Move to put climate change back on agenda


Global warming will be a hot topic for the delegates gathered this week in Bangkok, writes FRANK McDONALD

WITH WORLD attention grabbed by a succession of natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan as well as popular revolts in north Africa and the Middle East, the United Nations will be seeking this week to put climate change back on the international agenda.

Nearly four months after last year’s moderately successful climate summit in the Mexican resort of Cancún, delegates from 193 countries have gathered in Bangkok for a preliminary round of talks aimed at paving the way for progress at next December’s summit in Durban.

They’re conscious that global warming “hasn’t gone away, you know”, as Gerry Adams TD once said of the Provisional IRA.

Indeed, 2010 was officially one of the hottest years on record, with heatwaves, floods, landslides, forest fires and other “extreme weather events”.

Even though critics claim there is “nothing real on the table”, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres insisted that Cancún was “a solid step forward for strengthened global climate action”, and she has called on governments to “maintain momentum” in the run-up to Durban.

Speaking in Bangkok, Ms Figueres said there needed to be agreement on a clear work plan for 2011 by moving on outstanding issues by making institutions for climate funding, technology co-operation and adaptation “fully functional within the deadlines agreed in Cancún” (ie, by December).

Meanwhile, figures published last Friday showed carbon emissions from industry in the EU rose by 6 per cent in 2010, indicating that a mild recovery is under way – but also demonstrating the link between economic growth and emissions has not yet been broken.

The European Commission’s Road map for Moving to a Competitive Low-Carbon Economy in 2050, published last month, expressed confidence the EU is on track to meet its target of reducing emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

But the level of ambition, particularly in its longer-term proposals to cut emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050, was described as “totally inadequate” by Friends of the Earth to achieve the declared goal of limiting the rise in temperatures at 2 degrees Celsius.

Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout also criticised the road map, saying it would “set the EU on the wrong road for its climate policy up to 2050” and, as a result, it would “fail to revive EU climate leadership . . . nor will it inspire other countries to adopt more ambitious climate policies”.

The US is certainly falling behind. An analysis by HSBC estimated that Republican proposals before the US Congress “would more than halve federal spending on the climate economy in 2011, with high-speed rail, carbon regulation and international climate funds particularly at risk”.

By contrast, China’s 12th five-year plan – adopted last month by the National People’s Congress – will see a further 16 per cent reduction in the “carbon intensity” of its economy (in line with the Copenhagen Accord) on top of a 19 per cent fall over the past five years.

Last week in Beijing, the Climate Group launched a new programme – China Redesign – which will help five Chinese cities to develop and implement their own low-carbon growth strategies, on the basis that cities “are where the foundations for green growth will be laid”.

China also has no intention of abandoning its nuclear programme, despite picking up traces of radioactivity from the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

The 28 nuclear reactors it plans (on top of 12 already operating) account for 40 per cent of the total under construction worldwide.

Fukushima has been a huge setback for the nuclear industry, which had been making significant strides in selling itself as a climate-friendly technology.

As a result of the damage after the earthquake and tsunami, safety reviews were ordered in several countries – Britain, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the US.

“We believe that events at Fukushima could change national energy policies in nuclear countries, with potentially both shut-downs of existing nuclear plants and fewer new nuclear installations,” HSBC said.

Winners will be natural gas, energy efficiency and renewables.

Former Greenpeace climate campaigner Jeremy Leggett, now chairman of Solarcentury, believes the crisis triggered by events in north Africa, the Middle East and Japan show that “we are entering a time of consequences” regarding where the world will get its energy.

“Nobody – whether individual, household, community, city, government or business – can responsibly afford simply to hope for a comfortable outcome on the peak-oil risk issue any longer.

“We all need to be drawing up contingency plans,” he blogged.