UN Climate deal leaves all to pay for - by Peter Judge
Two years on from the UN climate summit which failed to agree on a timetable to cut emissions, another meeting finished this weekend with a late night compromise that looks a little more positive.
The COP17 meeting in Durban, South Africa, just about managed to keep the Kyoto protocol alive, but commentators say the compromise will still result in temperatures going up by 4C over pre-industrial levels, when the consensus is that the world needs to keep within 2C.
On the positive side, the meeting managed to head off a complete disintegration over the issue of whether developing countries are expected to cut their own emissions too much - which they say would condemn them to a pre-industrial standard of living.
This is progress since, the disastrous COP15 summit in Copenhagen in 2009. Vastly over-hyped, it saw President Obama publicly failing to win over the Chinese and was surrounded by overheated arguments about the so-called Climategate emails.
Stolen from the University of East Anglia, these files were published by WikiLeaks and others, and presented as proof that man-made climate change was a Big Lie put about by biased scientists.
This turned out not to be the case at all. The consensus around man-made climate change emerged stronger than ever. World temperature data was published freely by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) Project, giving everyone a chance to check for themselves that temperatures really are going up. And the “man-made” part of the story has to be the most likely explanation.
Still, the furore around the data had an impact at Copenhagen, as did the “shocking” revelation that, in private, climate scientists are fed up with anti-science biased deniers.
The same climate deniers attempted to do the same job with this year’s Durban talks using, it seems, the same old emails (or another batch from the same stolen files). They got a sputter of publicity and then got ignored.
So COP17 got on with the real business, and it turned out to be a discussion between two main groups.
Legally enforced emissions reduction was backed by the European Union and some of the least developed countries, including the Aosis group of island states, which are threatened by floods as the earth’s temperature rises.
The fastest-developing nations, including Brazil, South Africa, India and China argued against these legal goals. China's chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, and the Indian environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, said that developed nations have not done enough, and the agreement would shift the work onto developing countries, requiring them to accept lower standards of living.
In the end, a compromise from the Brazilian delegate changed the form of words, so the deal relies on “an agreed outcome with legal force”, instead of a “legal outcome”.
For data center owners, this won’t change much directly. Regulations to reduce power consumption must be a shade likelier, I suppose. But climate summits are at a higher, more rarified atmosphere than anything that practical.
The talks on actual cuts haven’t started yet, and are meant to be finished by 2015, coming into force by 2020 - and we have no idea yet on what details will be agreed there (if any).
And there is also the matter of the Green Climate Fund. The countries at the summit agreed there should be $100 billion to be distributed to poor countries to help them develop without emissions. But, there is no indication yet of who is paying for the fund!