Urgent global climate action needed in Poland

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 01 Dec 2008

Australia must do our fair share in addressing climate change to avoid lagging behind other countries, according to international aid agency Oxfam.
An Oxfam report, Climate, Poverty and Justice, is being released on the first day of the UN Climate Negotiations in Poznan, and in the lead-up to the Rudd Government’s eagerly-awaited announcement on an emissions target.
Oxfam Australia climate change coordinator Julie-Anne Richards, who will attend the Poland meeting, warned that climate change would increase global poverty if governments failed to take major steps now toward a fair and adequate new climate change deal at Copenhagen.
“There is widespread awareness now that climate change is already a grim and worsening reality for poor people,” Ms Richards said. “Poznan must focus on the most vital areas now in order to set up a deal to keep global warming below 2°C and help the poorest people to cope. This must set the stage for an adequate deal in Copenhagen next December.” This includes:
• Agreement that wealthy developed countries’ carbon emissions must be cut by at least 25 – 40 per cent by 2020, from 1990 levels;
• Agreement that countries must reduce their emissions in line with their respective historic responsibility for causing climate change and their capacity to tackle it (this means developed countries must cut first and furthest, and that developing countries must not be unfairly burdened);
• Agreement to set up a framework of funding from rich countries to help developing countries to adapt to climate impacts of at least US $50 billion a year.
“We have the knowledge, resources and technology to tackle climate change and avert worst-case scenarios – if we choose to do so,” Ms Richards said. “What we lack is the political will, and progress so far has been wholly inadequate.”
Climate change is already impacting on millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people who have also been severely hit recently by food and oil price hikes, and are set to pay further from the collapse of financial markets.

“The UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol are both clear that developed countries, which are responsible for the climate change that we have experienced to date, have to reduce their emissions first and fastest,” Ms Richards said.

“Australia’s emissions are still going up each year, each month and each day. Until we turn our own emissions growth around and show that it is possible to reduce emissions and still have a healthy economy, it is not fair to expect developing countries to take actions that will affect their economies more than ours.”
The costs of tackling climate change are not prohibitive – around 1 per cent of global GDP per year, compared to the costs of doing nothing – around 20 times higher: “We need to see the same political urgency and leadership now to push for a good climate change deal as we did in the face of the global financial crisis,” Ms Richards said.
On Tuesday 2 December, Oxfam releases Turning Carbon Into Gold – How the International Community Can Finance Climate Change Adaptation Without Breaking the Bank.

