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Where do we stand?

December 14, 2009 Leave a comment

At the end of this first COP15 week, the two working groups have reached their goal as planned: they have written up their drafts. They propose to follow with a scheme as the one that already exists: the Kyoto protocol is continued (AWG-KP) , this means that the countries that are already committed to GHG emission reductions, remain committed. This draft does not define the levels of reduction; those appear in the document of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA). The group of Kyoto Annex 1 parties brings more precision concerning land use, land-use change and forestry, emission trading and the project based mechanisms and joint implementation.

AWG-LCA includes the countries who have signed the Kyoto Protocol as well as those who have not. From a political point of view, this is a most interesting document, as it includes all the Convention parties and, therefore, also the United States.

The AWG-LCA draft accepts the objective that temperatures should not rise above 2°C, as recommended by the scientists. The parties would commit to reduce emissions between 50 and 95% of 1990 levels by 2050. This indicates that all agree for at least 50%. Moreover, there is an indication that developed countries will go beyond at least 75%, that’s they will have always strongest engagements. The developed countries also commit to funding measures and to technology transfer.

The draft also indicates that all countries will have to elaborate national plans for the reduction of emissions. To reach this goal and the actions necessary, they will receive the necessary financial assistance.

Generally speaking, all of this is insufficient. Legally bound are only those that already were: this is the difference between Kyoto and the Convention. If a country does not fulfill the obligations under the Convention, there is no mechanism to force them. This is what China, India and the USA want. The objectives for reduction seem ambitious but it will be difficult to reach them if there is no legally binding agreement. And that is what small countries as well as the EU ask for.

And with regard to all of that, nobody has spoken about money. Numbers may be very high, but it looks like there will be a lot of resistance to great contributions. Only the EU has spoken about 2,4 billions of Euros over three years. And everybody agrees that this is little. And then we have not touched the fact that this is not fresh money, but recycled, coming from other areas of help.

Today ministers of foreign affairs have begun to arrive in Copenhagen. They will begin to put more flesh to the agreements. But the decisive moment comes during the last two days of COP15 when heads of state and governments will be in Copenhagen. They are the ones who are expected to assume leadership. Everybody feels that we are far from reaching a convincing agreement, but it seems also difficult to understand that so many leaders would accept to come to Copenhagen if they would not believe that an ambitious agreement is within reach. There remains a lot of uncertainty. The developed countries want to safeguard their own situation, the new powers don’t want to cut back on their possibilities of development, and the poor countries no reach to be recognized as those who have suffered most of the situation. All of that lies open for the next week.

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¿Dónde estamos?

December 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Hemos llegado a la primera semana de la Conferencia y formalmente se han cubierto los objetivos propuestos, es decir los dos “Grupos de Trabajo” han elaborado sus borradores. Básicamente proponen seguir con un esquema parecido a lo que existe actualmente: el Protocolo de Kioto se prolonga (Grupo de Trabajo de las Partes del Anejo I del Protocolo de Kioto, en sus siglas en inglés AWG-KP) , esto es, los países que ya estaban comprometidos a reducir sus emisiones siguen comprometidos. Este borrador no entra a definir niveles de reducción de emisiones, eso aparece en el documento del Grupo de Trabajo de Cooperación a Largo Plazo en el marco de la Convención (en inglés AWG-LCA). El del Grupo de la Partes del Anejo I de Kioto establece más precisión en todo lo que tiene que ver con valoraciones forestales, recoge limitaciones a la hora de usar los mecanismos de captura y almacenamiento de carbono como computables para la reducción de emisiones, y en definitiva lo que hace este borrador es afinar el protocolo de Kioto.

El Grupo de trabajo de Cooperación de la Convención (AWG-LCA) incluye a los países que firmaron Kioto y también a los que no lo hicieron. Es un documento políticamente más interesante porque incluye a todos los países de la Convención, también a Estados Unidos.

El Borrador del AWG-LCA reconoce el objetivo de que las temperaturas no suban más de 2ºC que es lo que los científicos están recomendando. Se comprometerían a reducir entre 50 a 95% las emisiones, con nivel de 1990, para el 2050. De 50 a 90%, quiere decir que al menos en 50% estarían todos de acuerdo. Pero además se indica que los países desarrollados lo harían, al menos, en un 75%, es decir, si se acuerda el mínimo (50%) siempre se exigiría más a los países desarrollados. En cualquier caso para el año 2020 se tendrían que haber conseguido objetivos importantes para no dejarlo todo hasta el final, se propone el 45%. Los países desarrollados se comprometen además con fondos y transferencia de tecnología.

El Borrador indica que los países, todos, deberán elaborar sus planes nacionales de reducción de emisiones y para ello, y para las acciones que tengan que tomar recibirán la asistencia financiera necesaria.

