Climate scientists spell out challenge UN faces in 2015 Paris conference

Paris to host biggest UN talks on curbing emissions since 2009 Copenhagen meeting

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Rajendra Pachauri comments on the panel’s climate report in Stockholm last Friday. Photograph: Reuters/Jessica Gow

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman Rajendra Pachauri comments on the panel’s climate report in Stockholm last Friday. Photograph: Reuters/Jessica Gow

 



Stockholm is a long way from Le Bourget, an airstrip next to a vast exhibition centre on the outskirts of Paris.

But in the elegant Swedish capital last Friday scientists posed a problem that the world’s governments have agreed to solve in two years’ time in the Parisian suburb in what promises to be a vital chapter in the ungainly history of humanity’s attempt to stop changing the climate.

Stockholm was where the world’s leading climate science authority, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released its latest findings on global warming. The panel’s fifth assessment in 23 years largely reconfirms what its first one, back in 1990, quaintly described as the “concern that human activities may be inadvertently changing the climate of the globe through the enhanced greenhouse effect”.

But the new report’s tone is far more urgent. Not only is the panel now virtually certain that humans are behind most of the “unequivocal” global warming of the last 60 years, it is more convinced that our climate is undergoing exceptional changes.

This report also spells out with far more clarity that, at current emission rates, it may be just decades before global temperatures rise to risky levels. This is where Le Bourget comes in.

In December 2015, its exhibition centre will host the biggest UN talks on curbing emissions since the ill-fated Copenhagen meeting in 2009.

The UN has been organising these unwieldy climate negotiations since 1995. Their high point was the 1997 Kyoto protocol, still the world’s only global treaty legally obliging countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.


Soaring emissions
But the world’s biggest emitter in 1997, the US, never ratified Kyoto and the world’s biggest emitter today, China, was deemed a developing country that did not have to cut its carbon pollution, so emissions kept soaring. Copenhagen was supposed to come up with something better. Instead it produced an accord encouraging countries to make voluntary emissions pledges to keep temperatures from rising beyond 2C. These have not collectively met the target.

Now all eyes will be on Paris in 2015. It is still early days but the outlines of a potential deal are already taking shape. According to several of those involved, developed countries have little appetite for another “top-down” Kyoto-like accord specifying reduction targets for each country. Equally, it is recognised that a “bottom-up” system of voluntary Copenhagen-esque pledges is unlikely to do the job. Instead there is talk of trying to combine the two approaches by letting countries volunteer reductions that would then be subject to legally binding international rules. – (Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2013)