For more information or to interview Julie-Anne Richards, please contact Laurelle Keough on 0409 960 100 or laurellek@oxfam.org.au
Download the report
What impact is climate change having for the poorest people of the world?
Within the Pacific region, people living in low-lying islands and river deltas are already experiencing the negative results of climate change, including rising seas and salt water inundation. This contributes to crop losses, destruction of fresh water sources and flooding. The nation of Kiribati faces the prospect of disappearing completely, as do other low-lying islands in the Pacific, including those in Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands.
In Uganda, the unpredictable weather patterns mean farmers are gambling when to sow seeds, risking having them washed away by torrential rains or dry up in drought. In Bangladesh, rising flood levels are washing away crops and homes and the salinisation of the land is making it harder to grow crops and water unsafe to drink. For more examples, stories and images visit: http://wordsandpictures.oxfam.org.uk/ and type in climatechange08 in both the username and password boxes.
Why is the UN meeting in Poland important?
The UN Climate Conference in Poland marks the half way point of the biggest international agreement the world has ever negotiated. At the 2007 UN climate talks in Bali, governments launched formal negotiations on global action, aiming at reaching agreement to take effect from the end of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. Negotiations are set to conclude in Copenhagen 2009. During this period, governments aim to negotiate a comprehensive framework for action that will commit wealthy countries to greater emissions reduction; encourage enhanced action in some developing countries through financial and technological support from developed countries, and deliver increased action on, and finance, for, adaptation in the most vulnerable countries.
At Poznan, governments need to agree a shared vision and work plan for the coming year. It is essential that climate change is tackled with the utmost urgency alongside ambitions to resolve the financial crisis. Failure to act now will not only put lives at risk but necessitate far more spending in the future as the impacts of climate change worsen.
How is Australia doing on its Kyoto target?
Many wealthy developed (Annex 1) countries, including Australia, are not on track to meet their very modest targets under the Kyoto Protocol, having failed to take sufficient action at home to reduce their emissions. These include:
• Australia – has taken no action to reform our carbon intensive economy, and therefore our underlying emissions are 29 per cent over 1990 levels (our target was an 8 per cent increase). Australia has only met its 8 per cent target by stopping land clearing.
• Canada –emissions are 60 per cent over its Kyoto Protocol target
• New Zealand – emissions are 33 per cent over its Kyoto Protocol target
• United States – has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and under the previous Administration took no action to reign in emissions and are therefore are 21 per cent over the Kyoto Protocol target that they negotiated.
How do Australia’s climate change actions compare to other countries?
During the UN negotiations, Australia has traditionally allied itself with those countries least willing to take meaningful action on climate, such as the USA, Canada and Japan. However, the Rudd Government is showing positive signs of a closer alignment with developing countries, including our Pacific neighbours.
On emissions targets, Australia is yet to announce a medium term target for emission reductions by 2020. Other countries have announced ambitious emissions reduction targets. Germany has promised a cut of 40 per cent by 2020. The UK Climate Change Bill proposes 28-32 per cent reductions below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent target for 2050. The EU has committed to cut emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and offered to increase the target to 30 per cent should other developed countries commit to comparable efforts.
Emissions in China have risen over the past decade, as their economy develops and their standard of living improves, although per capita emissions remain much lower than those in the developed world. China’s per capita emissions are only a quarter of Australia’s (China = 4 tonnes of CO2 per person, and Australia’s are 17.5 tonnes of CO2 per person). Yet China is planning to reduce the energy intensity of its economy by 20 per cent between 2005 and 2010, and has set itself a target of meeting 15 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.
Given the current financial crisis, how do you expect the world leaders to prioritise the issue of climate change?
The financial crisis is no excuse for low ambition in the face of climate change. The global financial crisis challenges all of us, but this challenge is amplified for the millions who live in poverty. Climate change has the potential to dwarf the scale of the financial crisis if left unabated. The latest assessment from the European Commission anticipates growth in Europe due to the financial crisis will slow to 0.2 per cent next year. By contrast, the British Government’s climate change analysis by Sir Nicholas Stern concluded that, if we do not act on climate change, we will lose between 5-20 per cent of global GDP every year, now and forever.
Why the need to limit global warming to 2 degrees?
The global average temperature has risen almost 0.8°C over pre-industrial levels and is already causing serious climate impacts for millions of people. Global emissions have been rising faster in recent years that even worst-case scenario climate modelling tracked. These must peak by 2015 and then be cut back by at least 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050 in order to prevent the likely catastrophic impacts.
If global temperatures rise more than 2°C over pre-industrial levels, the climate impact on water resources, food production, sea levels, and ecosystems is predicted to be catastrophic for billions of people, and scientists believe dangerous feedback loops (which trigger spiralling temperatures, increasing much higher much faster) are likely to kick in. Two billion people will be affected by water shortages and most of Southern Africa will have to cope with year-round droughts. Global agriculture will be undermined and hunger and malnutrition is likely to kill up to three million more people every year. If global temperatures are allowed to climb above 3°C, billions of people would be affected by severe water stress, crop yields would fall drastically around the world and entire regions, from Australia to Southern Africa, would become non-viable for agriculture. This could mean up to 550 million additional people affected by severe hunger, and up to 330 million people permanently displaced due to sea-level rise.
How can we expect to dramatically reduce global emissions with China building a new coal-fired power plant every 10 days?
China’s increasing emissions have placed it as the world’s largest emitter in absolute terms, but it still remains low when compared on a per head basis, where Australia and the US is way ahead at just under four times the amount as China. In fact, if wealthy countries had per-capita CO2 emissions not higher than China, global CO2 emissions would already be around 30 per cent below 1990 levels.
Of course, countries like China, India and Brazil will have to play an important role in cutting global emissions but we look to the wealthiest countries to lead the way on emission cuts, as the countries that have most benefited from carbon development and therefore most able to instigate emission cuts. They must also support growth among developing countries by identifying and supporting alternative technologies.
Wealthy countries must support mitigation in developing countries through support in the form of finance and technology, not as aid or loans, in order to discharge wealthy countries’ fair share of the global effort that they cannot achieve through mitigation at home. Such support must be based on binding obligations, to give China and others the required confidence that they WILL get the support they need to engage in mitigation activities beyond what can be expected them to do on their own.
What about ‘clean coal’?
Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, and coal combustion is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. While carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies hold some promise to reduce the carbon footprint of coal-fired power plants, there is as yet no facility operating commercially with this technology. Most importantly, global emissions need to be reduced sharply within the next 10 years – before CCS can be developed and deployed at the scale required. Oxfam believes that truly low carbon alternatives to coal exist and should be prioritised.