UN climate talks start in Doha

 

Qatar

Modest expectations marked the start of UN climate talks Monday, as negotiators and experts all warned that the two-week session would only lay the groundwork for a potentially ambitious global-warming pact by the end of the decade.

This is "a transitional climate conference," said Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change: It will end the negotiations of the past five years and inaugurate a new phase in which major emerging economies will be called on to play a larger role in curbing their greenhouse-gas emissions.

The session, taking place in Doha, Qatar, under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), includes representatives from nearly 200 countries.

Aiming for the end of the decade may not be soon enough, say scientists, environmental activists and many of the world's poorest nations. The world's governments must commit to deeper carbon cuts now in order to avert dangerous climate impacts. Last week, the World Bank issued a report suggesting that a temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, which scientific forecasts say is possible, could cause widespread crop failures, malnutrition and significant sea-level rise.

World leaders have pledged under the UNFCC to keep warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

A recent U.N. Environment Programme report projected that the emissions trend could produce a global temperature rise of between 5.4 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the century's end.

"Time is running out," the UNFCC executive secretary, Christiana Figueres, told reporters at a news conference in Doha. "The door is closing fast on us because the pace and the scale of action is simply not yet where it must be."

On Monday, a coalition of 100 countries, including the Alliance of Small Island States, the Africa Group and the Least Developed Countries, called upon industrialized nations to commit to legally binding carbon cuts.

"This conference comes in the wake of disasters that offered an alarming glimpse at what life on a warming planet looks like," the group said.

But much of the ongoing negotiations will focus on more procedural matters, such as determining which countries will commit to a second round of emissions cuts under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Any new Kyoto agreement will cover less than 15 percent of the world's carbon output: While developing countries say a second round is critical, it will fail to change the global emissions trajectory.

China's chief climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, recently said China's emissions could peak when its per capita gross domestic product reaches roughly half of what it was when developed countries' emissions peaked. According to an HSBC Bank analysis, that would be around 2030, more than a decade later than scientists say would be required to meet the world leaders' temperature goal.

Pennsylvania State University professor Michael Mann, who directs the Penn State Earth System Science Center, said policymakers have assumed if they kept atmospheric carbon concentrations at 450 parts per million they'd have a 50 percent chance of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. But new research suggests the estimates were too optimistic about uncertainties such as the extent to which future cloud cover will reflect sunlight.

"So often uncertainty is offered as a reason for inaction," Mann said. "It can really break against us. It's an argument for why we need to take action."

While this year's round of talks is not expected to produce any major breakthroughs, the fact that the United States is on track to meet its goal of reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and has provided $7.46 billion in international climate assistance over the past three years may give it some leverage with other countries.

Michael Wolosin, who directs research and policy at the consulting firm Climate Advisers, said the funding amounts to a "very real and sustained increase in international climate finance by the United States . . . even in a time of difficult fiscal pressures."

Still, Michael MacCracken, chief scientist for climate change at the Climate Institute, said the U.S. will have to make deeper cuts in emissions in order to show economic growth and reconcile low carbon emissions. "Developed countries need to show a modern economy can prosper on low greenhouse-gas emissions," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links