Climate Change Treaty goes live but war on emissions has only just begun

14 February 2005

KYOTO (JAPAN) / BRUSSELS (BELGIUM), 14 February 2005 - Friends of the Earth International warned today that the
United Nations Kyoto agreement on climate change that will enter into force on 16 February is only a first modest step
towards more drastic greenhouse gas emission cuts needed to address climate change. [1]

Catherine Pearce of Friends of the Earth International said: "Kyoto is a beginning, but the battle on emissions has only just begun. The world around us is dramatically changing, threatening the lives of millions. We need to see some teeth to future international efforts. Rich countries must act now, before it becomes too late. The US, as the world's biggest polluter must of course play its part."

The day when the Kyoto treaty goes live is a day to celebrate. Yet Friends of the Earth also expressed deep disappointment that last week the European Union backed away from its leadership role by refusing to earmark targets for future gas emission cuts after the first commitment period of Kyoto ends in 2012. [2]

Jan Kowalzig, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "The European Union has acknowledged that the impacts of climate change will cost a lot more than action to fight it. Yet the new strategy recommends to EU governments to give up the leadership role and stop moving until someone else moves. This is a dangerous strategy and a slap in the face of people in developing countries who are already suffering from droughts, floods or mudslides, triggered by climate change as a result of emissions in industrialised countries."

"The contrary should happen: The European Union has the technological knowledge and the economic strength to continue to take the lead on future emission reductions. With concerted action, industrialised countries, led by the European Union, can be delivering cuts in emissions and set us on the path to 80% reductions by 2050 -- to the benefit of our economies and the well-being of our citizens," he added.

Governments and environmental groups around the globe are set to mark the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol with speeches, exhibitions, parties and parades [3].

Past emissions of greenhouse gases, largely from industrialised countries, mean even if emissions would stop today, the world would not be able to avoid an increase of average global temperature to 1.3oC above pre-industrial levels. If the average temperature rises beyond 2oC, the impacts of climate change, which we are already suffering, will become catastrophic. The evidence that climate change is proceeding apace is piling up and weather extremes across the planet are increasing, both in frequency and intensity. A recent high-level international taskforce "Meeting the Climate Challenge" has revealed that global emissions have to peak by as early as 2015 in order to avoid uncontrollable climate change. [4]

In November this year, official negotiations will begin to discuss action after 2012 when the first Kyoto commitment period is due to end. One key question will be how to tackle fast growing emissions from emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil and introduce policies that de-couple economic development from emissions.

Friends of the Earth believes that Western countries, which have enjoyed economic growth through the burning of fossil fuels (and have therefore contributed most to climate change), must help finance low carbon development in the south, and phase out public financing of fossil fuels and into cleaner energies.

NOTES

[1] 141 countries have to date ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
See http://unfccc.int/2860.php for background information on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

[2] The new proposed strategy recommends to EU leaders not to agree on emission cuts after 2012 until the level of
participation from other countries becomes clear. The document calls on increased participation by Europe's international partners, but fails to deliver a real plan how this could be realised, in particular regarding the United States. The proposed strategy is available at http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/environment/climat/future_action.htm

[3] On 16 February, the European Union's executive Commission is inviting the 141 countries that have ratified the Kyoto
Protocol to a Cocktail Party to celebrate. Climate Outlaws United States and Australia are not invited. For more details
on international events marking Kyoto's entry into force: http://unfccc.int/meetings/kyoto_eif/items/3363.php

[4] Two degrees centigrade global average warming would threaten many tens of millions of people with increased risk
of hunger, hundreds of millions with increased malaria risk, millions with increased flooding and billions with  increased risk of water shortage. (See for example Hare, B (2003) "Assessment of Knowledge on Impacts of Climate Change - Contribution to the Specification of Art. 2 of the UNFCCC: Impacts on Ecosystems, Food Production, Water and Socio-economic Systems" online at http://www.wbgu.de/wbgu_sn2003_ex01.pdf

Scientific knowledge is increasing constantly and improving our understanding of the likely changes that will come from rising global temperatures and the assessment keeps getting worse. Some of the most important new reports and findings of the last twelve months include:

+ A multi-year international study published in Nature (Thomas, et. al, "Extinction risk from climate change", NATURE VOL. 427 | 8 JANUARY 2004 pp. 146 - 148) predicts that mid-range climate change scenarios will doom a million species to extinction by mid-century;

+ The Arctic Climate Impacts Assessment , commissioned by the Arctic Council, confirmed that the Arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the globe. At least half of the summer sea ice will disappear by the end of this century, along with significant melting of the Greenland ice sheet, with devastating consequences for seals, bears, local communities, and with global consequences including (but not limited to) sea level rise;

+ A study of the European heat wave in the summer of 2003, published in December 2004 (Ref: Stott, et. al., "Human
contribution to the European heatwave of 2003", NATURE |VOL 432 | 2 DECEMBER 2004 pp. 610-614), concluded that there was a clear global warming fingerprint on the killer heat wave, and that by mid-century, such a summer would be cooler than average;

Further reports on climate impacts:

+ Impacts of Europe's changing climate, 2004, at
http://reports.eea.eu.int/climate_report_2_2004/en/tab_content_RLR

+ IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) Climate Change 2001 at
http://www.ipcc.ch/activity/tar.htm

+ International Symposium on the Stabilisation of Greenhouse Gases, 1-3 Feb, Hadley Centre, Steering Committee Report, at
http://www.stabilisation2005.com/Steering_Commitee_Report.pdf

+ Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, November 2004, at
http://www.acia.uaf.edu/PDFs/Testimony.pdf

 

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