The weather in Bonn for most of the two weeks of the United Nations climate change talks was muggy and grey, interspersed with thunder and some spectacular storms.
But inside the conference centre, where storms can usually be relied on, there were surprising signs of harmony. “People are working together, they are making progress,” one developed country official reported. Another said: “The atmosphere is actually very good.”
The weather changed, however, towards the close of the conference. Appearances of harmony rapidly broke down over a proposal to assess some of the scientific research around adopting a target of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius – a target far tougher than the current target, accepted in the Copenhagen Accord, of limiting rises to 2 degrees by mid-century.
Two weeks of international talks in Bonn ended on something of a sour note when Saudi Arabia and two other Gulf fossil-fuel producers blocked a proposal for an updated report on the effect of a 1.5 degree increase in climate.
Agreements to date – such as they are – have focused on limiting warming to 2 degrees, but small low-lying island states fear that will be insufficient to prevent their nations becoming uninhabitable.
AOSIS, supported by the European Union (EU), Australia and New Zealand, called for a technical report on the cost of reaching the 1.5 C target and the consequences of breaching it.
But it was thwarted by Saudi Arabia, with support from Kuwait and Qatar, under the UN’s consensus rule, the sources said.
Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers argue that ratcheting up action on carbon emissions will hurt their revenues as fossil-fuel consumers switch to cleaner energy.
AFP reports that the conflict, unsurprisingly, soured the mood at Bonn. So much so that someone stole and elaborately defaced Saudi Arabia’s sign.
Senator Lisa Murkowski’s attempt to prevent the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases has failed, not even getting a 51-vote simple majority. It did however win support from six Democrats (and no Republicans opposed it).
This was seen as something of a test for the likelihood of a climate bill getting through the Senate.
As we’ve written before, the BP oil spill hasn’t made the politics of a US climate bill any less murky. In fact, counter-intuitively, it might be even more complicated for sponsors of a climate bill to navigate the complex mix of Democrats senators from fossil fuel-rich states and potential Republican climate supporters. Offshore oil drilling is by no means universally unpopular.
Even while the Gulf oil disaster might be concentrating minds on the risks of fossil fuels, US Congress is now looking more unlikely ever to pass an effective climate bill.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who until recently was a key supporter of the Boxer-Kerry cap-and-trade climate bill, on Wednesday threw his support behind a bill proposed by Richard Lugar, another Republican Senator, which has plenty of incentives and some regulations, but no financial mechanism for reducing emissions.
The Union of Concerned Scientists says analysis of the outline of the Lugar bill suggests it would only reduce emissions by 9 per cent; far short of the amount expected of the US in international climate negotiations. And a failure by the US to set adequate emissions targets means that the key developing countries are unlikely to come to the table either.
If true, this could be the worst news on global climate policy since Copenhagen:
A Senate proposal setting up a cap-and-trade program to curtail greenhouse gas emissions likely will be offered on the floor later this summer as an amendment to a smaller, energy-only approach, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said today.
As for climate change, Schumer predicted Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) would have a chance to win 60 votes on their plan during the floor debate on the underlying Bingaman bill.
“Kerry has … done a damn good job, and he’s going to, in my opinion, get a chance to offer that amendment, and we’ll see if it has the votes.”
Emphasis ours – it’s clear that Schumer thinks it doesn’t.
If last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen ended in a bang – and not in a good way – the resumption of the talks has gone ahead with barely a whimper.
Negotiators have gathered together in Bonn this week for the first talks since Copenhagen. They will carry on until next Friday, hoping to make progress on some of the key sticking points that ensured the Copenhagen outcome came in for more blame than praise.
In May China revealed it was struggling to meet its energy intensity targets of reducing energy per unit of GDP by 20 per cent between 2005 and 2010; something the country’s leaders seemed rather embarassed about, particularly given that new carbon intensity commitments are a key part of their climate negotiating strategy.
At the time, we wondered what sort of measures that would translate into, to curb an actual increase in intensity in recent months. Well this week China’s central bank announced what looks to be a serious measure, declaring restrictions on loans to energy-intensive sectors.
But how ambitious really is this energy-intensive goal, and the more important commitment to reduce carbon intensity?
Prices for European allowances may be hovering close to the relatively high level of €15, but carbon traders are ever more gloomy about the outlook for their industry, particularly post-2012, when the Kyoto protocol expires. Along with a host of senior climate officials, they’re not expecting an agreement to be struck this year in Cancun.
The International Emissions Trading Association says a survey carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers showed that 60 per cent of carbon traders believe there will be no agreement before 2011, and that “current uncertainty will have a significant negative impact on long-term low-carbon investment”.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s chief has spoken frankly about the human failings that led to the publication of the inaccurate Himalayan glaciers claim, during a review of the organisation — but also defended the body’s underlying methods, and its use of non-peer-reviewed reports.
Rajendra Pachauri told the first meeting of the Interacademy Council’s IPCC review that the publication of the claim was a human error, and that the organisation must listen and learn.
However he added:
“Even if the glaciers don’t melt by 2035, this is what’s happening to glaciers all over the world. We know the decreases in glaciers have already contributed 28 per cent to rising sea levels since 1993.”
There’s been an awful lot of speculation about what the Gulf of Mexico oil leak will mean for the chances of an already-challenged US climate bill getting through. Intuitively, it makes sense. But looking at the Senate numbers makes passage much less convincing.
We may find out soon, as two of the original three sponsors say they will introduce the bill on Wednesday.