Prospects for climate accord look bleak

With talks at the Copenhagen climate conference only two days away from their conclusion, the chances that a meaningful agreement can be forged in the remaining hours do not seem great. Indeed, in recent days divisions, particularly between rich and poor countries, have widened. At the heart of the tension is a debate on whether the Kyoto protocol can be kept in place.

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With talks at the Copenhagen climate conference only two days away from their conclusion, the chances that a meaningful agreement can be forged in the remaining hours do not seem great. Indeed, in recent days divisions, particularly between rich and poor countries, have widened. "Much of the tension is focused on whether to keep alive the Kyoto protocol - the existing international climate agreement struck in 1997 - as part of a new deal or replace it with an entirely new treaty," The Financial Times reported. "Developing countries, including China, India and Brazil, want to keep the Kyoto process because it commits developed countries to legally binding emissions cuts without making the same requirements of poorer nations. "But developed countries, led by the US, want a new framework that binds China and other emerging economies to targets. "Victor Fodeke, head of the Nigerian delegation, said the talks would be headed for 'catastrophe' if developed countries tried to abandon the Kyoto process altogether. "[Germany's chancellor, Angela] Merkel said that all sides - including the US and China - must make concessions if a deal was to be reached." In The Guardian, Duncan Clark wrote: "Currently, no deal being seriously considered by the major players in Copenhagen is ambitious enough to give the world an odds-on chance of limiting the temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels - the widely accepted target for avoiding irreversible climate change. "This fact is underlined by a new interactive tool on that visualises recent climate scenarios from the Met Office [Britain's meteorological service]. Of all the scenarios, the only one in which the world is more likely than not to avoid a 2C rise is the most ambitious: an emissions peak in 2016 followed by an almost unimaginably ambitious global cut of 4 per cent or 5 per cent per year. And even that scenario could plausibly push temperatures above 2.5C, depending on exactly how the carbon cycle and atmosphere respond to the build-up of greenhouse gases. Besides, it's also far bolder than anything Copenhagen is expected to deliver. "A more realistic best-case outcome of Copenhagen would be an emissions peak in 2020 followed by a cut of 1-2 per cent per year. In this scenario, according to the Met Office figures, the planet would warm by 2.1C to 3.7C this century, with the rise continuing even higher after 2100. "These depressing numbers chime with other assessments, including two websites that tally up the evolving emissions commitments from the countries negotiating in Copenhagen and convert them into future temperature rises. Climate Action Tracker, created by groups including the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, announced on Monday that even the boldest reductions currently being discussed in Copenhagen go only halfway towards meeting the 2C target. As the national and regional commitments currently stand, we should prepare for a 3.5C rise by 2100, according to the team behind the site." Meanwhile, ice accumulations in both the northern and southern hemespheres are melting rapidly. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme has issued a new report synthesising the latest scientific findings on the Greenland ice sheet, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences said. One of the report's most alarming findings is that the discharge of icebergs as a whole has increased by 30 per cent over the past decade. "We know that the Arctic has warmed enormously over the past 50 years and that the temperatures over Greenland have increased by more than twice the global average. Despite these observations, it is deeply surprising and worrying to see the pace of the changes in the Greenland ice sheet", said the report's lead author, Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, from the University of Copenhagen. "Greenland's ice sheet is the single largest body of freshwater ice in the northern hemisphere. It contains around 3 million km3 of ice and, if it were to melt completely, this would cause global sea level to rise by roughly 7 metres. We know that Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that by 2100, annual temperatures over the Arctic will be 3 to 8C higher than the average observed during the 1951-1980 period. But already now we are seeing how the areas experiencing surface melt are expanding northwards and that the periods of melt in southern Greenland are getting longer. The development in the last decade has taken scientists by surprise and it is still uncertain how the ice will react to future climate change. Therefore, it is essential to intensify the ice sheet research", said Dr Dahl-Jensen. The New York Times reported on glacial melting in the Andes and its impact on a city close to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. "The glaciers that have long provided water and electricity to this part of Bolivia are melting and disappearing, victims of global warming, most scientists say. "If the water problems are not solved, El Alto, a poor sister city of La Paz, could perhaps be the first large urban casualty of climate change. A World Bank report concluded last year that climate change would eliminate many glaciers in the Andes within 20 years, threatening the existence of nearly 100 million people. "For the nearly 200 nations trying to hammer out an international climate accord in Copenhagen, the question of how to address the needs of dozens of countries like Bolivia is a central focus of the negotiations and a major obstacle to a treaty. "World leaders have long agreed that rich nations must provide money and technology to help developing nations adapt to problems that, to a large extent, have been created by smokestacks and tailpipes far away. But the specifics of that transfer - which countries will pay, how much and for what kinds of projects - remain contentious. "Last week, a group of the poorest small countries debated whether they would stage a walk-out in Copenhagen if rich nations failed to provide enough money. Todd Stern, the lead negotiator for the United States, while reiterating that the United States would help pay, bridled at the idea that the money was a 'climate debt'. And on Friday, the European Union made an initial pledge to pay $3.5 billion annually for three years to help poor countries cope - though economists project the total cost to be $100 billion or more." The Obama administration has asked the US Congress for $1.2 billion to go toward such a purpose, but Congress has yet to take action on the request.