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Feature: Copenhagen: Why it matters

07.12.2009

This month’s world climate summit, known as COP-15, can be reduced to one central question: Will world leaders agree on a binding formula that sees CO₂ emissions peak by 2015 and then decline rapidly so that global temperature rise can be limited to 2°C by the end of this century?

By Chris Rose

The complex scientific documents and projections presented in Copenhagen this month at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference, known as COP-15, can be reduced to one central question:

Will world leaders agree on a binding formula that sees CO₂ emissions peak by 2015 and then decline rapidly so that global temperature rise can be limited to 2°C by the end of this century?


Climate change discussions were barely on the public agenda in 1992 when the UNFCCC was adopted to respond to global warming caused by burning fossil fuels.

When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the third Conference of the Parties (COP-3) to the UNFCCC meeting in Japan in 1997, however, society had begun to realise it needed to start reigning in its escalating levels of greenhouse gases.

The overall aim of the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out at the end of 2012, is to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate. It entered into force in 2005 with the backing of 187 states, but without the United States – which was responsible for 21% of world greenhouse gas emissions in 1990.

For its time the Kyoto Protocol was a ground-breaking international deal. But, as scientific evidence emerged that global warming is happening at a faster rate with more serious consequences than previously predicted, added to the lack of commitments from the US, its fault lines appeared. Global emissions today are 25% higher than in 1990.

By 2007, scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed conclusively that humans’ love affair with polluting fossil fuels was the biggest cause of global warming. The same year the COP-13 meeting was held in Bali, Indonesia, where nations agreed to a two-year negotiating process leading to a new, stronger international climate change deal being reached by the end of 2009 to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

COP-14 furthered negotiations last December in Poznan, Poland and there have been five additional negotiating sessions this year — in Bonn, Bangkok and Barcelona.

And now, in Copenhagen, the world waits for answers: To have a 50% chance of keeping warming below the 2°C danger mark, cuts of 25%-40% relative to 1990 levels are needed by 2020, rising to 80%-95% by 2050.

Offers currently on the table fall well short of this mark, although the EU is offering a 30% cut by 2020 if other industrialised nations do the same. The currently discussed US climate bill  would enable the US to bring a 17%-20% cut bid, but that’s relative to 2005 CO₂ levels and without the assurance that the Senate will back it.

 
A second key stumbling block is: will wealthy industrialised nations pass on enough finance so developing countries can also reduce their own growing carbon footprints?

Will the business-as-usual approach, the one dependant on dirty oil, coal and gas, result in a future marked by melting ice sheets, rising sea levels, droughts, famine, pandemics of contagious diseases, mass-extinction of species and mass migrations of panicked people? Or will politicians have the courage to embrace a healthier, smarter, green energy revolution?

For two weeks from 7 December, world leaders will meet to decide the fate of the planet.  While the success or failure of COP-15 to agree on a new, strengthened post-Kyoto agreement after 2012 has yet to unfold, there is already one certainty. Wind power — which is quickly producing increasing amounts of local, affordable, sustainable and dependable emissions-free electricity for an increasing global population — is here to stay.

Indeed, because it is so undisputedly true that more wind equals less CO₂, the future of our society as we know it is tied to the continued growth of transformative wind energy.

 

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