En general todo esto resulta insuficiente. Obligados legalmente sólo quedan los que ya estaban, es la diferencia entre Kioto y la Convención. Si un país no cumple con la convención no hay mecanismo para exigírselo. En esto estarían interesados China, India y Estados Unidos. El objetivo de reducción de emisiones parece ambicioso pero difícil de asegurar si no es con un acuerdo legalmente obligatorio. Esto es lo que están pidiendo los países pequeños y también la Unión Europea.

Y a todo esto nadie ha hablado de dinero. Las cifras pueden ser enormes pero todo apunta a que va a haber mucha resistencia a grandes contribuciones, sólo la Unión Europea ha hablado 2.400 millones de euros en tres años. Y a todo el mundo le parece poco. Eso sin entrar en que no es dinero “fresco” sino “reciclado” de otros campos de ayuda.

Hoy han comenzado a llegar ministros de asuntos exteriores Copenhague, ellos comenzarán a concretar los acuerdos. Pero el momento definitivo serán los dos últimos días cuando estén aquí los Jefes de Estado y de gobierno. A ellos les corresponde tomar el liderazgo. Todo el mundo siente que se está lejos de llegar a un acuerdo convincente, pero por otro lado parece difícil comprender que tantos líderes estén dispuestos a acudir a Copenhague si no es porque creen que un acuerdo ambicioso es posible. Todo sigue rodeado de mucha incertidumbre. Los países desarrollados quieren proteger su situación, las nuevas potencias no quieren ver limitadas sus posibilidades de crecimiento y los países pobres no encuentran el camino de que se reconozca que ellos son los que más están sufriendo la situación. Todo abierto para la próxima semana.

COP15 – Dec 8, 2009 – IPCC: Truly Our Best Available Science

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Today, the IPCC organized a side event on “IPCC Findings and Activities and their Relevance for the UNFCCC Process,” summarizing its AR4 findings (AR = Assessment Report) and offering a forward look on AR5.

In his introduction, the IPCC Chair R.K. Pachauri offered an overview of the IPCC process to reach at that what I would call our “best available science” (BAS) today. To build up AR4, 450 scientists participated as lead authors, working in teams, the work of which has been subject to peer (more than 2.500 scientists collaborated) and governmental expert reviews. The IPCC uses reliable data sets gathered from many sources that corroborate one another. Its procedures are very reliable, robust and transparent. Recently, the reliability of the IPCC has been questioned because of the publication of private e-mail correspondence obtained by malicious hacking into the servers of the East Anglia Climate Research Unit. Climate skeptics and even countries such as Saudi Arabia have made use of the exasperation of scientists with those who contest anthropogenic global warming to spread doubt about the seriousness of IPCC reports. I felt somewhat of that anger, when it became clear that all the questions addressed to R.K. Pachauri – mostly by anglo-saxon journalists – concerned these e-mails. But, of course, if I say that these journalists should know better and focus on the real issues at stake, that in press conferences their questions should be ignored when they have been asked over and over again, then I run the risk of being considered intolerant and in danger of obscuring issues. I admire the patience with which R.K. Pachauri answered these questions and observations – that in itself is worth a Nobel Prize.

Thanks to God, the rest of the side event was devoted to the real issues at stake. Scientists presented the issues at stake in the three Work Groups (WG) of AR4, and their outlook on AR5.

Thomas Stocker, co-chair of WG1 (the physical science basis of climate change), emphasized and illustrated three important results of AR4 WG1: (a) warming in the climate system is unequivocal; (b) most of the observed increase in temperature is very likely due to an increase in GHG (greenhouse gas) concentrations in the atmosphere; (c) continued GHG emissions will lead to changes that would very likely be larger than those observed today. For AR5, Stocker points to three observations and three projections: (O1) CO2 presence in the atmosphere reaches higher levels and its increase is more rapid than ever over the past 1000 years; (O2) the extensive thinning of ice surface on the margins of Greenland and Antarctica; (03) the persistent sea-level rise consistent with earlier estimates; (P1) the rapid loss of arctic sea ice (depending on the models used, the arctic sea will be ice free sometime between 2030 and 2060); (P2) the long-term commitment and irreversibility of the CO2 perturbation (it will take hundreds of years before CO2 levels in the atmosphere will diminish); (P3) geo-engineering could cause abrupt climate changes, but there is a “termination problem” inherent to all geo-engineering (if we stop the geo-engineering process, global climate quickly returns to an equilibrium near to what would have been the case without the geo-engineering). Stocker concludes that there is good reason to stand behind the scientific results presented in AR4, that we experience unprecedented changes in the climate system, that there is widespread melting of the ice margins, that CO2 remains in the atmosphere for very long periods and leads to changes in climate and in ocean chemistry, and that geo-engineering is inherently problematic. These issues will be addressed in AR5 WG1.

