With this year on track to become the warmest year on record and time running short, more than 190 nations began talks on a new worldwide deal to limit greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming from causing irreversible damage.
New targets for fossil fuel use were announced ahead of the climate conference by the US, the EU and China, the first Asian nation to make such a pledge. This has injected optimism into negotiations that are supposed to climax in Paris next year with the adoption of a long-awaited climate pact.
However, India, Russia, Japan and Australia have yet to commit to new limits; and scientists say much sharper emissions cuts are needed in coming decades to keep global warming within 2oC of pre-industrial times, the overall goal of the UN talks. Global temperatures have already risen about 0.8oC and more heat-trapping gases are emitted every year.
Every degree of warming can cause long-lasting impacts, from melting ice caps and rising sea levels to the loss of species.
“Human influence on the climate system is clear,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairperson Rajendra Pachauri told delegates at the opening session in Lima on Monday.
To have a decent chance of reversing the warming trend before the planet hits the 2oC mark, the world needs to slash emissions by between 40 percent and 70 percent by 2050 and to near-zero by the end of the century, according to the panel’s assessments.
Scientists are practically united in warning that there is no way to meet this goal by continuing business as usual.
It would require a sustained, permanent, worldwide shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources to power homes, cars and industries. Even then, the transition might not happen fast enough without a large-scale deployment of new technologies to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
“We call on the world to ensure the opportunity does not slip away,” said Nauru’s Marlene Moses, representing a group of Pacific island nations threatened by rising seas.
The biggest challenge for the UN-sponsored talks is dividing responsibilities between rich Western countries and emerging economies such as China and India. The poorest and most vulnerable nations also need help to develop their economies without aggravating global warming, and to adapt to climate changes that are already causing more violent weather.
Among them is host country Peru, whose glaciers are melting ever-faster, threatening water supplies on the coastal desert where 70 percent of its citizens live and threatening the nation’s hydropower and food security.
The negotiators in Lima are focusing on a draft agreement that can be refined before the Paris meeting a year from now.
A key issue is what data each government should provide so emissions targets can be compared.
Developing countries also want rich nations to make good on promises of financing to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change impacts, which range from the spread of diseases to coastal flooding to major disruptions to agriculture.
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