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Battling climate change

June 12, 2009

On Friday, the UN Climate Conference in Bonn wrapped up with little in the way of results. With no deal on CO2 emission targets the delegations failed to achieve any major step towards a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

The earth seen from space
Critics says there was little more than agreement to disagreeImage: AP

After a 12 day marathon of talks, delegates have wrapped up negotiations at a Bonn climate conference. The goal was to work towards a draft of a new treaty to combat global warming - but many analysts say they're disappointed with the meagre results.

At the end of the negotiating sessions, the rift between industrial and emerging nations seemed bigger than before. And even within those two blocs, there was little agreement except on the fundamental fact that action is needed.

"The only thing that they have agreed on in Bonn, is that they fundamentally disagree on all issues," concludes Regine Guenther of the WWF.

In the run up to the conference numerous NGO's and climate activists had been stepping up the pressure. Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace delegation said the scientific evidence for climate change was so overwhelming that dealing with it was the biggest challenge mankind had ever faced.

"We can not change the scientific facts or the urgency to do something. But what we can change are the policies. And if the policies don't change then we have to vote those politicians opposing change out of office."

Studies suggest drastic emission cuts are necessary

UN climate chief Ivo de Boer
UN climate chief Yvo de Boer says time is shortImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The conclusions that UN climate studies present are very clear: To prevent a climate catastrophe, by the year 2020 CO2 emissions will have to be reduced by up to 40 percent compared to 1990 levels. By 2050, the studies suggest, emissions will have to be cut by another 80 percent.

Otherwise global average temperatures could rise by up to two degrees Celsius, a development that could have devastating consequences - droughts, floods and rising sea levels - for the entire planet.

Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change tried to put a positive spin on the lack of tangible results at the Bonn conference. The negotiations on a new global climate treaty - which by 2013 is to replace the Kyoto Protocol - have only just begun, he argued.

"I think that this session has made clear, what governments want to see in a Copenhagen agreement. It shows that they are committed to reaching an agreement and this is a big achievement."

"This meeting has shown that governments can do a deal in Copenhagen that gives a strong and definite answer to the IPCC's [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] climate alarm that has been ringing loudly these past three years."

"Time is short, but we still have enough time."

"Yes, there is no question that the industrialized countries must raise their sights higher in terms of midterm emission cuts, and yes, time is short, but we still have enough time," de Boer added.

Man sitting in desert
Droughts, floods and rising sea levels if the UN fails to actImage: AP

Six months ahead of the Copenhagen summit, where, it is hoped, the follow-on treaty to Kyoto will be signed, the discussions are all about numbers and figures. Who should reduce emissions? By how much? And what should be paid in compensation to those countries that have caused very little but will suffer most from climate change. There are four points that the UN will have to agree on in Copenhagen, says de Boer.

"Ambitious emission reductions targets from industrialized countries; efforts by developing countries to limit the growth of their emissions; stable, significant predictable finance for adaptation and mitigation; and an equitable government structure."

While de Boer tried to sound optimistic, critics said that at the Bonn conference much less has been accomplished than had initially had been hoped for. The biggest disappointment was that there was still no breakthrough in agreeing on a CO2 emission target.

Countries like the US or Russia have not even provided suggestions on such targets. And Washington still has not ratified the Kyoto protocol.

There are six months and a lot of work left to be done before the Copenhagen summit. The next round of talks are to be in August in Bonn. In September the 192 delegations are to meet in Bangkok and in November in Barcelona. The summit in Copenhagen is scheduled for December.

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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