SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Melting Point: Grappling with Sea Level Rise (2)

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/19 May) — The first part of this series cites three findings related to global warming in reports released recently by climate experts: [1] Sea level rise has become irreversible; [2] There is no stopping the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet; and [3] Accelerating emissions of greenhouse gases that have caused global warming are mainly to blame for these dire developments. Worse, the ongoing meltdown in Antarctica happens alongside the loss of glaciers in Greenland, another vast reservoir of frozen fresh water.

Unfortunately, GHG emissions, mostly from fossil combustion, have accelerated despite reduction efforts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out. On a global scale, the failure to curb emissions can be attributed to the demise of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the inability of the Copenhagen Accord of 2009 to exact substantial commitments to reduce emissions to levels that would stabilize GHG concentration in the atmosphere.

Kyoto, whose first commitment period covered 2008-2012, was amended in 2012 for the second commitment period (2013-2020) but has not entered into force. For the first commitment period, 37 industrialized countries committed to reduce their emissions by at least five percent against 1990 levels. For 2013-2020, the commitment by Parties is at least 18 percent below 1990 levels. However, the US, the world’s biggest GHG emitter, did not ratify the treaty.

Copenhagen, on the other hand, aside from being non-legally binding, was criticized by several developing countries as an instrument that will only justify the high emission rates of industrialized countries. In several post-analyses, experts doubted the reduction targets volunteered by some countries who have “engaged” with the accord could limit global average temperature to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as envisioned. Skepticism also abounds if it would be possible to limit warming to below two degrees Celsius, the level required by science to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

The absence of real targets in emissions reduction and the open-ended nature of a country’s engagement is clearly the biggest undoing of the Copenhagen Accord.

For one, not all countries engaged with the accord have made commitments to reduce GHG emissions by 2020. Of the 141 engaged countries, including the 27-member European Union, only 29 (EU counted as a single entity) has set emission reduction targets. The US, which contributes 15 percent of GHG emissions worldwide, only set a target of 17-percent reduction, the lowest among the leading countries of the accord.

There can only be one conclusion: the accord would not bring GHG emissions down in the near future.

Now, consider these points raised by the IPCC: To stabilize atmospheric concentration global emissions need to fall to zero; to limit warming to two degrees Celsius, net zero emissions must be achieved between 2050 and 2100, otherwise temperature might increase by 3.7° to 4.8° Celsius over the 21st century; and, delaying reductions increases the difficulty and cost.

The IPCC said this requires shifting investment to energy efficiency and renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. It cited that “renewables accounted for 43.6% of all new generation capacity in 2013, but still only 8.5% of total”. In contrast, global subsidies for fossil fuel have remained at US$500 billion per year, which is more than the combined subsidies for renewable energy (less than US$100 billion per year) and total investment in climate change mitigation and adaptation (about US$ 350 billion/year).

Is anybody listening? Not the Philippine government, with President Aquino himself giving a smirk to proposals to invest in renewable energy and opening the doors wide to coal-fired power plants as THE solution to rising power demand. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at