The Big Debate: on the eve of Cancun, can we cut carbon in time?

With no action beyond what we are already taking, the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report by climate scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects the planet will warm by between 1.1C and 6.4C over the next 100 years.

That doesn’t sound much, but as well as warmer days and nights, rising sea levels and coastal flooding, it would mean extreme weather, with deadly heatwaves like that of 2003 becoming commonplace. There would be flash floods, droughts, famines, storms, increased desertification of semi-arid regions, and frequent fires ravaging global forests. This would create environmental refugees and threaten conflicts.

An increase of just 1.5C to 2.5C could spell extinction for 20-30 per cent of all species, and above 3.5C, 40-70 per cent of global species could be wiped out. Despite “Climategate”, these predictions hold.

What do we need to do?

Most accept it will now be very difficult to avoid a 1.5C rise. Current climate policy aims instead to limit warming to below 2C to avoid the most severe impacts. The 2007 IPCC report warned that a reduction of at least 25-40 per cent in emissions from industrialised countries will be needed by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, but a cut of at least 80-95per cent by 2050 will be needed to side-step the worst effects of climate change and ultimately achieve climate stabilisation. Major developing countries will also need to contribute if we are to achieve the overall 50 per cent global cut needed by 2050, but deep emissions cuts in these rapidly growing economies are unlikely before 2030.

But in reality, even this would only give us an even chance of avoiding catastrophe, without considering potential rapid climate change. We also need to ensure resources are there to enable vulnerable nations to adapt.

The EU has unilaterally committed to a 20 per cent emissions cut by 2020 relative to 1990, but offers 30 per cent if other major emitters make comparable efforts. In the UK, Labour set up reducing five year emissions budgets under the Climate Change Act 2008, but it now falls to the Coalition to set the detailed framework for the £200 billion investment needed on low carbon generation up to 2020. Even meeting the

UK’s pre-climate deal 34 per cent emissions reduction target for 2020 will need a step change, depending on new energy efficiency measures, new levies on utilities and a carbon tax, a well-funded Green Investment Bank, and positive involvement from the Treasury as well as private capital.

What was agreed at Copenhagen in 2009?

Two years earlier, global leaders in Indonesia agreed a roadmap to a new climate treaty by Copenhagen. The Bali Roadmap broadly followed IPCC recommendations.

But at Copenhagen, developed countries insisted on deep emissions cuts from key developing economies that have so far been exempt under Kyoto as the price for their own reductions and for supporting a global adaptation fund of $100 billion a year by 2020. China and other emerging economies refused to accept binding curbs and verification, and insisted on greater concessions on technology and funding. Consequently, the EU held back on its higher target.

A last-minute deal was brokered largely between leaders of the USA, Brazil, India, China and South Africa – the Copenhagen Accord. This preserved some of the key elements needed in a future deal, but it is non-binding and emissions pledges made would still leave the world facing disastrous 3C warming by 2100

So what can we expect from Cancun 2010?

No one now expects divisions to close in time for a full climate deal at Cancun, but outgoing UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said earlier this year that we should at least expect key aspects of the architecture to be settled, increasing the chances of concluding a full treaty the following year in South Africa. These need to cover emissions reduction targets and agreed verification systems, adaptation funding, technology transfer, capacity-building, finance, and avoided deforestation. There also needs to be clarity over the legal status of a new treaty or suite of treaties. Developed countries need to raise their game, while major developing countries must take on more of the carbon-cutting burden in ways appropriate to their circumstances. Business also needs long-term policy stability beyond 2012 to prevent further loss of confidence in carbon offset projects and to foster capital-intensive low carbon technology markets.

So can we do it?

We still have a good chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, but sustained political will at national and international level will be crucial. And we would need to go substantially beyond a 25-40 per cent cut in emissions to be sure of success. Timing is also critical and we have barely begun – a staggering $10.5 trillion low carbon investment will be needed globally to allow climate stabilisation. This will provide huge opportunities for new green industries – much of it is necessary in a world facing growing pressure on resources. But each year of delay adds another $500 billion, meaning much deeper and less politically acceptable cuts later with increased risk of policy failure.

Dr Paul Hatchwell writes on energy and carbon for the Ends report, the UK journal and website for environment business and policy, www.endsreport.com

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Manager - £30,000 - Manchester City Centre

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This forward-thinking agency works with ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Field Sales - OTE £30,000

    £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a rapidly expanding offi...

    Recruitment Genius: HVAC Project Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful candidate will b...

    Recruitment Genius: Key Accounts Administrator - Fixed Term

    £13500 - £14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game