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Climate talks resume in Geneva

Irene QuaileFebruary 8, 2015

UN negotiators are meeting in Geneva for a new round of talks this week. With 2014 recognised as the hottest year on record, there is increasing pressure for a global climate pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

climate change chart
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The United Nations' Geneva climate talks resume on Sunday in a bid to finalize a draft text for an intercountry pact aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

The six-day meeting will be the first formal gathering since the Lima climate summit in Peru in December.

Three special sessions have been added to this year's schedule of climate change talks which will cultimate in Paris at the end of the year when the document is expected to be ratified by participating countries.

No end to warming in sight

The UN seeks to limit the increase of the average global surface temperature to no more than two degrees Celcius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial revolution levels. But scientists warn Earth is headed for double that target.

The World Meteorological Organization confirmed in Geneva this week that 2014 had been the hottest year on record, part of a "warming trend" that appears set to continue.

Average global air temperatures in 2014 were 0.57 degrees Celsius higher than the long-term average of 14 degrees Celcius during the period from 1961 to 1990, the WMO said in a statement.

"In 2014, record-breaking heat combined with torrential rainfall and floods in many countries and drought in some others – consistent with the expectation of a changing climate," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said.

Global sea surface temperatures also reached record levels.

The WMO report is a consolidation of leading international datasets, including research by NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the British Met Office's Hadley Centre and the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia.

Two degree target out of reach?

Experts warn Earth is on track to warm up to four degrees Celcius, which could mean more catastrophic droughts, floods, storms and rises in sea level.

Sri Lanka floods 25.12.2014.
Climate change means more extreme weatherImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Army Media Unit

Emissions would have to be cut by 40 to 70 percent from 2010 levels by 2050 and have reached zero or below by 2100 for the planet to have any chance of keeping to the two degree Celcius target widely agreed to be the highest temperature rise the Earth can take without dangerous impacts.

So far, the UN climate negotiations have not been able to come up with sufficient pledges which would move them closer to reaching the target.

A new world climate agreement is scheduled to be ratified in Paris at the end of this year and enter into force from 2020. The blueprint for negotiations is to be finalized in May. But India, one of the world's top emitters, has already said it will not come forward with its pledge until after the UN deadline.

WWF calls for 'business unusual'

The conservation organization World Wide Fund for Nature has urged negotiators in Geneva to adopt a "business unusual" approach. Samantha Smith, leader of WWF's Global Climate and Energy Initiative said in a statement that many issues that could have been resolved in the last major round of talks in Lima had been pushed into this year's negotiations.

Coal power station, wind turbines.
An energy revolution is neededImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Weihrauch

“That business-as-usual approach now puts a heavy burden on negotiators”, she said. She urged participants to draw on the momentum that was evident before Lima, with demonstrations around the world for climate action and countries coming forward with new climate commitments.

"That was business unusual, and that's the same approach negotiators will need to agree on an ambitious, science-based climate deal," Smith said.

Expectations already downgraded?

The delegates in Geneva will work on a draft for the climate agreement which was adopted in December 2014 at the UN Climate Conference in Peru.

Head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat Christiana Figueres has also issued a statement saying the sum total of the national contributions was not expected to be enough to limit the increase of world temperature to 2 degrees Celcius.

"What we are going to have to do all of the time is to close the gap between what science tells us where we have to be and where we actually are," she said.

Figueres described efforts to halt climate change as "probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model, for the first time in human history."