The future of the planet is at stake, warns UN chief

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon warned climate talks on Tuesday that failure to overcome deadlock placed the world in peril, even as scientists warned delegates to face up to the facts of climate change.

“Without exaggeration, we can say: the future of our planet is at stake—people’s lives, the health of the global economy, the very survival of some nations,” Ban told environment ministers at the start of a four-day meeting.


As high level negotiations kick into gear on Tuesday, seasoned M&G environmental journalist Fiona Macleod gives a clear analysis of the major developments of last week and what we need to resolve at COP17.
The conference under UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has until Friday to determine the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty for curbing dangerous greenhouse gases, but the negotiations have been characterised by pessimism over prospects that the world’s biggest carbon emitters will extend emission limits set by Kyoto in 1998.

Climate scientists at the negotiations called on delegates to heed scientific evidence and speed up their discussions.

“Climate change is defined by science and scientific realities, not by politics, political expediency and political impacts,” said Achim Steiner, executive secretary of the United Nations Environment Programe.

Steiner warned that in the last year, the gap between what the world needs to achieve in terms of reducing carbon emissions and what it is likely to achieve has grown. He symbolically handed over a copy of Unep’s Emissions Gap Report to International Relations Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim, a member of the South African delegation at COP17.

Using the pledges agreed to in the Copenhagen Accord of 2009, the report, which is based on data from 25 of the world’s leading climate research centres, details how far the global response to climate change has progressed over the past 12 months, and assesses whether countries are on track to limit global warming to 2°C rise.

Steiner pointed out that a recent analysis by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that dealing with climate change would slow the annual growth of the global GDP by just 0.2%.
The organisation said that the cost of tackling climate change “pales alongside the potential cost of inaction”.

He said that while “the science tells us that it’s essential and imperative and the economy tells us it is doable”, politicians were not moving fast enough.

The International Energy Agency (IEA)—an independent organisation that conducts research and provides policy advice on energy issues—echoed this call and also warned that that the window of opportunity for preventing runaway climate change is quickly closing and called on parties to act quickly.

On Tuesday IEA called on countries to take voluntary action to restrict carbon emissions or risk locking themselves into a path to dangerous climate change.

According to the IEA, the planet would be setting itself up for a 6°C rise in temperature by 2035 if it continues on its current carbon-intensive development path. Anything above a 2°C would bring on runaway climate change.

Many small island states and poor countries, which will be severely affected by even a 2°C rise in temperature, are calling for temperature rise to be capped at 1.5°C.

Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the IEA, said that although no significant progress is expected at this COP and politicians should not to wait for a global deal, they should “act now. “You can and should implement robust policies that will give your citizens access to reliable energy in a sustainable way,” she said.

She said that addressing climate change was not incompatible with enabling energy access; this could be done through implementing standards for energy-using equipment like cars and appliances, focusing on renewables and energy efficiency and considering carbon capture and storage, and carbon market mechanisms.

Putting a price on carbon was also a key element in encouraging big industry in particular to lower its emissions.

Van der Hoeven said that although a legally binding agreement was not likely in the near future, countries and companies should do what’s necessary to keep the world off the track to carbon intensive development.

She warned that 80% of the emissions permissible by the energy sector by 2035 was already “locked in”.

Unless countries change course, all infrastructure built after 2017 would have to be “zero carbon”, as by then they would have used up all their carbon allowances from energy infrastructure up to 2035.

For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.
  • Read more from Faranaaz Parker
  • Faranaaz Parker

    Faranaaz Parker

    Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live.
  • Read more from Faranaaz Parker
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