Time and tide not waiting for climate negotiators

A 325m-high giant observation tower was set up in the heart of the Amazon to monitor climate change. The UN goal is to limit global warming to 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
A 325m-high giant observation tower was set up in the heart of the Amazon to monitor climate change. The UN goal is to limit global warming to 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Deadline looms for nations to seal global deal to stem the tide of global warming

PARIS • Diplomats are gathering in Bonn from today to thrash out the draft of a climate-rescue pact to be adopted at a year-end United Nations conference in Paris.

With just 10 official negotiating days before 195 nations must seal the deal in the French capital, time is running out to bridge deep and long-standing divisions on who should do what to halt the march of global warming.

Just in recent days, there were fresh reminders of what is at stake if the world misses the UN goal to limit global warming to 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels. We have already reached 0.8 deg C.

Government scientists in the United States recently declared July the hottest month in history and said this year appears set to overtake 2014 as the hottest year since records began in 1880. India and Pakistan have been hit by killer heatwaves this year and California is in the grip of a historic drought.

Nasa warned last week that one metre of average sea level rise is unavoidable over the next 100 to 200 years because of melting ice and ocean warming.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urged countries last Wednesday to "accelerate the rhythm of negotiations" ahead of the Nov 30-Dec 11 climate conference, saying: "We don't have much time."

THE HEAT IS ON

It's a race against the clock. Last year was the hottest on record. It seems that this year will be even hotter. There is no plan B, there is no planet B.

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER LAURENT FABIUS

The five-day Bonn round will show whether rank-and-file diplomats are taking recent cues from political bosses, analysts say.

In July, France announced that ministers had made a "breakthrough" at a huddle in Paris.

Crucially, they agreed on a review every five years after 2020, when the agreement kicks in, of the collective effort to curb planet-warming greenhouse gases to ensure the 2 deg C target remains within sight.

All eyes will be on Bonn to see if the ministerial rapprochement on this issue filters through.

"Just trying to get a bit of the spirit of the ministerials back into Bonn would be great," said Ms Liz Gallagher, climate diplomacy leader at the E3G think-tank.

Mr Alden Meyer, an analyst with the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said there must be close coordination between negotiators and their political bosses.

"Negotiators need to do the job of clarifying where things stand, framing options very sharply," he said. "But then it's really the ministers and the leaders that have to find... some of the compromises."

Ministers will next meet in Paris on Sept 6-7, and again in Lima in October at an IMF-World Bank pow-wow with climate finance on the agenda. On Sept 27, Mr Ban and heads of state will talk climate on the sidelines of a UN summit in New York.

While these talks are not part of official negotiations, they should guide the pact-crafting efforts.

"The political decisions and compromises are going to be made above the pay grade of the negotiators," said Mr Meyer.

As things stand, the draft agreement under review in Bonn runs over 80 pages - largely a laundry list of countries' often conflicting options, in places as many as 11 per issue, for ensuring a liveable planet.

The disagreements are fundamental. How to divvy out responsibility for carbon cuts between rich nations, which have polluted for much longer, and developing countries which need to power fast-growing populations and economies?

How will developed nations meet their promise of US$100 billion (S$140.9 billion) of climate finance per year from 2020?

To date, more than 50 countries responsible for nearly 70 per cent of global emissions have submitted carbon-curbing plans.

But scientists say the numbers do not add up and the world is on track for warming way above 2 deg C - a recipe for ever more extreme droughts and floods, disease spread and island-drowning sea-level rise.

To aid negotiators, the co-chairmen of the talks have re-packaged the draft text into three sections - the first containing the binding, overarching goal, set in stone; the second with elements that can be altered over time; and the third, by far the biggest, those that remain in dispute.

There will be a final pre-Paris negotiating round, also five days, in Bonn in October.

"It's a race against the clock," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at a meeting with Mr Ban. "Last year was the hottest on record. It seems that this year will be even hotter. There is no plan B, there is no planet B."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2015, with the headline 'Time and tide not waiting for climate negotiators'. Print Edition | Subscribe