Climate change talks in Warsaw - a missed opportunity?

Climate change talks in Warsaw - a missed opportunity?
By Euronews
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Proposed measures to protect the climate do not appear to have resulted in much. This year has seen the highest emissions of global greenhouse gases ever. In two years time, the United Nations wants to sign a global climate agreement which is supposed to be binding for all states. The UN climate conference in Warsaw was supposed to be an important step but many environmentalists left before the summit’s official end. One of them is Greenpeace activist Martin Kaiser; an interview with him follows here, lower down – Kaiser insists that a lot of hard facts about climate change are just not being faced.

Monster-typhoon Haiyan may be the shape of things to come. Experts are warning us we can expect to see more and worse disasters than that. The effects of the Haiyan storm surge were amplified by a high sea level and the shape of the land where it struck. Furthermore, higher sea temperatures throw more energy into storms. They say there will be many more punishing tolls such as the one the Philippines paid in terms of people’s lives and material damage.

Haiyan struck land with a velocity never before registered: 314 kilometres per hour. The World Meteorological Organisation and others say the sea level is rising as water trapped in polar ice is released through overall planetary warming.

In Legaspi, the Philippines, they’ve recorded a rise in sea level of more than one third of a metre since 1950, and typhoons are punishing the southernmost islands of the archipelago these days, which they never used to.

The World Bank calculates that over the past ten years the annual economic losses attributed to climate-change-driven phenomena totalled 149 billion euros each year.

At the heart of the debate about climate change lie causes, blame and picking up the pieces. There are demands that the rich must pay – the rich countries whose industrial development has historically given them the greatest of benefits while often the least developed poor suffer the worst from disasters.

International charity confederation Oxfam says this year’s global aid donations so far have been no more than 12 billion euros – quite a contrast to that World Bank 149 billion euro figure.

Should the giant emitters pay? China is now the top annual emitter of greenhouse gases, ahead of the United States, the European Union, India and Russia. And China is catching up with the US and the EU as the largest cumulative emitters since 1850 – a standard marker for the Industrial Revolution – because of its fast economic growth today. Yet some assessments say emissions from developing countries are likely to total more than half by 2020.

When mankind believed the Earth was flat, it feared the image of sailing off over the edge. Today, many scientists fear we have only a few decades left in which we may hope to curtail our industries’ influences on our climate. They say that beyond a certain global warming tipping point, we will be sucked into an unstoppable vortex of more monstrous heatwaves, droughts, storms and rising seas.

Andrea Büring, euronews: “Greenpeace climate expert Martin Kaiser… You left the climate summit in Warsaw early. What went wrong?”

Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace: “The problem is that Poland’s government, the host of the conference, from the start used the conference as a platform to promote its coal industry. That was obvious from the second week; a coal summit took place at the same time. Then the Polish prime minister even fired his environment minister during the summit – he was supposed to make the conference a success. Plus: countries such as Japan and Australia announced that they would no longer stick to the climate commitments to reduce greenhouse gases that they agreed to a few years ago.”

euronews: “What has the EU been doing in Warsaw? Why isn’t it promoting more climate protection? And why doesn’t Germany do more – the former model pupil when it comes to climate and environment protection?”

Kaiser: “Since the beginning of the financial and economic crisis, Europe has been going backwards when it comes to climate protection. In Brussels, industry associations usually block many laws – especially the energy industry which is still supporting coal, but also the car industry. This hinders ambitious climate protection policy in Brussels. In this context, Germany plays a major role in Europe, because the outgoing German government used to block initiatives.”

euronews: “Have there been any improvements in the positions of the US, China and Russia?”

Kaiser: “In China, there have been a few improvements. Because of the air pollution in the big cities, the Chinese government is under pressure to do a lot more to protect the climate. And it has passed a law in three provinces which will considerably reduce emissions from coal-fired power stations. Unfortunately, for the negotiations in Warsaw, China didn’t use it to send a strong signal that the atmosphere’s biggest polluter is ready to take responsibility. In the US, a lot of things are changing (positively) when it comes to the efficiency of coal-fired power stations and standards for buildings.
But unfortunately, the Tea Party movement is still blocking Obama’s policies, holding up an ambitious law to protect the climate.”

euronews: “How likely is it that the countries at the talks will make a huge step forward in time for the world climate conference in Paris in 2015 so that there is a binding agreement for all countries?”

Kaiser: “If in Germany, in Europe, in the US and in China we don’t succeed in rallying people to make their governments promise to protect the climate and to remove support from coal-fired power stations and to stop building new oil platforms in the Arctic, then we will not succeed in signing a global agreement in 2015 which would be worth the paper it’s written on. This is why it was so important to leave the conference here in Warsaw in advance. Starting now, we’re going to campaign against investments into fossil fuels, with the aim that more governments follow these ideas without being influenced by the coal and oil industry lobbies any more.”

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