The international community must quickly agree to specific rates and timetables to reduce greenhouse emissions if the world is to be spared possible catastrophic consequences, the Minister of Environment and Water told the World Future Energy Summit yesterday on the opening session of its second day.
"Wasting time does not serve the interests of anyone," Dr Rashid bin Fahad said, introducing the debate, "What now after Copenhagen?" It was a continuation of the theme that emerged on Monday, when world leaders, including Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives, criticised the Copenhagen accord for its lack of ambition. That meeting, held in the Danish capital, was supposed to result in a treaty mapping the way towards a low-carbon world. Instead, the result was a political agreement to limit global warming to a rise of no more than two degrees above average temperatures before the beginning of the industrial era in the 18th century.
Copenhagen, Dr bin Fahad said, was "a step ahead, although not a giant step ahead". However, "most of the negotiations were based on political and economic grounds rather than scientific ones." Other speakers at yesterday's plenary session were less measured in their criticism. Bianca Jagger, a campaigner on human rights and environmental issues who is also a former model and ex-wife of Mick Jagger, the frontman of the rock group the Rolling Stones, described the Copenhagen outcome as "a shameful compromise".
Dr bin Fahad said that major polluters such as China and the US, in absolute terms the world's largest and second-largest emitters of greenhouse gases respectively, needed to do more. The US has pledged to cut emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels, rather than lower 1990 levels, the baseline used by the other countries. China, on the other hand, refused to adhere to emission targets and deadlines, Dr bin Fahad said, and such contradictions make it hard to reach agreement.
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agreed with Dr bin Fahad that it was vital to agree on targets soon. Without 2020 targets, he said, "it is absolutely hollow to talk of targets for 2050". If warming is to be kept in the range of two to 2.4°C, "global emissions of greenhouse gases must peak no later than 2015", Dr Pachauri said. A key date is January 31, the deadline set by the accord for countries to submit their specific actions and emission reduction targets. An analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that the existing pledges will not be enough to ensure the two-degree target is achieved.
Richard Jones, the deputy executive director of the IEA, told the summit that a business-as-usual scenario would result in greenhouse gas concentrations of 1,000 parts per million by the turn of the century, almost three times higher than it is now. Such a level would result in a catastrophic warming of six degrees, he said. Even if the Copenhagen pledges become policy, the planet's temperature would still rise three degrees, which most scientists believe will also cause very serious damage.
Delegates yesterday suggested that clues to the future of the treaty were to be found in US politics. "Without some sort of a firm commitment from the United States, there will be no commitment from other countries such as China," said Richard Stewart, a professor of law at New York University. Last year, the US Congress passed a climate-change bill detailing emissions reductions, but it has faced stiff opposition in the Senate.
Senator Timothy Wirth, the president of the United Nations Foundation, said there were "extremely powerful interests" at work, from large utilities, energy companies and the transport sector, that want to see the bill fail. "President Obama in Copenhagen made very clear his own deep and personal commitment to the climate issue and the need for the US to lead," he said. "He now has ahead of him a very important and difficult year."