Rich countries 'dragging feet' on climate treaty

Thursday 24th Nov 2011 by theWeather Club

Governments of the world's richest countries are being accused of having given up on forging a new treaty on climate change aimed at taking effect this decade, with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment through global warming.

Ahead of critical talks starting next week, most of the world's leading economies now privately admit that no new global climate agreement will be reached before 2016, as opposed to a 2012 agreement many had hoped for. They are also suggesting that anything agreed in 2016 would not actually come into force until 2020. The proposed eight-year delay comes despite intensifying warnings from scientists and economists about the rapidly increasing dangers of putting off prompt action.

After the virtual collapse of the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, governments pledged to try to sign a new treaty in 2012. The date is critical, because 2012 marks the expiry of the current provisions of the Kyoto protocol, the only legally binding international agreement to limit emissions.

The UK, EU, Japan, US and other rich nations are all now united in opting to delay that agreement. Developing countries are furious, and the delay will be fiercely debated at the next round of international climate talks beginning a week on Monday in Durban, South Africa.

The Alliance of Small Island States, which represents some of the countries most at risk from global warming, called moves to delay a new treaty reckless and irresponsible. Dr Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA), and one of the world's foremost authorities on climate economics, told the Guardian newspaper: "If we do not have an international agreement whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door to [holding temperatures below 2°C] will be closed forever."

Lord Stern, author of 'The Stern Review: A Dual Critique', a landmark review of the economics of climate change, said aiming for a 2020 deadline was pessimistic and risks introducing lethargy to the process: "It's not fast enough," he said, "this is a collective failure." However, he remains hopeful that countries and companies will continue to try to cut carbon in the absence of a deal in the short term. He believes individual countries and industries taking action even without a global deal provides the best chance of cutting emissions. Scientists say the only way to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change is to hold temperatures to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

However some believe that voluntary action by individual countries might never be enough. Dr Birol said that analysis carried out by the IAE shows that the kind of large scale changes in investment patterns needed to meaningfully impact on emissions levels, are very unlikely to happen in the absence of any legally binding global agreement.

Ruth Davis of Greenpeace said: "Failing to agree a plan to tackle the climate crisis in Durban would be a disaster, but agreeing on a plan to do almost nothing for a decade would arguably be worse. Leaders in Durban must ... agree to sign a binding global deal no later than 2015, which will re-establish the link between climate science and the pace and scale of action. Otherwise we risk sliding rapidly from climate crisis to climate catastrophe."