Tag Archives: London School Of Economics

5/29/2011 guardian.co.uk home Ailing UN climate talks jolted by record surge in greenhouse gases

Ailing UN climate talks jolted by record surge in greenhouse gases. Lord Stern talks of ‘wake-up call’ for governments meeting in Bonn next week with no sign of an agreement to succeed Kyoto. The record leap in global greenhouse gas emissions last year has thrown the spotlight on the world’s only concerted attempt to stem the tide of global warming – the United Nations climate negotiations. Next week, governments will convene in Bonn, Germany, for the latest round of more than 20 years of tortuous talks, aimed at forging a binding international agreement on climate change which so far has eluded them. Little is expected of the meeting, a staging post on the road to a bigger conference in Durban, South Africa, in December. But the data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) should shock even the most jaded of negotiators.

“I hope these estimates provide a wake-up call to governments,” said Lord Stern, a London School of Economics professor and author of the landmark review on the economics of climate change. “Progress in international discussions since the modest successes [at the last UN meeting] in Cancún last December has been slow.”

Tom Burke, founding director of green thinktank E3G and a veteran environmental campaigner, is even more forthright. “Be frightened – be very frightened,” he said. “This rise in emissions underlines the urgency [of tackling climate change]. The politicians had better come back on this very fast, or we are all in trouble.”

The contrast between the snail’s pace of negotiations and the rapid rise in emissions catalogued by the International Energy Agency could scarcely be more marked. The Bonn and Durban meetings are widely expected to produce only a few clarifications of countries’ emissions targets – already deemed inadequate by campaigners – and some detailed wording of the rules on issues such as forestry and carbon trading.

Yet the jump in carbon dioxide emissions comes less than 18 months after the climate change summit at Copenhagen, which was billed as the most important international meeting since the second world war but produced only a partial agreement and failed to set out a path to a binding treaty.

Another small step was taken at Cancún, when emissions-cutting targets were firmed up and financial commitments from rich to poor fleshed out, though the cash has yet to hit the streets.

“This is clearly an incremental process,” said Chris Huhne, the energy and climate change secretary. “But the steps forward at Cancún showed that the UN framework convention on climate change is capable of progress.”

According to the IEA, the problem the UN process is seeking to address is growing faster than anyone predicted. If emissions this year rise at the same pace as last year, the world will exceed 32 gigatonnes of Co2 in energy-related emissions alone in a single year. This is the level the IEA had expected emissions to reach by 2020, indicating that the growth of CO2 emissions has been much quicker than expected.

Unless these rises can be turned to reductions within a few years, the world will soon be well beyond what scientists say is the limit of safety.

Stern, chair of the Grantham research institute on climate change and the environment at the LSE, said: “If we are to give ourselves a 50% chance of avoiding a warming of more than 2C, and radically cut the risk of a 4 degrees rise, global annual emissions will need to peak within the next 10 years and then fall steadily, at least halving by 2050.”

Even the worst economic recession in 80 years failed to make a lasting dent in emissions. “The global downturn bought us only a very temporary and now vanishing breathing space and the need for significant cuts in emissions remains urgent,” Stern added. “The window of opportunity to meet the 2 degrees target is closing, and further delay risks closing it altogether. The challenge is not simply to meet the targets agreed at Cancún but to raise our ambition from there.”

While warnings grow louder, analysts say politicians are turning off. Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, said governments have lost interest. “The significance of climate change in international policy debate is much less pronounced than it was a few years ago,” he said. “It’s difficult to say that the wind is blowing in the right direction.”

This gloomy assessment was borne out at last week’s summit of the G8 group of leading industrialised nations in Deauville, a two-hour train ride from the IEA’s offices in Paris, where hopes that world leaders would discuss climate issues were dashed. Russia, Japan and Canada reportedly told the meeting they would refuse to join a second round of carbon cuts under the Kyoto protocol. Greenpeace accused leaders of “gambling with our future”.

Some participants remain optimistic. “The key success criteria [in Bonn and Durban] are whether we can start to deliver the Cancún agreements, as well as make progress on the difficult political issues not resolved there, such as the legal form [of any future agreement] and the level of ambition of emission reduction pledges,” said Huhne.

At Bonn, a sticking point is whether there will be a second phase to the Kyoto protocol, the 1997 pact in which developed countries agreed to cut their emissions by about 5% by 2012. While the EU is on track to meet its commitments, other countries are not and some – including the US, which opposes Kyoto – would prefer to discuss a replacement. Developing countries refuse to countenance this, insisting Kyoto must continue as the prerequisite for continuing talks.

To an outside observer, this argument over the legal status of a 1997 agreement that has never been enforced, has been rejected by the US and that puts no obligations on the world’s biggest emitter and second biggest economy, China, may seem arcane. But this debate has been the bread-and-butter of the UN talks.

