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World Seeks Aggressive Cuts In Greenhouse Gas Emissions

March 23, 2009

A new guide distributed to negotiators of a new United Nations climate treaty says there is broad support among governments for stringent goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  However, opinion is divided on where such reductions should be made.

The document, which is due to be presented at climate talks in Bonn from March 29-April 8, pares down the list of ideas to fight global warming as part of a new treaty to be agreed upon in December.  The original text, devised last year, was 120 pages long.  The updated version is now only 30 pages.

“It shows that there’s an awful lot still to be done. And it also shows what needs to be done,” said Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, during an interview with Reuters on Monday.

“It’s a good leg-up to a much more precise agenda focusing on filling in the gaps,” de Boer said.

In 2007, more than 190 governments agreed to establish a new climate treaty by the end of 2009, following warnings from the U.N. Climate Panel that said greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would bring about heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

“There is broad support by parties for a science-based indicative goal for the reduction of greenhouse gases to the middle of the century,” the agreement said.

Possible goals include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050, steep cuts to limit temperature rises to 2.7-3.6 Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels and establishing low personal emissions quotas for everyone.

“There is a lack of convergence on the issue of the contribution by different groups of countries to the achievement of the long-term goal and pathways to it,” the document reads.

Although wealthy nations say they will lead the way in making any such reductions, how to best divide the task between rich and poor countries is a significant obstacle to reaching any new agreement.

Furthermore, a global recession is complicating commitments to  transition from low-cost coal to more costly renewable energies.

Nevertheless, De Boer said a distant 2050 goal is relevant, for example, to an investor considering whether to construct a high polluting coal-fired power plant.

“If I was walking my trolley through the supermarket about to buy a power station and knew that governments of the world are aiming for minus 50 percent by 2050 I know that it would influence my purchasing choice,” he said.

The document showed “strong convergence”, he said, on the need for aggressive mid-term goals for developed nations as close as possible to emissions cuts of between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, a goal advised by the U.N. Climate Panel.

“The numbers offered so far do not come close to that yet,” he said, noting that Russia, Japan and Ukraine have not even put forth proposals for 202 reductions.

President Barack Obama has said he wants to cut U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a 15 percent reduction from current levels.  For its part, the European Union has agreed to cuts of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and has even agreed to additional reductions of up to 30 percent if other wealthy nations follow suit.

Zammit Cutajar, the author of the new document, said the latest text did not eliminate previous proposals, but rather presented them in a more concise way.

“It doesn’t take anything off the table,” he said during an interview with Reuters.

“It’s a good start but there’s still way too many options,” said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director at the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council, during a Reuters interview.

The Bonn meeting will provide the Obama administration an opportunity to present any new ideas it may have to address the problem.  Former President George W. Bush had not signed on to the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol for curbing emissions through 2012, isolating him from some of the previous climate change discussions.

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