Thursday, December 15, 2011

Durban in the End

More than 10,000 ministers, officials, activists and scientists from 194 countries met in Durban in what has become an annual ritual. Durban, the 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP17) to be held since the United Nations' first began to coordinate an attempt to control global warming, has concluded with little results. The Conference of the Parties’ stated goal is to prevent temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. They are trying to achieve this goal by reducing CO2 emissions through a treaty to expand and extend the Koyoto Protocol and to tax all the developed nations to pay for climate impacts on poorer nations through the Green Fund for climate assistance.

Since 1990 global CO2 emissions have gone from 21 billion tons of CO2 to 29 billion tons of CO2 in 2009 according to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Global emissions of CO2 increased 38% despite a 14.7% decrease below their 1990 level for the Kyoto Participants and the United States increased of only 6.7% above 1990 levels from 4.9 billion tons of CO2 to 5.2 billion tons of CO2. The bulk of the increase has come from China, Africa, Middle East, India and the rest of Asia. The United States and 35 Kyoto participants represent less than half the world CO2 emissions and that is shrinking every year.

In Durban, governments including China and the United States agreed to negotiate an “agreed outcome with legal force” as soon as possible, but not later than 2015 and this agreement is to take effect not later than 2020. Work will begin on this immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. In addition governments pledged to contribute start-up costs of the Green Climate Fund, to support developing nations, as agreed last year in Cancun, Mexico, and to have more meetings. UNFCCC Climate Change Conference, COP 18/ CMP 8, is to take place 26 November to 7 December 2012 in Qatar. They agreed to keep talking and negotiating, but the movement seems to have lost momentum. The US and Europe are barely relevant in the conversation, China, India, Latin America, and the Middle East are now the engines of growth in CO2 emissions.

The 35 nations participating in Kyoto agreed a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol beginning January 1, 2013. Parties to this second period will quantify emission limits or reductions and submit them for review by May 1, 2012. As expected, Canada promptly withdrew from the Kyoto Treaty. It remains to be seen if Russia and Japan will remain within the Kyoto Treaty. The participants in the Kyoto treaty now represent less than 24% of the global CO2 emissions. Without Japan and the Russian Federation they represent 15% of global emissions.

From 2001-2010 global temperatures have not increased, but remain approximately 1.13°F warmer than the average global surface temperature from 1951 to 1980. To measure climate change, scientists look at long-term trends. The temperature trend, including data from 2010, shows the climate has warmed by approximately 0.36°F per decade since the late 1970s. Carbon dioxide has shown a less direct relationship to global temperatures than the climate models had predicted which seems fortunate given the significant increase in world CO2 emissions in the past two decades.

At the Copenhagen meeting in 2010 President Obama pledged to reduce U.S greenhouse gas emissions to 17% below the 2005 levels by 2020, though it is unclear if this commitment is in any way binding. Due to the recent drop in industrial production and electricity usage, we have already cut U.S. emissions by 6% from 2005 levels; the Administration is well on its way to achieving this goal.

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