BY ROY NERSESIAN
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was signed in 1992 and subsequently ratified by 184 nations. These nations have agreed to work together to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level to prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the global climate system. The primary mechanism of carrying out this mission is the UNFCC's 1997 Kyoto Protocol that sets forth steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 to 2012. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) published its Fourth Assessment Report which gave a clear signal that climate change is accelerating caused primarily by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This led to the Climate Change Conference in Bali where developed and developing nations agreed to step up their efforts to combat climate change promulgated in the Bali Road Map, which included a long-term cooperative action plan to be defined at the December, 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The overall mission of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference was to agree on a plan to stabilize greenhouse gas levels with 2020 and 2050 emissions-reduction targets; delineate an effective means of measuring, reporting, and verifying emissions performance; provide incentives for a dramatic increase in financing deployment and development of low-emissions technologies; and provide a means to finance the protection of forests to curb deforestation.
Two proposals made by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to be considered by the Copenhagen Conference were the 450 and the 550 Policy Scenarios where carbon dioxide concentration, now at 387 ppm, would level off at either 450 or 550 ppm by 2020. Both these policies call for draconian and immediate action to succeed involving major changes in power production away from coal, except for IGCC plants, with a major emphasis on nuclear, hydro, biomass, wind, solar, and geothermal. Besides power plants, energy-intensive industrial sectors such as iron and steel, cement, aluminum, paper and pulp would be targeted to use the best available technology to cut emissions. Aircraft engines are to be redesigned to reduce fuel requirements, and hybrid-electric and pure electric motor vehicles are to be favored over fossil-fueled vehicles. The analysis concluded that energy efficiency and conservation will have important roles to play to reduce carbon dioxide levels. It also advocated a cap and trade program on carbon emissions to provide an economic benefit along with Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to provide less costly equivalent means of reducing carbon emissions.
The critical fault in the Kyoto Protocol will have to be addressed- that of undeveloped nations excusing themselves from participation because the buildup in carbon dioxide was primarily caused by the industrialized powers. Though true, it begs the question as to the role that the undeveloped world is now playing in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 1980, the United States emitted about 4.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, with China at about one-third this level. China and the United States are now (2008/09) at par at 6 billion tons. In 2030, the projected greenhouse gas emissions for China is a little over 11 billion tons and the United States at 8 billion tons. For China and other major and rapidly growing greenhouse gas emitters such as India, Brazil, and Mexico to be excluded from any solution on greenhouse gas emissions borders on the ludicrous. China has been vocal in the past of not having carbon-emissions standards imposed on developing nations, but has softened its view by advocating a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP activity, but not in terms of an absolute reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. This may be in response not just to public pressure, but to China becoming the largest global investor in clean energy technology. China opposed any transparency in confirming carbon emission reductions by an outside agency as an affront to its national sovereignty.
The two-week Conference, which ended December 19th, got off to a very bad start when a goodly portion of the 45,000 accredited attendees showed up at the Bella Center, which has a seating capacity of 15,000. A partial solution was provided by the Conference authorities cancelling the accreditation of many of the 22,000 delegates representing non-government organizations (NGOs). Fortunately there were 6,000 police with thousands in reserves to handle the disappointed delegates who had spent considerable amounts of money to attend the meeting. The two-week Conference had about 100 world leaders with representation from 193 nations. The bevy of speakers included Prince Charles who warned that climate change, if allowed to proceed, will result in starvation and terrorism and threaten the "survival of the (human) species." Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, spoke of the Conference drawing up an international agreement that would usher in a new era of renewable energy and economic growth through manufacturing green technology. If the global community did not reach such an agreement, then California would move forward with its own renewable energy initiatives. Al Gore spoke authoritatively about the 75% chance that the entire polar ice cap would melt during the summertime by 2014, only to be embarrassed when his source, Dr. Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School, disavowed ever making such a statement. Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of Britain, predicted that the conference, by working together, would reach an agreement that will "help the planet to move forward for generations to come."
Alas, it was not to be. Despite the resulting draft being hailed as a "meaningful agreement" by President Obama, and an "essential beginning" by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, many believe the Copenhagen Accord can be better described as an "abject failure" by environmentalists and "a betrayal" by developing countries.
The Copenhagen Accord states that "the ultimate objective of the Convention to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, we shall, recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius..." Nations listed in Annex I are to "commit to implement individually or jointly the quantified economywide emissions targets for 2020, to be submitted in the format given in Appendix I by Annex I Parties to the secretariat by 31 January 2010 for compilation in an INF document." Thus emission targets are to be determined. Undescribed positive incentives are to be provided to stop deforestation. Developed nations are to commit $100 billion to developing nations by 2020, with no specifics on how much individual nations will either give or receive and how it should be spent. "We call for an assessment of the implementation of this Accord to be completed by 2015, including in light of the Convention's ultimate objective" to hold the increase in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.
Since the Copenhagen Climate Conference was to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012, perhaps we should take the time to measure the Protocol's effectiveness. The principal signatories were the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and belatedly Australia and Russia. The United States was not a signatory nation because the world's fastest growing carbon emitters of China, India, Brazil and Mexico were not included in the Protocol.
In 1997, the start of the Kyoto Protocol, the European Union released 1.35 billion tons of carbon and in 2008, 1.41 billion tons or 4% growth despite the billions of Euros spent to cut emissions. The United States, a non-signatory to the Protocol, increased its carbon emissions from 1.80 to 1.87 billion tons between 1997 and 2008, a surprisingly small gain of 4% equal to the EU. Over the same period of time, China increased its carbon emissions from 0.98 to 1.99 billion tons, an essential doubling, to become the world largest carbon emitter. Without China and India and other large scale carbon emitters participating on an equal footing with the developed world, the desire to reduce carbon emissions as a means to combat global warming will be effectively thwarted.EU performance, which has entailed billions of Euros in green energy investments, shows just how difficult it is going to be for the world to cut carbon emissions even if the nations of the world have the intestinal fortitude to comply with the intent of the Copenhagen Accord.
Roy Nersesian, a resident of Maplewood, teaches at the Leon Hess School of Business at Monmouth University in West Long Branch and also at the Center for Energy and Marine Transportation at Columbia University. He has authored several books, the last on Energy for the 21st Century published by M.E. Sharpe.