World keeps warming while climate negotiators keep talking

BONN, Germany — Thousands of people at an international climate summit are spending two weeks negotiating the minutiae of technical rules about commitments made during the Paris climate talks two years ago.

The negotiators want to lay the groundwork for a major boost in pledges to battle climate change from countries at the same gathering next year. Their goal, spelled out in the Paris accord, is to limit the temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and eventually 1.5 degrees, by 2100.

In the meantime, the world keeps getting hotter, and potential side effects, like tropical storms, floods and droughts, continue to worsen.

“Countries are acting like, ‘Oh, we agreed there’s a problem,’ but the actions they’re taking are negligible,” said James Hansen, a prominent U.S. climate scientist who headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and now teaches at Columbia University.

There’s a growing disconnect between tangible climate changes and existing national commitments, as highlighted by data released just ahead of the COP23 summit here in Bonn. This year appears on track to be one of the three hottest years on record, with global temperatures averaging 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels in the first nine months, the World Meteorological Organization said Monday.

The climate pledges countries have so far submitted under the Paris deal, meanwhile, would actually make a temperature increase of at least 3 degrees by the end of the century “very likely,” U.N. Environment said last week — slower than without, but falling short of the deal’s goals.

Futile effort?

That raises questions about the utility of the effort taking place in Bonn, where a particularly vulnerable island nation, Fiji, is hosting the summit at the U.N. Climate Change headquarters.

“For political leaders, the climate change topic is not one that propels them forward for the most part” — California Governor Jerry Brown

“With the low ambition currently, we are left behind,” Collin Beck, the negotiator for the Solomon Islands, said of the world’s least developed countries. “If we don’t do something within the next 10 years, then we really have a very uncertain future for many of our people.”

The task in Bonn is to make sure the Paris climate agreement gets the world to shoot for the 1.5-degree goal, he added.

The Paris climate agreement’s rulebook isn’t due until the end of next year, which means negotiators are mostly going over options and scenarios for issues like financial aid and clean technology transfer from rich to poor countries, rather than wrangling over big political decisions.

But pressure is mounting to move from talking about tackling climate change to actually doing it.

“The Paris agreement was significant because all the countries in the world have now signed it — Syria was the last one,” California Governor Jerry Brown said at a German Marshall Fund conference in Brussels Thursday. “But the next step is, what are the individual emissions?”

While negotiators are quick to talk about urgency, their calls for ambition are growing more awkward as the focus of talks shifts from the Paris accords’ headline goals to the more politically fraught issue of how countries are translating them into policies.

“For political leaders, the climate change topic is not one that propels them forward for the most part,” Brown said, pointing to jobs, crime and terrorism as more concrete issues for politicians. “Climate change is a generalization.”

Narrow lens

The problem in Bonn is that the talks are stuck on complex rules that fail to spark much public or political excitement outside the halls of the summit’s Bula zone — named for the Fijian word for hello, goodbye, love and other things — where negotiations are split into technical groups.

The world keeps getting hotter, and potential side effects, like tropical storms, floods and droughts, continue to worsen | Thomas B. Shea/AFP via Getty Images

And it’s very difficult for countries to pull back from the intricacies of negotiating global accounting standards and look at the broader picture of whether the Paris process is going to end up being enough to bring global warming under control.

The EU’s chief negotiators, for instance, used a COP23 press conference Monday to once again tout the energy and climate policies the bloc is putting in place for 2030 and its “very robust” target to cut emissions by at least 40 percent by then, compared to 1990 levels.

But that’s a goal set in back in 2014, and there’s little political appetite for moving much faster.

“It’s worthwhile to appreciate that raising the headline number is not the only indication of ambition — delivering on what you promised is pretty ambitious as well, and we’re certainly moving on that,” said Elina Bardram, the European Commission’s negotiator.

Original Article

Previous Post
Next Post