Sunday, 11 October 2009

Climate Emergency - Countries with High CO2 Emissions must act together

A unified world vision, not developed vs. developing nation division, is vital for the new climate change treaty

The world is experiencing an unprecedented and potentially catastrophic climate emergency that needs decisive and swift action by all nations; nations that have the capability to make the most impact on the problem are those with high GHG emissions.

Recent reports from the UNFCCC climate change talks in Bangkok indicate scant progress and a deepening divide between developed and developing nations, with high emission developing nations arguing for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol (under which they need not make binding emissions reduction commitments) and the G77 critical of emission cuts and financing offered by developed nations.

A new agreement on climate change in Copenhagen will be ineffective unless it includes a clear commitment by all the world's largest GHG emitters to reduce their emissions. China (23.9%), USA (18 %), Russia, (5.3%) India (5%), Japan (4.1%) are the highest emitters contributing over half of all anthropogenic CO2 (Figure 15.1)
Figure 15.1 Countries with the highest percentages of World CO2 emissions in 2008
(click image to enlarge)

The big emitters are now a mix of developed and developing nations with China's CO2 emissions having surpassed those of the USA. So, in the context of emissions mitigation, taking 'developed and developing' as primary categories is inappropriate.

Countries may have been distinguished in this way under Kyoto but significant changes have occurred since1990 (Figure 15.2).

It needs to be said that nations that industrialised long ago did so in ignorance of the impact of their emissions on the climate. That cannot be said of nations now in the course of industrialising who are not ignorant of the effects of their GHG emissions on world climate systems.

Developing nations share of global CO2 emissions in 2008 (50.3%) exceeded that of industrialised countries (46.6%).

Figure 15.2 Change in CO2 emissions since 1990 (click image to enlarge)

Contracting time scales for action to combat climate change are indicated by the latest evidence from climate science. Responsibility for addressing the climate emergency falls on all nations, because it affects all nations.

Action is needed from all countries with high GHG emissions

It is the emissions reduction actions of high GHG emitting nations, whether developed or developing, that will have the most impact on the climate emergency.

The USA stood aside from the Kyoto Protocol because high emitting developing countries would not undertake emissions reduction targets. The world cannot afford large GHG emitters to stay outside a new climate treaty.

In the future public opinion will judge harshly those who failed to engage to address the universal threat to humanity posed by climate change. An effective new agreement in Copenhagen particularly needs both of the mega-emitters, China and the USA to commit to realistic, deliverable emission reductions.

Undoubtedly a new climate change agreement will retain elements of the Kyoto protocol. But Kyoto has not been an effective tool; emissions have risen significantly since1990. A unified 'one world' vision, not developed vs. developing division, is needed for the new climate change treaty.

Yes - developed nations must curb their emissions and change to low carbon lifestyles

Yes - developed nations will need to provide finance and technology to help developing nations on to the path to low carbon development and adaptation. That is how they can address international equity in relation to emissions due to their early industrialisation.

And Yes - high emitting developing nations also need to curb their emissions. They cannot put GHG into the atmosphere to match historical emissions because the world is already beyond the limit of the GHG concentrations that can be accommodated without immense damage to the environment.

A unified vision for a new climate change treaty is vital

Yvo de Boer said in Bangkok 'What we must do now is to hold back from self interest and let the common interest prevail '

The common interest of all the peoples of the world lies in collaboration to tackle the climate emergency effectively. A unified 'one world' vision, not developed vs. developing division, is needed for the new climate change treaty.

Footnote Data in the tables are taken from a collation by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). In this post only CO2, not other GHG and LULUCF, is considered but the PBL data includes CO2 from cement manufacture