Aug 5, 2009
Stumbling blocks on the path to global climate deals
Global warming is no longer in doubt; the evidence is overwhelming. We know what needs to be done to alleviate the problem, but how do we do it? What seems reasonable to one country may seem unfair to another. In a paper published in Environmental Research Letters, researchers outline the major "tripping points" likely to be encountered in trying to reach a global agreement.
World leaders have woken up to the seriousness of climate change. At the G8 summit this summer in L'Aquila, Italy, leaders declared formally that the world should not allow global temperatures to rise by more than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. Now all eyes are focused towards the United Nations climate change conference scheduled for December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark, where a global agreement must be thrashed out.
To help people prepare for this conference, Miquel Muñoz from Boston University, US, and his colleagues have put together a "bird's eye view" of the complex terrain to be negotiated, pointing out the most important "tripping points" with the potential to derail an agreement.
The most obvious and largest tripping point of all is going to be reaching reasonable mitigation targets for each country. The targets need to be fair but also sufficient to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance sinks enough to avoid dangerous climate change.
Major oil producing countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are likely to try to block mitigation targets. "If oil consumption is going to be limited they will want to be compensated," Muñoz told environmentalresearchweb.
Meanwhile developing countries may argue that they have yet to emit their fare share of greenhouse gases, and need to be compensated by developed countries if they are to avoid doing so. In addition to hard cash, such compensation could take the form of technology transfer.
Heavily forested countries, such as Papua New Guinea, may insist that they are compensated for leaving their forests standing and providing an important greenhouse gas sink.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Papua New Guinea are unlikely to reach an agreement until their barriers are addressed, say Muñoz and his team, but other countries may be able to use this to their advantage, to bargain other concessions out of the agreement.
The countries with the most muscle are likely to be the largest and wealthiest according to Muñoz. China and the US hold the most bargaining chips, while Brazil and India have significant blocking powers. However, Muñoz believes that if all the big players (China, the US, Brazil, India, Japan and Europe) can come to an agreement, it will be very hard for smaller countries to block it.
Time is pressing, and many people hope that a strong and binding set of agreements can be reached this December. "The political pressure is very high now and so they are likely to reach an agreement, but unfortunately it will probably be a weak agreement, with general emissions commitments and monetary pledges, but few specific targets," says Muñoz.
However, preparation is the key and with luck an awareness of the most likely tripping points will help countries to reach a stronger set of agreements.
About the author
Kate Ravilious is a contributing editor to environmentalresearchweb.