Mark Lynas's Copenhagen Notebook
Monday 14 December 2009
Very few people seem to realise this, but the Kyoto protocol divided the world. With its strict definitions of haves and have-nots, developed and developing, the divisions between rich and poor enshrined in the 1997 treaty are almost as rigid as those between the West and the Eastern bloc in the Cold War. Except that instead of an Iron Curtain, what lies between the two sets of countries is known rather cryptically as "the firewall".
Industrialised countries are not all rich; their ranks include the likes of Ukraine and Croatia. Nor are all developing countries poor: Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, for example, hardly need to beg for aid. But the distinction matters because under Kyoto only "rich" countries had to make cuts in their carbon emissions. Poor nations, in recognition of their lower per-person emissions and their smaller historical responsibility for causing global warming, were expected to follow suit only when they attained industrialised status.
This all makes sense from an equity perspective – but is shaping up to be extremely bad news for the planet. For if we are to keep temperature rise within tolerable bounds (1.5C is the upper limit, according to front-line vulnerable states like Bangladesh and Tuvalu) then global emissions need to peak about now and start coming rapidly down again, eventually reaching zero by about mid-century. This in turn means that big developing countries like China, India and Brazil, who are expected to account for almost all emissions rises in future, must also take on targets here at Copenhagen – thereby breaching the Kyoto firewall.
In fairness, India and China have both come to this meeting offering targets – but only to cut their emissions intensity (carbon emitted per unit of GDP) not their absolute levels of carbon output. Using this metric, a Chinese CO2 "cut" of 45 per cent translates into a real-world rise of about 100 per cent. By any reasonable scientific measure, this is a recipe for climate chaos.
So Kyoto's two big power blocs – rich and poor – are beginning to break down here in Copenhagen. In particular, the Maldives (who I am helping to advise) is causing a stir by offering to cut its emissions by 100 per cent in a decade, without preconditions. Ironically, however, it is legally prevented from doing so under Kyoto. To take on a mandatory emissions target, the Maldives must first declare itself "industrialised", thereby assuming a potential financial liability for the adaptation and mitigation costs of other "poor" countries, like India and China.
This is an obvious absurdity, and one which a growing number of developing countries – many of whom also recognise the pressing need for low-carbon growth – are trying to tackle. As a result, the traditional G77 group of developing countries is split down the middle and barely functioning.
Copenhagen is beginning to enter the end-game. In five more days we will know if the two most important and highest-emitting countries – the United States and China – are serious about tackling climate change. Everything else, indeed the future of us all, depends on what they decide.
Mark Lynas, one of Britain's leading climate change experts and author of 'Six Degrees', the Royal Society's Science Book of the Year, will be writing for 'The Independent' throughout the final stages of the Copenhagen negotiations. He is attending as an adviser to the Maldives.
Greenland’s dark snow may start global warming ‘feedback loop’
Climate change march: Investors pledge to take their money out of firms blamed for climate change
Is this the end of the 'war on trees'? UN members pledge to restore woodland and safeguard rainforests
Climate change means rate of growth of trees has gone up by 77%
Badger found shot in the abdomen is 'proof' that cull is inhumane, activists say
- 1 Rihanna 'nude pictures' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
- 5 Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teachers requ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful, Central London bas...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified English tea...
£80000 - £100000 per annum + competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment...