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Take climate warnings seriously

China Daily

Negotiators at Bonn must analyze and act to mitigate damage caused to developing nations by extreme weather patterns.

Before negotiators at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn start to discuss or disagree over actions to mitigate the impact of extreme weather patterns globally, they must listen carefully to people - such as my mother - who have been directly affected by it.

Last Wednesday, my mother, who lives in my home province of Sichuan, called to say: "Flash floods some nights ago really frightened us, and our old house (at the foothills of a mountain) has been partially destroyed once again."

To my mind, the key words were "once again", reminding me of that summer three years back when our ancestral home was deluged after a rainstorm roared through the province's Tongjiang county, where my parents used to live.

Hundreds of fellow villagers then were rendered homeless after river levels rose rapidly and landslides occurred in quick succession.

Dozens perished in the flash floods and subsequent landslips this summer.

Many of the villagers had barely stepped over the poverty line at that time. The disasters, which some scientists are linking to excessive greenhouse gas emissions, sucked them right back into poverty again.

The story has been no different this summer as floods have ravaged many regions in China, South Asia and South America.

These Chinese villagers have very limited carbon footprint; even a visit to the provincial capital of Chengdu is a rare occurrence. In fact, they have contributed much to reducing CO2 emissions by way of planting more trees on the mountainsides. Yet, they are the hardest hit by disasters resulting from climate change.

Days before the Bonn conference, some 300 scientists from the US, Australia, UK and Canada pulled together data related to 10 climate change indicators, measured by 160 research groups in 48 countries.

They then concluded that the years 2000 to 2009 were the warmest ever, and that the Earth has been getting warmer for the last 50 years.

Each of the past three decades has been the hottest on record, they pointed out.

This year is shaping up to be even warmer, with the combined land and oceanic temperatures recorded in the first six months of 2010 being the hottest ever, the scientists said.

Europe, after experiencing some warmer than usual days in July, is now enjoying some cool weather. The climate change negotiators must bear in mind that the phenomenon may have global impact, but it is the poor who bear the brunt of it.

This must drive them to come up with a consensual roadmap that can help deal with the issue.

Over the weekend, I carefully read the negotiation text prepared by the secretariat of the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The 45-page document does show a strong commitment by the new UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, who replaced Yvo de Boer last month.

Figueres has made many notes to push the negotiators to clinch a positive deal at the talks.

The wording of negotiation principles is concise and should be acceptable to all. But when I read the paragraphs pertaining to concrete goals and numbers, these were very optional in nature.

For instance, on targets to control increases in global temperatures, it says: "Reducing global emissions so as to maintain the increase in global temperatures below 1, 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels."

This contrasts clearly with what the Copenhagen Accord spells out: "We shall, recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius, on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development, enhance our long-term cooperative action to combat climate change."

The current text also says that the relevant parties should collectively reduce global emissions by 50, 85 or 95 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 and should ensure that global emissions continue to decline thereafter.

Developed countries, as a group, should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 75-85 percent, at least 80-95 percent, or more than 95 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, and more than 100 percent from 1990 levels by 2040.

And, while discussing the promises that developed economies should do to mobilize $100 billion by 2020 and $30 billion to assist developing countries fight climate change, especially island nations, the wording becomes even more unclear.

These divergent views on the issue of how to quantify emission reduction objectives or targets can only mean that climate change politics is evolving among the major players, such as the United States and the European Union.

Because of the US Senate's recent decision to abandon comprehensive climate change legislation, some are questioning how the US will meet its 17-percent emissions reduction commitment by 2020, from 2005 levels.

It is true that the EU is taking an active approach, since the environment ministers of France, Germany and the UK have called for a tougher EU mitigation target for 2020 - a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from the 1990 level.

However, there is a danger that the EU may take advantage of its technical and institutional competitiveness in dealing with climate change, as a political tool while talking to the US, China and other emerging economies.

Climate politics is now increasing and the above divergences are part of the realities facing negotiators at Bonn. Their task is more daunting and challenging than ever. It is clear that politicians do not want to exert their ambitious will into action.

How will the logjam be broken?

As I suggested earlier, the UNFCCC should arrange for an extra session to listen to stories of woe, such as those related by my mother, from the people directly affected by climate change.

This may help soften their stances and help in achieving consensus regarding emission reduction goals before the talks conclude on Friday.

The author is China Daily's chief correspondent in Brussels.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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