As delegates were preparing to depart to Warsaw in Poland, where the latest installments of the UN climate talks Cop 19 concluded last week, the worst tropical storm to have ever made landfall hit the Philippines and caused massive devastation.
At the 2011 summit in Durban, South Africa it was agreed to make a deal by 2015 that would come into effect by 2020, which is the year scientists are telling us will be the last deadline for global carbon emissions to start to decline rapidly if we are to avoid dangerous runaway climate change and limit temperature increases to two degrees Celsius. Cop 18 held last year in Doha, Qatar as well as this year's and next year's talks in Peru, negotiators are telling us will be used as bridges to secure that binding agreement in 2015.
Poles further part
But instead of the poles being moved closer it would appear they are being moved further apart and the pessimism of even achieving a global deal has never been higher. This year's talks ended with another set of disappointments and watered-down agreements. A scenario that anyone who had followed the talks in the last few years could have noted the same symptoms every year. Rich countries do not want to commit to legally binding cuts and argue that they should be voluntary. Large developing countries like China and India argue that the West should be faced with the toughest emissions cuts.
Weakening of climate goals
But somehow this year's talks started out, if possible, even worse than the last few years, with some large developed countries openly stating that they do not want to take action on climate change. This is despite island states like the Philippines pledging for action in the wake of typhoon Haiyan. Japan was a key player in the only deal on curbing greenhouse gasses that has ever been signed. The still effective Kyoto Protocol (however only the EU and Norway have committed to a second period) came into effect in 1997 and was signed in the Japanese city of Kyoto. However, Japan has decided to go back on their previous climate pledges. The volcanic country had a CO2 reduction goal of 25% by 2020 from 1990 levels, but have now changed that to 3.8% by 2020 from 2005 levels. Fossil fuel loving Canada, also the home of the world's biggest, most destructive and most polluting mining project; tar sands, decided to praise Australia for wanting to repeal it's carbon tax. The carbon tax scheme was introduced by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to curb the country's climbing carbon emissions, but since climate skeptic Tony Abbott came into power earlier this year, he has made it his number one policy to repeal that tax.
Poland is coal-land
Poland, this year's host, is not completely innocent either. In the history of the UN's climate talks, never before has a country decided to host a fossil fuel summit at the same time. That is exactly what's happened in Poland who hosted a coal summit, angering many environmental campaigners. Poland who is still heavily reliant on coal for electricity generation, has been a stark critic of EU's climate change proposals, both the amount of renewable energy goals and carbon emissions reduction plans outlined by the EU. Poland has time after time vetoed EU's back-loading proposals, that would remove some of the allocated carbon permits to raise the EU carbon price which is lingering at an all time low.
New approach needed
While I'm not advocating an abolishment of the UN climate talks, I believe a different approach is needed. The climate threat we're facing is simply too severe to put all our eggs in one basket and rely on all 193 UN member countries to agree on a deal, when there is such large differences between the countries. It's obvious that countries like Australia and Canada's only goal at the talks is to make a prospective deal as weak as possible; they would never agree the same deal as the Philippines for instance. We have already seen a climate partnership being agreed between China and the US, as the world's biggest emitters and largest economies, this makes sense. It could be interesting to expand on that group to, for instance, include the EU as well as other top emerging economies like India and Brazil. It is much more possible that these countries could work on getting a deal implemented by themselves, and as they are set in the future to be responsible for the largest portion of global emissions, this is a way forward that should be considered and would be much easier moving forward with, rather than 193 UN member states with wide-ranging ambitions agreeing on the very same global deal that looks more distant than ever before.
A version of this also appeared on A greener life, a greener world