<img alt=“smoke.bmp” src=“http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/smoke.bmp” width=“259” height=“388” align=“right” hspace=“10px”//>The latest round of UN talks on climate change kicked off Monday in Bonn, where delegates will spend the next two weeks pouring over a draft negotiating text that contains various proposals for a new global climate deal.
The 53-page document has been “basically welcomed as a good starting point for the negotiations”, and delegates are thus far infused with cautious optimism that the process could pick up speed now the US is playing a proactive role under Obama’s leadership.
But on one of the key issues – how much industrialized nations should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the short-term – nations remain at an impasse. To agree a global deal in Copenhagen in December, it must be clear what reductions industrialised nations are aiming for by 2020, says UN climate chief Yvo de Boer, who is leading the negotiations.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), developed countries would need to slash their emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 to constrain global warming to 2ºC. If temperatures rise more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, dangerous climate impacts are highly probable.
Speaking in London last week, leading scientists – including 20 Nobel prize winners – reiterated that message, adding that to get on the right pathway, global greenhouse gas emissions must also peak by 2015 at the latest.
With the exception of Japan, whose position is expected in the coming weeks, almost all industrialized nations have now roughly stated where they stand on reducing their emissions by 2020. Germany has pledged reductions of 40% below 1990 levels by 2020, and the European Union as a whole will decrease its emissions by 30% of 1990 levels by 2020 if other nations agree to binding targets.
But the current level of US commitment falls far short of the near-term targets needed by developed nations. Under proposed legislation, the US will decrease its emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, which is equivalent to bringing them back down to 1990 levels by 2020. In the meantime, emerging economies such as India and China are calling for all rich countries to sign up to the same level of commitment as Germany.
Speaking at the St James’s Palace Nobel Laureates Symposium in London last week, US energy secretary and Nobel laureate Steven Chu implied that the US may, however, go further in its commitment to tackle climate change in Copenhagen. “I hope we can deliver more than we’ve promised," said Chu. “I have always liked to over-deliver on promises.”
Whether emerging economies – especially China, now the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter – should also take on targets is another bone of contention. I asked Chu in London last week about the need for China to commit to specific targets. He said that “to declare Copenhagen a failure if countries don’t sign to binding targets is not helpful at all. The success of Copenhagen will be determined by what countries do after.”
But according to Alistair Doyle reporting for Reuters, Washington clearly wants to see a greater effort overall from China. In a defensive response, China’s climate ambassador has said that rich nations should focus on keeping pledges to curb greenhouse gases rather than place new demands on the poor.
Collectively, the proposals currently on the table for emissions reductions just don’t amount to the required reductions, as Peter Spotts of the Christian Science Monitor points out. With just six weeks of full time negotiations left, something needs to give if an effective global deal based on targets is to be agreed in Copenhagen.