May 18, 2013 | 03:00 PM (BD Time)
18 May, 2013 Saturday
Europe is meeting its climate goals
Brad Plumer :
These days, the news about Europe tends to be unrelentingly negative, so here's something slightly different. The European Union is still on track to meet its climate-change goals under the Kyoto Protocol, according to new data released Wednesday.
Under the Kyoto treaty, 15 European Union countries committed to reducing their overall greenhouse gases 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. (The other countries have individual targets, save for Malta and Cyprus.) Even though the continent's emissions grew in 2010, thanks to a brief economic recovery and a cold winter, the E.U.-15's emissions are still 11 percent below 1990 levels overall.
There's plenty of data in these charts from the European Environment Agency. Between 1990 and 2012, some countries, like Germany and Denmark, have reduced their carbon emissions by quite a bit, which has offset rises in countries like Spain and Portugal.
Note that the United Kingdom and Germany are the runaway leaders in carbon-cutting. A big chunk of those cuts is typically ascribed to two factors. Germany saw a huge one-time drop in emissions after reunification, since a bunch of inefficient power plants and factories in the East closed down. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, made a massive switch from coal to electric gas in the 1990s after its electricity industry was privatized. That made a big difference, since those two countries are Europe's biggest emitters. But neither of those events are likely to repeat themselves.
Meanwhile, here are the economic sectors where Europe has made cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Manufacturing and industrial processes have taken a big hit, which is consistent with other analyses suggesting that Europe has "outsourced" a lot of its manufacturing emissions abroad. But there are still a few areas - from waste to energy to agriculture - where Europe appears to have made considerable progress. One place where emissions have gone up, however, is in transportation. No matter how efficient planes and cars get, people are still driving and flying more frequently-and, as yet, there's no good substitute for oil to take people around. (The E.U.'s cap-and-trade system also doesn't cover transportation.)
The E.U. has proposed extending the Kyoto Protocol when it expires at the end of this year, but countries like Canada, Japan and Russia have declined to join. The United States refused joined and the pact never covered developing countries like China or India. Which means, on this treaty at least, Europe has been going alone.
Five things to know about the Durban agreement: So what happened at the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa? As my colleague Juliet Eilperin reports, negotiators managed to thrash out an agreement at the very last minute - an agreement to begin a new round of talks on a new agreement in the years ahead. That might not sound impressive - in fact, it sounds a little ridiculous - but international climate negotiations are typically slow, grinding affairs. So how does this new accord measure up? Here are five things to know about how far the world has advanced in tackling climate change:
1. The world is still nowhere close to meeting its climate goals. As I explained earlier, the world is trying to avoid warming the planet by more than 2°C (above pre-industrial levels). By that yardstick, the current agreements are a total failure. According to Ecofys' Climate Tracker, the world is now heade for a very risky 3.5°C of warming, when you add up all of the current pledges. The good news is that Ecofys' figures don't include whatever measures China and India will eventually take. The bad news? Staying under 2°C will require drastic, immediate action - with global emissions peaking in the next five years or so. The Durban Platform, by contrast, merely prods countries to come up with a new agreement that will go into effect no later than 2020. Not quite the same thing.
2. It seems unlikely that the current U.N. process will meet that 2°C target. The biggest flaw with the existing global climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, is that it explicitly exempts fast-growing developing countries like China and India, which are responsible for a huge share of emissions. In Durban, European negotiators wanted to come up with a new, legally binding treaty that would cover the entire world and take effect by 2020 at the latest. But the "legally binding" language didn't go over well with China and especially India. Instead, negotiators softened the language. This future agreement - to be negotiated by 2015 - will theoretically cover all 194 countries, but it's not quite clear how much "legal force" the successor agreement will actually have, or what sorts of emissions goals it will set.
3. That said, the Durban talks accomplished a few minor things. Put aside the emissions targets for a second. The Durban agreement did flesh out details on a few secondary items, such as a new $100 billion Green Climate Fund to help poorer countries reduce their emissions. As noted here, stabilizing CO2 pollution in poorer countries will prove essential for staving off climate change. On the other hand, it's still not clear where the money for the fund will come from. The pledge drive starts next week. Hands up if you think the Republican House is ready to appropriate millions of dollars to fund solar projects in the developing world.
4. The United Nations isn't the only path to tackling climate change. As the ever-optimistic folks at the Center for American Progress point out, averting global warming is such a massively ambitious task that it will likely take more than just one single treaty to solve. There are other options here. For instance, countries could use the existing Montreal Protocol - the one that phased out CFCs to save the ozone layer - to crack down on HFCs, a CFC replacement that turned out to be a powerful greenhouse gas. And various countries could also work outside the United Nations to reduce black-carbon pollution - soot, essentially - which is speeding up Arctic ice melt. (Even hardened climate denier James Inhofe thinks it's worth spending money in Africa to crack down on black carbon.)
5. Even so, the U.N. talks are probably here to stay. The U.N. climate talks are often slow, unwieldy, and, in the eyes of many experts, fairly ineffective. Political scientist Johannes Urpelainen makes that case at biting length here. And yet, as Michael Levi argues here, it's probably wrong to single out the United Nations for these shortcomings - or abandon that forum altogether. It's not like the substantive disagreements between, say, Europe and India would get any easier if they were negotiating in a different venue.
(Source: Yahoo News)
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