Typhoon Hagupit focuses minds in week two of UN climate talks

Extreme weather hitting the Philippines illustrates the risks of climate change as negotiations intensify in Lima

Typhoon Hagupit bearing down on the Philippines (Source: EUROMETSAT)

Typhoon Hagupit bearing down on the Philippines

By Ed King in Lima

Typhoon Hagupit in the Philippines illustrated the risks of further global warming on Sunday, as UN talks entered a decisive week to agree a blueprint for new national climate targets.  

Nearly one million people were evacuated in the face of 100mph winds, which left three dead, damaged buildings and caused localised flooding.

Scientists cannot link single events to climate change, but say droughts, floods and heatwaves will be more frequent and extreme if temperatures rise 2C above pre-industrial levels.

Last week the World Meteorological Organisation said 2014 could be the hottest year since 1880. So far nearly 1C of warming has been registered.

Green campaigners in the Philippines said the storm should encourage UN envoys to work harder on plans for a greenhouse gas emissions cutting deal, due to be signed off in December 2015.

“In the Philippines we no longer debate and deny the impacts of climate change because we are experiencing them every year,” said Voltaire Alferez from Christian Aid.

Former Filipino climate negotiator Yeb Sano, tweeting from Manila, described Hagupit as as a “new normal”. He added: “We refuse to accept that facing super typhoons becomes a way of life.”

Big oil challenge

Options being discussed at talks in Lima include phasing out all fossil fuels by 2050, or ensuring a net-zero emissions scenario this century, where carbon emissions are either offset or captured and stored underground, a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).

On Monday, representatives from Shell and World Coal will present their proposals for continued use of fossil fuels to delegates, likely to involve a huge deployment of CCS around the world.

Without this approach a tough climate deal could leave fossil fuel majors with a bleak future, with many of their reserves unusable.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) have both said that CCS will cut the cost of cutting carbon emissions by allowing the world to continue to burn fossil fuels while developing low-carbon alternatives.

Scientists say a tough decarbonisation target by mid-century would be in line with recommendations by the IPCC on limiting warming to 2C, which published a major study in September.

“The key role is recognition, recognition of the role of science,” said Peru’s environment minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal, president of the talks. “We are more aware of what is happening but the science is able to transmit the message in a more simple way.”

Asked what she felt an effective deal would look like in 2015, Helen Clark, head of the UN Development Programme said: “Success for me will be to see if it adds up to a 2C scenario.”

Finance flows

To meet that goal trillions are needed to invest in low carbon energy technologies, according to the New Climate Economy, a study backed by seven countries and published earlier this year.

Based on discussions in Lima it seems unclear where that will come from unless private sector funding radically increases.

Nearly $10 billion has been promised to the UN-backed Green Climate Fund, but the amount was branded as inadequate by Su Wei, China’s lead negotiator at the talks.

He said it should be a “legal obligation” for all developed countries to invest.

The US and EU have also insisted they cannot make any longer term financial assurances, as requested by developing countries, as part of their commitments to a 2015 deal.

“The way national treasuries programme is on an annual basis – so we cannot possibly make forward commitments from the national budgets,” said European Union negotiator Elina Bardram.

Speaking to RTCC, Jai-chul Choi, South Korea’s ambassador for climate change, indicated a more aspirational goal could allow talks on finance to progress.

“Maybe each country will try to make a five year plan for climate change cooperation in the general title,” he said.

Ticking clock

UN officials hope to present countries with a draft 2015 agreement by next Friday, including advice for countries on what type of commitments they will be required to make under any agreement.

But observers remain frustrated at the slow progress of talks, which have been hampered by a series of procedural rows and a lack of trust between developing and developed countries.

“We are in a difficult, dangerous and bad situation. We need to see much more anger and frustration than we are seeing at the moment,” said World Resources Institute president Andrew Steer.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event on forests, Paul Polman, head of consumer goods giant Unilever called on leaders in government and business to show “higher standards” in their environmental dealings.

“Things are changing, it’s no longer just the Koch brothers,” a reference to the US coal magnate siblings who have pumped millions into efforts to slow climate legislation in Washington.

He added: “At the end of the day it is an issue of morality.”

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