Reporting from Copenhagen
The small island nations and members of the Africa Group said today that they would not agree to an outcome in Copenhagen that fails to limit the average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters have long said they will not budge an inch closer than a limit of 2 degrees Celsius. The carbon cuts they’ve put on the table so far wouldn’t get them close to even that goal.
Collectively, the wealthy have proposed emissions reductions of 11 to 18 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. This would bring the world to a "temperature rise around 3 degree Celsius," according to a document leaked today from the UN secretariat.
Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia of the tiny Pacific Island state of Tuvalu, speaking on behalf of all small island countries, made it clear:
"1.5 degrees Celsius is our bottom line … I will not sign anything less."
Ielemia told reporters that over the last few days "we have seen considerable pressure to accept a deal based around 2 degrees limit," calling out Australia in particular. Doing so would mean "killing a lot of people around the world," he said.
In a separate meeting, Kemal Djemouai, the Algerian chair of the African Group of nations, said "we are looking for a deal" that "includes the 1.5 degree target."
"We have made that very clear and we will continue to defend that," he said, adding that for Africa, "no deal is better than a bad deal."
The U.S. Makes an Offer
The rich-poor gap on temperature targets serves as a reminder of the scale of the challenge the world still faces in breaking the climate deal deadlock, even on this rarely optimistic day, which saw the U.S. make its biggest move yet.
In a surprising announcement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. will contribute to a long-term financing agreement of $100 billion from 2020 each year, on the condition that China agrees to tie any financing it gets to global warming action. The U.S. did not reveal how much of the total tab it intends to pick up.
The news injected new optimism into the flagging climate talks, observers noted.
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope called it a "bombshell" announcement. "This funding will help the least developed and most vulnerable countries move toward a clean energy future and adapt to the effects of global warming that are already occurring," he said.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said:
"The Secretary has proposed real money to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people and protect forests. It has re-energized the talks
From a developing country perspective, the figures are "inadequate," Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid in Kenya told SolveClimate.
The real problem, he said, is that the "U.S. is not addressing emissions reductions." The emissions reduction goal that the U.S. Congress is considering — 17 percent below 2005 levels, roughly equivalent to only about 4 percent below 1990 levels — would not keep global warming below 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees, Adow said.
In a statement on Clinton’s pledge today, Mithika Mwenda, coordinator of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, said:
"Climate change is already killing people in Africa, and this commitment is simply insufficient to tackle the climate crisis. These are not commitments that will break the deadlocked negotiations, just more of the same from an administration that clearly does not understand the scale of the problem."
The Africa Group’s official position on financing is 5 percent of gross national product from wealthy nations, or roughly $2 trillion.
The political objective of a new global treaty has long been to hold global temperatures to a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in above pre-industrial levels. That figure come from the 2007 assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found that passing 2 degrees could lead to catastrophic climate change.
The Africa Group notes that a 2 degree rise is a mean figure, and that in certain areas of Africa the temperature rise would hit 3.5 degrees. Tuvalu and other island states say rising seas from warming is already threatening to wipe them off the map.
Leaders from the Group of Eight industrialized nations, including the United States, endorsed the 2 degree goal at their L’Aquila Summit in July.
A target of 1.5 degrees is still very much in play at the Copenhagen talks, according to Oxfam International. It has been included in brackets in both of the major draft negotiating agreements, meaning it’s up for consideration.
So far, 106 states from the African nations, least developed countries and the island nations, out of the total of 193, have officially endorsed the 1.5 degree target. All nations must sign on to a new UN global warming agreement for it to be approved.