China & the Copenhagen Diagnosis

China & the Copenhagen Diagnosis

Global warming is happening faster than expected and at worst could raise sea levels by up to 2 metres by 2100, a group of scientists warn prior to next month’s Copenhagen summit, while China’s latest pledge means it would shoulder more than a quarter of the CO2 emissions cuts needed to avoid dangerous global warming.

By Alister Doyle, Reuters Environment Correspondent (24 November 2009):

OSLO (Reuters) – Global warming is happening faster than expected and at worst could raise sea levels by up to 2 meters (6-1/2 ft) by 2100, a group of scientists said in a warning to next month’s UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

In what they called a “Copenhagen Diagnosis,” updating findings in a broader 2007 U.N. climate report, 26 experts urged action to cap rising world greenhouse gas emissions by 2015 or 2020 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is accelerating beyond expectations,” a joint statement said, pointing to factors including a retreat of Arctic sea ice in summer and melting of ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica.

“Accounting for ice-sheets and glaciers, global sea-level rise may exceed 1 meter by 2100, with a rise of up to 2 meters considered an upper limit,” it said. Ocean levels would keep on rising after 2100 and “several meters of sea level rise must be expected over the next few centuries.”

Many of the authors were on the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in 2007 foresaw a sea level rise of 18-59 cms (7-24 inches) by 2100 but did not take account of a possible accelerating melt of Greenland and Antarctica.

Coastal cities from Buenos Aires to New York, island states such as Tuvalu in the Pacific or coasts of Bangladesh or China would be highly vulnerable to rising seas.

“This is a final scientific call for the climate negotiators from 192 countries who must embark on the climate protection train in Copenhagen,” Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said in a statement.


Copenhagen will host a December 7-18 meeting meant to come up with a new U.N. plan to succeed the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012. But a full legal treaty seems out of reach and talks are likely to be extended into 2010.

“Delay in action risks irreversible damage,” the researchers wrote in the 64-page report, pointing to a feared runaway thaw of ice sheets or possible abrupt disruptions to the Amazon rainforest or the West African Monsoon.

The researchers said global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels were almost 40 percent higher in 2008 than in 1990.

“Carbon dioxide emissions cannot be allowed to continue to rise if humanity intends to limit the risk of unacceptable climate change,” said Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California.

In a respite, the International Energy Agency has said emissions will fall by up to 3 percent in 2009 due to recession.

The report said world temperatures had been rising by an average of 0.19 Celsius a decade over the past 25 years and that the warming trend was intact, even though the hottest year since records began in the mid-19th century was 1998.

“There have been no significant changes in the underlying warming trend,” it said. A strong, natural El Nino weather event in the Pacific pushed up temperatures in 1998.


By Marlowe Hood (AFP)

PARIS — China’s pledge on greenhouse gases means it would shoulder more than a quarter of the CO2 emissions cuts needed to avoid dangerous global warming, a top economist said Thursday.

“China alone would be responsible for more than 25 percent of the reductions the world needs” to limit planetary warming to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), said Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA).

“The world needs to decrease the emissions by 3.8 gigatonnes [billion tonnes of carbon dioxide], and China would cut by around one gigatonne.

“This would put China at the forefront of the fight against climate change,” he told AFP in an interview.

In a long-awaited announcement, the world’s No. 1 emitter declared on Thursday it would use 40- to 45-percent less carbon per unit of GDP by 2020 compared with 2005 levels — in essence, a massive energy-efficiency drive.

Birol also hailed Washington’s announcement the day before that the US would — relative to a 2005 benchmark — scale back carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020, 30 percent by 2025, 42 percent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050.

“This decision is going to change the entire mood and structure of the Copenhagen discussion,” he said of the US position.

The United States and China are the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, together accounting for 41 percent of global emissions, according to IEA figures.

With the exception of India, they are also the last major emitters to put their cards on the table ahead of the December 7-18 UN climate talks in Copenhagen tasked with hammering out a durable fix to global warming.

Together, the two announcements are “extremely important and positive,” Birol said.

China’s voluntary commitments will require 400 billion dollars in investment in the energy sector over the next decade, the IEA has calculated.

But Beijing will reap major benefits too.

“China kills three birds with this decision,” Birol said: reducing the country’s CO2 emissions; improving its energy security and energy infrastructure; and catapulting China into a “green industry” leader.

Most of the policies Beijing has said it will put in place to achieve the so-called carbon intensity aim are “mainly driven by energy security and local pollution concerns,” Birol added.

“But at the end of the day, they also help to address climate change. You know the dictum of Deng Xiaoping — ‘it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice’.”

A critical uncertainty remains on the US commitment, Birol said: “How much of this 17 percent reduction is domestic efforts, and how much is international offsets? This is not clear.”

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the cornerstone treaty of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), rich countries can write off greenhouse-gas reduction commitments by investing in “green” projects in developing countries.

Some experts question these “offsets,” saying that they do not achieve reductions in volume terms by big emitters.

“For us [the IEA], the US efforts would have to be almost entirely domestic,” Birol said.

In its Energy Outlook report released in October, the IEA calculated the carbon-cutting efforts required from each of the world’s major emitters to avoid breaching the 2.0 C (3.6 F) threshold.

The projections for 2020 and 2030 seen for Beijing and Washington were “spot on,” Birol said proudly. For China, the projection for 2020 is based on a forecast eight-percent annual growth in GDP.



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