Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 14 April 2014
The UN panel on climate change has just released new reports which show the need for mitigation actions overall and in various sectors
Modern man, his lifestyles and the products he produces and use are responsible for a lot of the increase in the stock of Greenhouse Gas emissions in the atmosphere which has driven global warming.
There’s been an explosive growth of Greenhouse Gas emissions in the past few decades. The situation doesn’t seem to be improving despite more awareness that the climate crisis threatens life as we know it.
These are some reflections upon reading the latest report of the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), launched yesterday in Berlin.
I took part in the week-long meetings where over a hundred governments met with scientists to read, amend and adopt the IPCC’s summary report on climate mitigation.
It was the third IPCC report in its Fifth Assessment series. The first, on physical science aspects, was completed last September. The second, on adaptation, was adopted in late March in Yokohama.
This third report was quite contentious, as it dealt with mitigation, including such sensitive topics as how much to reduce emissions, how it can be done, and how much this would cost.
The meetings were intense, as participants grappled with how best to portray the complexities of so many aspects to one of the world’s most pressing problems, and the atmosphere was tense, as governments fought on ways to explain who and what were to blame for the crisis, and how to share the burden of reducing emissions in the future.
The facts in the 33-page Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) were stark indeed, including that:
The SPM is a summary report, negotiated among governments and scientists, that is meant to tell policy makers in a few pages what an “underlying report” details in more than a thousand pages.
While the scientists are responsible for the contents of the underlying report, they together with the governments are jointly responsible for the SPM, which is why the IPCC is seen as such a powerful body. There is buy-in by the governments for a report that is science-based but tempered (or diluted, depending on how one looks at it) by the views of a wide range of governments with diverse and often different views.
During the week, there was a lot of tension between government delegates of developed and developing countries as they interacted with some of the scientists.
The developing countries had the suspicion that many developed-country delegations wanted to highlight the role of the former (or the better off among them) in recent emissions growth, and thus prepare the ground for shifting the share of action away from themselves and onto the emerging economies.
These developing countries tried to exclude or limit texts and graphs in the summary report that they believed would unfairly blame them for generating the climate crisis, as in their view it is the developed countries that are mainly to blame as they are responsible for most of the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The governments present in Berlin were quite aware that the IPCC report will have influence over the negotiations in the UN Climate Convention, which is expected to result in a new legal regime in 2015.
The week’s events led one to conclude that the summary report for policy makers emerging from the IPCC is influenced by both science and politics. There has been a politicisation of the process of report making.
One of the useful things in the report is that it also summarises in a few pages the actions that can be taken to reduce emission. It provides the advantages of taking actions in various sectors, but also points out the disadvantages, barriers and costs of doing so.
The report gives useful summaries of the possible ways to limit or reduce emissions in energy generation and use, industry, transport, buildings, infrastructure, agriculture, forests and land use, and their positive effects. And it also points out the barriers to these actions, and their possible negative effects.
The summary report has however little to say that is either new or useful on the big issues of how the governments can cooperate and take actions to cut emissions.
What kinds of agreements and understandings can they consider, that is fair and effective? What are the key issues that they need to resolve and why is it so hard to get the solutions?
Those are difficult questions and answering them properly was perhaps too much a task for the scientists or not in their mandate.
All in all, the IPCC has produced a valuable set of reports, that should be seen as a state of the art on where we know stand vis-à-vis the climate situation, and the difficult choices to be made to tackle the crisis overall and in different sectors and areas.