Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio pledged to save the environment for future generations, observers and policy makers agree swifter action is required to avert climate catastrophe.
However, even as new warnings were issued this week of impending disaster — more severe droughts, disease spread and land-effacing sea level rises — climate negotiators gathered in Bonn continued to bicker over procedure.
“Let’s consider climate change like you are in a car trying to stop before reaching a ledge. We are applying the brakes, but we are still far away from decelerating enough not to fall from the ledge,” Climate Action Network director Wael Hmaidan said on the sidelines of the talks, which ended on Friday.
On Thursday, climate researchers said the planet could warm by more than 3.5oC by 2100 if countries do not raise their game.
The UN’s target is a 2oC limit on warming from pre-industrial levels for manageable climate change.
Paul Hare from German policy research group Climate Analytics said the gap between countries’ promised interventions and the reality was “getting bigger.”
And the International Energy Agency said carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion reached a new high last year, providing “further evidence that the door to a 2oC trajectory is about to close.”
The Earth Summit had yielded the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol binding 37 rich nations to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
“I would say that the climate negotiations at their twentieth anniversary are definitely moving in the right direction, but not at the speed and not at the scale” required, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said in Bonn.
Scientists who monitor progress under the name Climate Action Tracker say warming of 3.5oC could cause many plant and animal species to die out, deserts to expand and agricultural production to plummet.
They say the scenario can be avoided if governments raise their commitments considerably, and fast — cutting fossil fuel subsidies and boosting production from renewable energy sources.
Countries agreed at UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, in December last year to draft a new climate pact by 2015. Due to take effect from 2020, it should bind all countries to emission cuts.
However, gathered in Bonn for the past 11 days, negotiators tasked with laying the groundwork for the new deal got stuck in procedural bickering as battle lines were redrawn between rich nations and some in the developing world over apportioning responsibility for tackling global warming.
Fast-growing economies like China and India, fearing emission cuts may slow their development engines, insist the developed world, which polluted more for longer, should bear a greater mitigation burden.
However, the West and small countries most threatened by climate change are eager for the emerging polluters to step up to the plate.
Even as countries hurled accusations at one another in Bonn, all agreed on one thing: “It is getting very late,” in the words of EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.