China, India reject calls for tougher climate goal at UN talks

Development needs cited by emerging superpowers as science and geopolitics clash at Bonn negotiations

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

By Megan Darby in Bonn

China, India and Saudi Arabia are calling for discussions on a tighter global warming goal to be shelved, to the dismay of countries vulnerable to future climate impacts.

Diplomats at international climate talks taking place in Bonn this week considered an expert report warning the globally agreed aim to limit temperature rise to 2C is “inadequate”.

Those states most threatened by the rising sea levels, drought and storms that come with carbon emissions are urging a 1.5C target.

Scientists say that is still feasible, albeit with radical conditions. But as negotiators edge towards a global climate pact due in Paris this December, some want to shut that conversation down.

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The opposition of petro-power Saudi Arabia’s is “understandable,” said Harjeet Singh of Action Aid.

“They know their entire economic model right now depends on fossil fuels… For China and India, it is a slightly different game, because it is more about development.”

The average Indian is responsible for less than two tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, compared to a European’s 6.8t and an American’s 17t.

For Delhi, increased coal use and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions is part of the plan to lift citizens out of poverty and connect millions to the national grid.

While a recent deadly heatwave reminded India of the dangers linked to climate change, it is anxious not to curtail its emissions space – especially as developed countries are being slow to cut their share and provide finance to help poorer countries do the same.

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There are similar reasons India and other emerging economies might be wary of Monday’s G7 call for total decarbonisation of the world economy this century.

“The concern of the developing nations is the rich nations will eat all the carbon cake and there will be none of it left for them,” said Yvo de Boer, head of the Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute.

The G7 statement is at the more tentative end of a spectrum of possible long term emissions goals up for inclusion in a Paris deal.

The idea is to translate the 2C goal into something more tangible and send a signal to investors.

“I am always a bit sceptical when people formulate goals for when we are all dead,” said de Boer, who headed the UN climate talks from 2006-2010.

But a long term trajectory is “useful, provided it is matched by interim steps that will be taken to get there”, he added.

Radical challenge

Jonathan Grant of consultants PwC calculates the world needs to cut carbon intensity (emissions for each unit of economic growth) 6% a year to avoid 2C of warming.

The national targets proposed by G7 countries fall well short of this, he points out: 3.1% for Japan, 3.9% for Canada and the EU and 4.3% for the US.

Meanwhile, emissions from emerging economies make up an increasing share of the world’s total – and most have yet to submit climate plans to the UN.

China is expected to deliver its contribution this month. Brazil, India and South Africa are set to release their plans closer to a deadline of October 1, after which all pledges will be assessed by a UN panel.

Few expect it will report back with news that the world is on course to avoid warming of above 2C.

But there are hopes it can create a framework to ramp up ambition in the coming years, as well as generating new flows of climate finance and helping countries adapt to future extreme impacts.

Incremental gains

Observers in Bonn say this round of negotiations shows signs of progress.

After a slow first week, country representatives have asked the co-chairs to try and slim down the 80-plus pages of text.

This in itself is significant, as previously some countries have been reluctant to cede control of the process.

The co-chairs have a delicate balancing act. They must try to boil down the multitude of party submissions to a manageable set of options without killing off any party’s pet issue.

They aimed to produce the leaner document by the end of Tuesday, but made no promises. It may not emerge until Thursday, the last scheduled day of discussions.

Once envoys leave they will have two further rounds of five-day talks, after which they and world leaders will head to Paris in December for what many hope will be a sealed deal.

“The good thing is that there is a definite sense of urgency,” said de Boer, who oversaw the 2009 Copenhagen summit, which ended in bitter acrimony when talks on a global pact stalled.

“I expect that already by the end of this session there will be a more condensed version on the table.”

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