 2009. As he said, “Between 2009 and 2050 we can burn less than a quarter of the reserves of fossil fuel available and economically recoverable ”.

As George Monbiot noted, “The test of the commitment of all governments to stop the climate crisis is this: if they are willing to impose a limit on the use of already discovered [fossil fuel] reserves and a permanent moratorium on prospecting for new ones. reservations, good. If they aren't, it's all just talk. "

The urgency revealed by the Potsdam Institute presentations was not reflected in the Bonn negotiations. None of the government delegations present spoke of imposing any limits on the use of fossil fuels. The ad hoc Working Group on the Convention's Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWGLCA) ended up presenting a 200-page negotiating draft, which is almost four times longer than the draft drafted before the meeting. The ad hoc Working Group of the Kyoto Protocol was unable to reach any agreement on emission reduction targets beyond 2012. In other words, it was mere talk.

In addition to stopping the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, we must also stop deforestation. But in Bonn there was little progress in discussions about reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). In an informal plenary session, Michael Zammit Cutajar, president of the AWGLCA, spoke at length on parentheses and brackets. He spoke of "the lack of perfection of the brackets" and something he called "mental parentheses."

At an AWGLCA meeting on REDD that took place during the second week of talks, the dominant impression was that someone had dreamed of REDD the night before, after a glass or two of beer. For 90 minutes, delegates chatted about REDD as if they had never touched on the subject before. Other AWGLCA discussions were devilishly complex, on issues like REDD plus; REDD and NAMA; REDD and LULUCF; REDD and MRV; REDD and the CBD; REDD and the UNDRIP; REDD and carbon trading; REDD and offsets; and REDD and carbon accounting. What all this means is irrelevant, as virtually no agreement was reached.

But while official negotiations on REDD are drowning in a soup of acronyms, organizations like The Nature Conservancy (TNC) are racing through their own versions of REDD. During a side event in Bonn, TNC's Sarene Marshall described the Berau REDD Pilot Program, which covers an area of ​​2.2 million hectares in East Kalimantan. Of this area, 780,000 hectares would be cut down. As Marshall's presentation assured us, it would be a “certified low-impact logging”. The project would then "sell 'credits' for reductions to voluntary buyers in the carbon market."

Here we have two serious problems. First, logging will produce large amounts of emissions. Comparing these emissions to what could have happened with more destructive logging is fraudulent. A new report from Global Witness, “Interests Created - Industrial Logging and Carbon in Rainforests,” documents how low-impact logging “kills between 5 and 10 unanticipated trees for each target tree felled, and releases between 10 and 80 tons of carbon per hectare. " Furthermore, exploitation also makes forests more vulnerable to further deforestation and fire. "During the El Niño events in the late 1990s, 60% of the logged forests of Borneo went up in smoke, compared to 6% of the primary forest," notes Global Witness.

The second problem is that we need to reduce emissions from fossil fuel burning as well as stop deforestation, especially industrial-scale logging of primary forests. We cannot compensate one thing with the other. "In practice, carbon offsetting is having a disastrous effect on the chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change," writes Friends of the Earth in a new report on the offset system. "Compensations should not be expanded in Copenhagen. The proposed new compensation mechanisms should not be included in the negotiations and existing compensation mechanisms should be eliminated. ”

The most remarkable slide in Sarene Marshall's presentation on the Berau project was titled “REDD Berau - Structure of Phase 1” and it summarized the money transfers. An arrow with three dollar symbols goes from “Fund Providers” to “Logging Concessions”. A trust fund and a project management unit will be created. Under the words “REDD Activities” there are three boxes called: “Logging Concessions”, “Oil Palm” and “Protection Forests”. Underneath is the word "Compensations." A box includes the words "Local Government, National Government, Civil Society, etc." and two others say "Government" and "Communities". None of these seem to have any role in monitoring money flows, or much else. Marshall's slide shows the political and financial infrastructure to be established by TNC, a US-based NGO that, to my knowledge, has not been elected to govern this area of ​​Kalimantan. This is not democracy, it is carbocracy.

Chris lang, published by

Global Witness, "Vested interests - Industrial logging and carbon in tropical forests."

Friends of the Earth / Amigos de la Tierra, “Offsetting: A dangerous distraction”.

Video: Why climate change negotiations fail - An international relations perspective (May 2021).