Almost at the last minute at the ‘Conference of the Parties’ – the climate talks taking place in Warsaw – an agreement was reached. This followed mass walkouts by NGOs, who were unhappy at lack of progress being made earlier in the week. Mostly, delegates seem to have agreed to put off agreeing any real action until a new round of climate talks, scheduled to take place in Paris in 2015.
In the meantime, the delegates will be returning home to work on their own countries’ ‘contributions’ to reducing carbon emissions, which will come into force in 2020. The word ‘contribution’ is significant – much of the argument at the talks centred around countries like China and India wanting to see the removal of the word ‘commitment’ from the text of the agreement’. ’Contribution’ was the word finally agreed upon as a compromise. It gives greater scope for future moving of goalposts. The setting of these contributions to emissions reduction and the oversight of performance relative to targets will be carried out by domestic governments, but will be subject to international assessment.
The reason that many of the arguments have taken place is that in the last couple of decades, the world has changed. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol placed the onus on developed countries to make cuts to their CO2 emissions, while developing countries did not have to make any commitments to reductions. In Copenhagen in 2009, developing countries also accepted some responsibility for reducing their own CO2 emissions. This is more important now. As a developing country, China is now the world’s biggest CO2 emitter and has the world’s second biggest economy. Emissions from developing countries are set to overtake those of developed countries in 2020. So it’s clear that developing countries will have to play their part too if we are to succeed in tackling climate change.
However, India and China, along with other developing nations in a grouping of ‘like minded developing countries’ (LMDC), which also includes Venezuela, Bolivia, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia want the developed world to have to do more than them to cut their CO2 emissions. And meanwhile, among developed countries, there are big discrepancies. Japan backtracked on its carbon reduction commitments at the Warsaw meeting while Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Accord completely. Poland, the host nation, produces 90% of its electricity from coal fired power stations and is unlikely to be able to meet the target the EU is likely to set for its member states of a 40% reduction, based on 1990 emissions, by 2030.
It is going to be a real challenge for all the countries of the world to reach an agreement that they all feel they can sign up to. Whether this can be achieved in Paris in 2015 is still to be seen. But while governments go on arguing about words and details, our CO2 emissions keep growing. We only have the one planet. It’s clear that if the world is to reduce its carbon emissions, we all need to be in it together. We can’t keep dodging this issue forever. The time for meaningful action is now.