The conference hall in Bonn fills up slowly with something of a beehive, the quick, tense and invisible movements of delegates up and down the aisles, and the buzzing sound of hundreds of short conversations. When most of the chairs are full, in very slow international English, we are all welcomed and the table, all white men, is introduced. Introductory speeches begin: Sudan, representing the G77 plus China, Lesotho, representing the Least Developed Countries, Czech Republic, on behalf of the EU, and the list gets longer. All got the punch line from the same shop: we are here with the intention of doing our best for a good deal. It’s suspicious that there’s hardly any excitement in the room, but that’s about to change. Todd Stern, the US head of delegation takes his turn. They purchased in the same punch line outlet, but they did not get it complete, just the beginning, “we are here” and the delegate is interrupted by an applause. A long, firm, steady applause. The prodigal son is back; the family is now complete. We can start to work.
For delegates and observers, aggregate mitigation target from developed countries are one of the key and most expected outcomes of this meeting. The EU proposes to reduce 20% from 1990 levels by 2020, and is willing to increase it to 30% if signals for a higher commitment are sent; Sweden published some weeks ago the most ambitious target: 40% reduction, one third of it in other countries; the United States commits 15% reduction from today’s level, that is around no reduction from 1990 levels.
Is this enough? Or put differently, are we governed by sensible leaders or are they gambling? Diakonia is one of the many organizations proposing the adoption of The Greenhouse Development Rights (GDR). The GDR is a framework for climate stabilization that shares effort according to capacity and responsibility, while at the same time exempts poor people from it. They depart from the increase of 2 degrees, that the IPCC has indicated as where to halt global warming to calculate Greenhouse gas emission reduction target, before its consequences get almost unmanageable. According to the GDR and others, our best is a global reduction target for industrialized countries of around 40% in domestic reductions by 2020. Science says that this represents 30% of chances of shooting out the 2 degrees ceiling. This is gambling, and quite-likely-that-you-lose kind of gambling, as likely as getting shot by playing Russian roulette with two bullets. Newer research argues about the 2 degrees ceiling being brought down to 1.5. This raises the likelihood to lose.
The US opening speech reads that “our way forward should be steered by science and pragmatism”. We’ll leave aside the speaker; Stern was just saying what everybody else was thinking. The reduction target and the temperature rise ceiling cannot be separated, since the emission reduction aims at limiting the temperature rise. They are one and the same thing. The reduction target answers the question “wanting not to increase temperature more than 1.5, how much should we reduce our Greenhouse gas emissions?”. The current proposals are something like extending a 5 000 Swedish kronor check to buy a brand new four wheel drive. It wouldn’t be pragmatic to extend it for the full amount.
If one objective is to decrease temperature rise and another to reduce reductions, Todd Stern speech (and everyone else’s thoughts) should have read is that “our way forwards should be steered by science and/or pragmatism”, because what seems to be pragmatic is to add a couple of bullets to the chamber and hope for the best.
Domingo Torres Santos, Policy Officer on Climate Change, reporting from the Bonn Climate Change Talks