Since Copenhagen, some countries have suggested another approach may work better – agreement among key countries that would bypass objectors, for instance, or a “bottom-up” approach where countries invest in renewable energy to cut emissions. All such attempts have been rejected by developing nations and green groups, who say only an international treaty will deliver accountability.

Huhne believes the UN negotiations can still deliver. “The UK has no intention of letting up in its efforts to get a legally binding agreement,” he said.

Britain’s adoption of ambitious carbon targets for the mid-2020s, as well as pushing the EU to take a tougher line on emissions, “shows we are serious about meeting the climate challenge, not just arguing for it.”

There are signs of progress among emerging economies. Stern said. “China is now really focused on this issue [of emissions] via its five-year plan published in March, covering 2011-2015, and the country hopes to learn enough in the next five years to exceed and perhaps tighten its Cancún target for 2020.”

Stern says the key to progress is to see tackling emissions as an economic growth opportunity, rather than a curb. “All countries, particularly in the rich world, should now be taking still stronger action to tackle climate change and to embark on the transition to low-carbon economic growth. This will be a new energy-industrial revolution and full of creativity and innovation and great benefits beyond simply cutting the risks from climate change. We can see its beginnings – it is time to accelerate.”

5/29/2011 guardian.co.uk home Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink

guardian.co.uk home Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink. Exclusive: Record rise, despite recession, means 2C target almost out of reach. BY Fiona Harvey, Environment correspondent. Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency. The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially “dangerous climate change” – is likely to be just “a nice Utopia”, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions. Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. “These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s] projections, such a path … would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100,” he said.

“Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”

Birol said disaster could yet be averted, if governments heed the warning. “If we have bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding,” he said.

The IEA has calculated that if the world is to escape the most damaging effects of global warming, annual energy-related emissions should be no more than 32Gt by 2020. If this year’s emissions rise by as much as they did in 2010, that limit will be exceeded nine years ahead of schedule, making it all but impossible to hold warming to a manageable degree.

Emissions from energy fell slightly between 2008 and 2009, from 29.3Gt to 29Gt, due to the financial crisis. A small rise was predicted for 2010 as economies recovered, but the scale of the increase has shocked the IEA. “I was expecting a rebound, but not such a strong one,” said Birol, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on emissions.

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said time was running out. “This news should shock the world. Yet even now politicians in each of the great powers are eyeing up extraordinary and risky ways to extract the world’s last remaining reserves of fossil fuels – even from under the melting ice of the Arctic. You don’t put out a fire with gasoline. It will now be up to us to stop them.”

Most of the rise – about three-quarters – has come from developing countries, as rapidly emerging economies have weathered the financial crisis and the recession that has gripped most of the developed world.

But he added that, while the emissions data was bad enough news, there were other factors that made it even less likely that the world would meet its greenhouse gas targets.

• About 80% of the power stations likely to be in use in 2020 are either already built or under construction, the IEA found. Most of these are fossil fuel power stations unlikely to be taken out of service early, so they will continue to pour out carbon – possibly into the mid-century. The emissions from these stations amount to about 11.2Gt, out of a total of 13.7Gt from the electricity sector. These “locked-in” emissions mean savings must be found elsewhere.

“It means the room for manoeuvre is shrinking,” warned Birol.

• Another factor that suggests emissions will continue their climb is the crisis in the nuclear power industry. Following the tsunami damage at Fukushima, Japan and Germany have called a halt to their reactor programmes, and other countries are reconsidering nuclear power.

“People may not like nuclear, but it is one of the major technologies for generating electricity without carbon dioxide,” said Birol. The gap left by scaling back the world’s nuclear ambitions is unlikely to be filled entirely by renewable energy, meaning an increased reliance on fossil fuels.

• Added to that, the United Nations-led negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change have stalled. “The significance of climate change in international policy debates is much less pronounced than it was a few years ago,” said Birol.

He urged governments to take action urgently. “This should be a wake-up call. A chance [of staying below 2 degrees] would be if we had a legally binding international agreement or major moves on clean energy technologies, energy efficiency and other technologies.”

Governments are to meet next week in Bonn for the next round of the UN talks, but little progress is expected.

Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, said the global emissions figures showed that the link between rising GDP and rising emissions had not been broken. “The only people who will be surprised by this are people who have not been reading the situation properly,” he said.

Forthcoming research led by Sir David will show the west has only managed to reduce emissions by relying on imports from countries such as China.

Another telling message from the IEA’s estimates is the relatively small effect that the recession – the worst since the 1930s – had on emissions. Initially, the agency had hoped the resulting reduction in emissions could be maintained, helping to give the world a “breathing space” and set countries on a low-carbon path. The new estimates suggest that opportunity may have been missed.