Thursday, 26 November 2009

Too little? Too late?....

US President Barack Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao will be attending the conference at Copenhagen. They will both be bringing a firm commitment to cut their nations' emissions to the table. This is good. This is very good.

But...
Being the cynical so and so that I am I wonder what this really means...

The US commitment of a 17% cut in emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2020 (reported by the Guardian here http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/25/barack-obama-copenhagen) equates to only a 6% cut relative to 1990 levels (the reference level for Kyoto), compared to the EU pledge to cut emissions by 20% relative to 1990 levels and 30% if there is a global deal.

China has said that it will reduce the energy intensity of its economy by 40-45% relative to 2005 levels by 2020 (reported by the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8380106.stm and by the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/26/china-targets-cut-carbon-footprint). Carbon intensity is a measure of the amount of CO2 produced per unit of GDP.

Several reports indicate that these commitments do not go nearly far enough.
1) The recent report from the Global Carbon Project which reported that emissions had risen 29% in the period 2000-8 (referred to in my recent post, Burning Out)
2) The IPCC third report (2007), described the necessity for our emissions to start declining by 2015
3) Recent peer-reviewed scientific literature review by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) (pdf here: http://www.unep.org/compendium2009/) suggested that predictions from the upper end of the 2007 IPCC report were becoming ever more likely.

There are questions that we should be asking.

These commitments made are meant to look like a good beginning, but might they simply be a photo opportunity for the politicians? Even if these pledges are set down in a treaty or other legal document/vehicle, will we be able to do it?

The recent Institute of Mechanical Engineers (Imeche) report, referred to in my post Hard Choices, indicates that the UK will be unable to meet the targets of the Climate Change Act. Is there any more certainty that other nations will be able to meet the targets of any treaty made at Copenhagen?

Will any targets set be legally enforcible, and what mechanisms will there be to enforce them?

From where I am sitting, it looks like too little, too late. I hope that I am wrong and that this is the start of the massive collective effort at all levels, by all, that we so badly need.

Only time will tell.

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