Climate Convention back on track – but not much progress

December 21st, 2010 by Riso National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy

(click to go to COP 16 website)

Under the slogan “Cancún Can” the countries of the world convened the 16th climate summit in Cancun, Mexico from 29 November to 10 December. The Head of the UNEP Risoe Centre at Risø DTU, John M. Chistensen, attended the meeting and gives here his own assessment of the outcome of COP16: “With regard to the results of the summit itself, it is difficult to make a clear-cut assessment. The main result was probably that the meetings succeeded in getting the process back on track after the political failure in Copenhagen, where the meeting ended without any real decisions regarding the “Copenhagen Accord”, which had no legal status.” This is John M. Christensen’s overall conclusion from the meeting.

In Cancún, most elements of the Copenhagen accord have been embedded in actual COP decisions, and at the same time a number of decisions were made about progress on the forest area (REDD+), about technology transfer and the process of establishing the so-called Green Fund was launched. The Fund will support developing countries with activities both on emission reductions and adaptation.

Emissions reductions have been integrated

The emission reduction pledges that a large number of countries announced either before or shortly after the meeting in Copenhagen have been integrated in formal decisions, and reporting systems were established where the countries regularly are to analyze and document progress. The reductions are in this way voluntary commitments, but with a mandatory measurement and reporting system, unlike the Kyoto Protocol where targets were legally binding. In practice the difference is more political than practical, as e.g. Canada is not likely to meet its Kyoto targets, but there are no real political sanctions, therefore the issues of voluntary versus binding agreements are somewhat ambiguous.

The developing countries are pushing for the industrialized countries’ pledges to become legally binding as a second phase of Kyoto at next year’s COP in Durban South Africa, but this meets strong resistance from Japan, Canada, Russia and Australia.

The positive message that pledges from Copenhagen are being formalized has to be considered against an analysis made by UNEP about “the emission gap”. It is based on analyses carried out by a number of international model teams identifying the maximum level global emissions should be in 2020, if we are to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees over this century. This analysis showed that the current pledges are somewhat more ambitious than the Kyoto agreement, especially because several of the major countries are included, but there is still a gap of at least 5GT in 2020, equivalent to approx. 10% of current global emissions. So there will be a need to continually tighten the targets for the next year or revise what is possible to achieve.

3 to 4 degrees warming have an impact bordering on the catastrophic

A world with temperature increases of 3 to 4 degrees would be significantly harder to adapt to with regard to ecosystems, agriculture and infrastructure, and the consequences will risk being catastrophic, according to the UN climate panel.

The hope is that the process can be accelerated by the growing focus on green growth in many countries, which in many ways represents a positive vision more than the reduction philosophy that is the basis for the current climate process.

UNEP Risø Centre at Risø DTU was well represented at COP16

From UNEP Risø Centre, there were 6 participants at the meeting, partly to assist the UNEP delegation in its work but also to organise project meetings and a series of seminars where the results of the Centre’s work on CDM and technology transfer were presented. Moreover the Secretariat of the Global Energy Network for Sustainable Development – GNESD – organised a high level event on energy and poverty that was successful in attracting the leaders of UNEP, UN Industrial Development Organisation – UNIDO and the International Energy Agency (IEA) as speakers.

The Project Seminars went very well and the UNEP Risø Centre’s work on both CDM and technology transfer is generally highly regarded among both participating countries and experts.

Next step is NAMAs

Activities in 2011 will further expand in the direction of the “new areas” under the Convention supporting developing countries’ preparation of low carbon development plans and the so-called NAMA’s which stands for “Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions“.  UNEP and the UNEP Risø has just received a grant from DANIDA on DKK 40 million to support this type of activity in 6 to 8 developing countries and thereby also helping to develop the new international guidelines in this area similarly to what the centre did for CDM.

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