On the international stage, the yearly UN climate negotiations, COP-16 which took place this year in Cancun, Mexico, resulted in what one observer called "a modest set of agreements" on "low hanging fruit" which had been barely sketched out in the Copenhagen Accord of a year before. The United States did not hold a strong negotiating hand -- without a Federal climate law, a promise of emission reductions weaker than most other industrial nations, and little financial wherewithall to increase funds to help developing nations.
The US, Canada, Japan and China put up various blocks to agreements throughout the two-week meeting, and small island states and least developed nations struggled for recognition of their needs to adapt to inevitable changes like sea level rise. However, in the final sessions, an agreement was forged among 192 nations in which the Copenhagen pledges of emission controls by all countries including China and the US were accepted, arrangements were begun for up to $100 billion in yearly aid -- with a short term goal of $30 billion for those nations facing disastrous change now -- and progress was made on preserving forests, the destruction of which has been a major source of greenhouse gases. India and China, which is now the world's greatest user of highly-polluting coal, only promised to reduce the rate of emissions compared with GDP -- which in both cases means continued increases in greenhouse gases. The Cancun agreement may be seen at the UN Climate Convention website.
The central goal in the climate talks is to keep the CO2 level below 450 ppm, which would mean a heat increase of about 2 degrees C over that of pre-industrial times -- about 1.2 degrees C, or 2 degrees F, warmer than now. The developing and small island states which create very little of the greenhouse gases won an acknowledgment in the Cancun document that even more reductions should be considered, to actually reduce the CO2 levels down to 350 ppm and keep temperatures about 25 percent cooler by 2100. There is scientific evidence that at a higher level, sea level rise and coral reef (PDF) damage would be devastating. At the current rate of emissions, the world is on a trajectory to go to well beyond 500 ppm CO2 and cook up to 3.5 to 6 degrees C warmer.
But the emission reduction pledges are far short of what is even minimally necessary to reach the 450 ppm/2 degrees C point, and all the final decisions have been put off for yet another year. No one is legally bound to do anything and India and China, as well as the US, remain free to increase their pollution. The snail's-pace, self-protective diplomatic game of international politics triumphed over the reality of how humans are changing the climate. Reports from the UN Environmental Programme and independent NGOs showed just how far from the science the world's leaders and negotiators are -- a shortfall or "gap" in promised greenhouse reductions of 40 percent from what is needed to limit CO2 to 450 ppm and not even close to reaching the 350 level.
It is perhaps symbolic that the negotiations took place at a heavily guarded luxury resort outside Cancun called the Moon Palace and that the delegates were largely isolated from hundreds of NGOs which brought information about the actual effects of climate change which are happening now. It is important that nations are still talking and acknowledging the issue -- but for all the action they failed take on actually protecting the Earth, the diplomats might as well have been on the Moon.
This project would be impossible without scientists and observers around the world who have provided hundreds of scientific contacts and papers. See Background, Advisors, and Reference for documentation, funders and major advisors, without whom I could not complete the work. This project is privately supported and I seek donations through Blue Earth Alliance.
World View of Global Warming is a project of the Blue Earth Alliance, Seattle Washington, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. The project is supported entirely by donations, grants, and license fees for the photographs. Information about how to contribute is on the Blue Earth web site, or contact Gary Braasch. Thank you.
For other information about Gary Braasch's climate change projects and books, please see the books Earth Under Fire and How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate, and the exhibit "Climate Change in Our World" (information to the right above on this page). Link to PDF version
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