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Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009

Climate talks open amid growing hope


Staff writer

COPENHAGEN, After two years of preparation and anticipation, the U.N. Climate Change Conference, or COP15, opened Monday amid growing hope an agreement between developed and developing countries on specific greenhouse gas targets is within reach.

Attention began to turn toward who will pay for developing countries to reach their announced emissions goals, and how much it will all cost.

"As I speak to you this morning, 110 heads of state and government have announced they will be coming to Copenhagen next week to participate in the concluding days of this conference. It represents a huge opportunity the world cannot afford to miss. But the political will to forge a global agreement is manifest," Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen said in his welcome address.

Since U.S. President Barack Obama proposed last month to cut his nation's emissions by 17 percent by 2020 based on 2005 levels, major developing countries have announced their own plans to reduce emissions per unit of GDP. China said it will cut emissions up to 45 percent per GDP unit and India announced a cut of up to 25 percent, both based on 2005 levels.

These actions let to an unprecedented agreement by 110 world leaders to attend the last day of the COP15 conference Dec. 18, possibly the first time so many world leaders have been present at a meeting other than the U.N. General Assembly meetings each autumn.

On Sunday, South Africa became the latest developing country to agree to a reduction plan, announcing it would seek to lower emissions by 34 percent by 2020 and by up to 42 percent by 2025. Leaders of nongovernmental organizations said they hope the pledge will result in developed countries doing more.

"South Africa's pledge is another example of emerging economies contributing to a successful outcome in Copenhagen. We hope the commitments will spark a race to the top by pushing industrialized countries to raise their ambition levels and put forth more ambitious reduction targets," said Tasneem Essop, a senior policy adviser to WWF based in South Africa.

Emission reduction targets form one of the main pillars of discussion at Copenhagen, but Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the U.N.'s top climate negotiator, said his Christmas wish for Copenhagen is a three-layer cake.

"The bottom layer consists of an agreement on prompt implementation of action on mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology. The second layer consists of ambitious emission reduction commitments or actions. It also includes commitments on startup finance in the order of $10 billion per year, as well as long-term finance," de Boer said.

"And the icing on the cake consists of a shared vision on long-term cooperative action on climate change," he added.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the advisory body of scientists to the U.N., said the evidence is overwhelming that climate change is a result of human activity, and warned delegates of what could happen if climate change isn't mitigated.

"On the basis of the Fourth Assessment report released in 2007 and the basis for the current discussions, we know that climate change, in the absence of mitigation policies, would in all likelihood lead to possible disappearance of sea ice by the latter part of this century, an increase in frequency of hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation, and a decrease in water resources in many semiarid regions such as the Mediterranean Basin, the western United States, southern Africa and northeastern Brazil," Pachauri said.

"Approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of species assessed so far will face increased risk of extinction if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5 to 2.5 degrees," he added.



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