Climate deal loopholes ‘make farce’ of rich nations’ pledge

New research reveals carbon emissions from rich nations could actually rise under loopholes in the proposed UN climate deal

John Vidal, Bonn, 4 August

Rich countries have been put on the back foot after new research showed that current pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions could be wiped out by gaping loopholes in the UN climate change treaty put forward in Copenhagen last year.

Developing countries have argued strongly for minimum 40% emission cuts from industrialised nations by 2020. But new analysis from the Stockholm Environment Institute and Third World Network (TWN), released at the latest UN climate talks in Bonn, showed that current pledges amounted to only 12-18% reductions below 1990 levels without loopholes. When all loopholes were taken into account, emissions could be allowed to rise by 9%.

The research factored in four separate loopholes that are known to exist, but which countries have so far failed to address in the negotiations. These include land use and forestry credits, carbon offset credits gained from UN Clean Development Mechanism schemes, surplus carbon allowances accumulated by former Soviet countries and international aviation and shipping emissions, which are not currently included in emission reduction schemes proposed by countries.

“Industrialised countries pledged a modest reduction in their emissions at the Copenhagen talks last year, but the these loopholes would actually allow them to grow them substantially well into the future,” said Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Institute.

“This means they [rich nations] need not do anything to hold emissions. They could accumulate huge amounts of credits to continue business as usual,” he said.

“The more we look into the loopholes the worse it gets. The whole thing begins to look like a farce”, said Lim Li Lin, a legal specialist with TWN.

In a separate submission to governments, Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, claimed that industrialised countries were filling all the available atmosphere with carbon pollution, and preventing poor countries from developing. Solon quoted peer-reviewed research by leading Nasa scientist Jim Hansen and the German government’s Advisory Council on Global Change which, he said, showed that the world had a “budget” of 750 gigatonnes of CO2 over the next 40 years if it sought a 66% chance of holding temperature rises to under 2C. The world had a smaller budget of just 420GT of CO2 if it wanted to stay below 1.5C, as more than 100 countries have so far demanded.

“With the current pledges on the table, we have calculated that the Annex 1 (industrialised) nations are going to spend the whole [carbon] budget of the next 40 years in the next 10 years,” Solon said. “What is on the table has no relation to any target that [rich countries] have established. It is like a salary. If you spend it all in the first week then you have nothing left for the rest of the month.”

“Copenhagen demonstrated disastrously low levels of ambition and rich countries are trying shamelessly to wriggle out of even the weak commitments they have made,” said Asad Rehman, international climate change campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “The science is clear. Developed countries must stop trying to hide behind technicalities hidden in the negotiations,” he said.

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