Charles Field presented the activities of WG2 (impacts, adaptation and vulnerability), stressing that AR4 presented a vast range of observed changes and impacts as well as of projected future impacts (the magnitude of which depends on the models used; extreme events are possible as well). He observed that many stressors are important as far as impacts are concerned. Mitigation can help to delay, avoid or reduce impacts, while adaptation can address vulnerabilities. AR5 will concentrate on common frameworks for mitigation, adaptation and impacts; it will broaden the range of impacts and study the connections between climate change and development, as well as between climate science and climate impacts; it will take into account a new generation of models and pay due attention to regional aspects and to ocean impacts. Climate change is occurring: what information is needed for good policy decisions?

Vicente Barros, also speaking in the area of AR5 WG2, introduced a special report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation, a report that will be published in 2011 and that will focus on the intersection of three concerns: (a) vulnerabilities; (b) the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme events; (c) the tools available for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptability.

As to WG3 (climate change mitigation), Youba Sokona pointed out that global anthropogenic GHG emissions, especially CO2 emissions, are still growing. Contributing factors to this continuing increase are population growth, income increase per capita, carbon intensity and energy intensity. The stabilization of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere is, from a scientific point of view, urgent, and technological advances and transfers will be important to attain this. All sectors and regions will have to contribute.

The question session afterwards highlighted the need to take into account ocean factors, e.g. acidification, as well as time and regional scales, whereby a distinction will be made between near-time predictability and long-term climate change.

It is clear that the work for AR5 is well under way and that it will produce a wider array of models and frameworks to unfold a reality that comes forward in ever increasing complexity. The methods will also allow for improved regional focus, which will allow improved adaptation planning. Although a lot of mist was created by continuing questions on the hacking of personal e-mails, it is clear that the IPCC aims at maintaining its focus on essential matters and with increasing scientific sharpness. One can only applaud that. I feel the deep commitment of these scientists to provide reliable and clear material for good and crucial policy decision making. This was a very refreshing session.

Categories: Climate Change, COP 15, IPCC, UNFCCC

Back to Basics 1

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

While we ourselves are learning a lot here, we also want to offer some of this material learned to readers of this blog. So, at times, we will go back to “basics”.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an alliance of 192 countries set up in 1994. Its point of departure is the conviction that human activity affects climate, mainly through CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The member governments to the Convention committed themselves to gather and share information about greenhouse gas emission, to launch strategies aiming at reducing the impact of such emissions, and to promote adaptation measures with regard to the new conditions brought about by climate change. They also commit to support developing countries through financial means and technology transfer. To monitor and keep this Convention a body was created in the United Nations: the UNFCCC.

To accomplish the objective of “gathering information,” the UNFCCC called into existence the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: it started working in 1988. The Panel is composed of hundreds of scientists all over the world. Its latest report is built on the work of 500 scientists who wrote articles, and on another 2.500 scientists who reviewed these articles. Further review is also done at governmental level. The Panel is not directly involved in research, but uses already published peer reviewed scientific work. As a consequence, we are facing, in the work of the Panel, the best available science (BAS) today. Obviously, science evolves and grows by testing hypotheses and models: the Panel will produce a new assessment, AR5, around 2013. The results offered by the Panel leave us in little doubt: human induced global warming and climate change are a fact, that has to be taken into account in global policy making. If we accept science to diagnose our diseases, we have no reason not to accept the same science when it describes the situation of our planet.

The Panel divides its work into three main areas or working groups. Group I deals with the results of the physical sciences; Group II looks at impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; Group III investigates ways to mitigate Climate Change. The latest assessment report, AR4, was published in 2007 is very clear in distinguishing evidence, confidence and medium confidence. It also points out the issues on which there is no full agreement.

As a result of such scientific assessment, the Convention promoted in 1997 the so-called Kyoto Protocol that became legally binding in 2005. It sets concrete ad legally binding emission targets for those countries that subscribe. In Kyoto, the countries with the biggest  greenhouse gas emissions (the most developed countries) committed themselves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5% under 1990 levels, and this in the period between 2008 and 2012. Greenhouse gas emission cuts would be achieved by national plans and through the “carbon market,” a mechanism of emissions trade. One of the most important debates at stake here in Copenhagen is precisely the continuity of that Kyoto commitment of the most industrialized countries.

 Since the Kyoto agreement, a lot has happened on the global scale: the targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have not been held (with some exceptions) and overall worldwide emissions have grown; new countries have emerged as very important greenhouse gase producers, countries that had not committed to the targets of the Protocol; we have become more conscious about the necessity for action in the long term actions on both counts of mitigation and adaptation … To sum up: there are many more actors in the game and the complexity and magnitude of the issues at stake have grown. This provides a new background that determines the negotiations in Copenhagen.