Failure and fraud at UN climate talks

Protest at the UN climate conference at Copenhagen, December 2009. The most recent UN conference in Bonn, Germany, failed to cut

On June 11 at the close of climate talks in Bonn, Germany, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer tried to put a positive spin on the outcome. “This all in all is a big step forward making much more possible in Cancun”, he said, referring to the next big climate conference that takes place in Mexico in November.

However, big step or not, the conference outcomes kept the world sprinting headlong towards a climate catastrophe.

Midway through the talks, a coalition of NGOs that included Friends of the Earth International, Jubilee South, Action Aid and the Third World Network, released a statement that calculated the emissions targets offered at Bonn would lead to an average temperature rise of 4°C this century — far above the 1.5°C limit proposed by small island states.

An average 4°C rise would mean rises of 10-15°C in some parts of the world. It would lead to widespread crop failures, big drops in water availability and far more extreme weather events. It would also make certain the crossing of climate tipping points, which could spark bigger, unstoppable changes.

In a May 4 Online Opinion article, Australian National University climate scientist Andrew Glickson said: “The potential consequences of a 4°C mean global temperature rise for human habitats [are so bad it] defies contemplation.”

As well as refusing to pledge big emissions cuts, the big polluting nations were accused of trying to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol at Bonn. The Kyoto Protocol climate treaty was adopted in 1992 and made emission cuts legally binding on developed countries.

References to Kyoto were removed from the conference’s final text, despite the protests of poor nations. In its place, the text implied future emissions cut pledges would be strictly voluntary.

Martin Khor wrote in the June 14 Malaysian Star: “The new text implies the ending of the Kyoto Protocol (which the developing countries insist should continue) and its replacement with a new agreement in which the mitigation obligations of developed and developing countries are treated almost at the same level.

“In this scheme, the developed countries would climb down from a binding regime of mandatory deep emission cuts to a voluntary system of pledges, while developing countries would have to undertake higher obligations to act and report than they now have to.”

Khor said that a requirement that rich countries continue with their existing Kyoto emissions cut pledges was also scrapped.

The conference text included a target for rich countries to cut emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020. Yet Associated Press said on June 11 the target did not include a baseline year to measure the cuts against, rendering it meaningless.

At Bonn, poor countries asked the UN to conduct a review of the latest climate science, reported on June 11. Recent studies show the Copenhagen Accord’s 2°C average warming target is too high to stop dangerous climate change.

But the request was blocked by Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations. This means the UN will continue to use outdated science as the basis for the negotiations at Cancun. An updated report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not due until 2014.

During the conference, the Bolivian government released data that showed that loopholes in the proposals discussed at Bonn would allow rich countries to increase emissions by up to 8%, said the June 9 Guardian.

Some of biggest loopholes cited were proposals to change how emissions from logging and land use change are calculated.

Australia, Russia and the European Union have pushed for changes that would let them claim emissions reductions from planting trees, but disregard emissions from cutting trees down.

The Wilderness Society’s Sean Cadman told ABC Radio on June 10 that Australia was pushing to exploit “a massive forestry accounting loophole” that “would actually increase emissions above … business as usual”.

Another loophole will allow rich countries such as Australia to measure emissions against a “forward-looking baseline” — a prediction of how emissions from land use change would look in the future, BBC said on June 11.

To exploit the loophole, governments would simply have to make unrealistically high predictions. When emissions fall below the prediction, it would count as an “emissions cut” — even if actual emissions go up.

Papua New Guinea's lead climate negotiator Kevin Conrad told Bloomburg News on June 1 that the measure was “a climate fraud. We'd rather have lower overall emissions cuts than dishonest numbers”.

The Third World Network’s Meena Raman summed up the “big step forward” at Bonn: “The system advanced by many developed countries offers the worst of both worlds — a system with no science-based targets for developed countries and with inadequate pledges, expansive loopholes and carbon markets allowing them to shift the burden further to poor countries."

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