After a disappointing lack of action at the UN talks in Doha, Paul Suff laments how climate change seems to be slipping down decision makers' priority list
Capping global temperature rise at 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century is looking increasingly like a forlorn hope.
COP 18 concluded with the usual warm words but very few concrete actions. Although the statement on the outcome of the Doha talks claimed governments had taken the next essential step in the global response to climate change, we are no clearer on what any future climate agreement will look like.
The only positive thing to come out of COP 18 was an agreement on a second commitment period for the Kyoto protocol. It will run to 2020, but involve a smaller number of countries, accounting for just 15% of global emissions.
The sense of urgency that accompanied discussion at earlier COPs slipped away as the world fell into recession and policymakers turned their focus on averting economic collapse.
Yet, we are edging closer to the climate cliff edge. Accountancy firm PwC warned in November that, at current rates of reduction in major economies’ carbon intensity (carbon emissions per unit of GDP), the world is heading for at least 6°C degrees of warming by 2100 rather than 2°C.
Carbon intensity needs to fall across the world by an average of 5.1% a year for the next 39 years, concluded PwC, a level of performance that has never been achieved. And, with the burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, rising, we’re unlikely to come anywhere near such a figure.
Global leadership on climate change has gone missing, while in the UK the self-styled “greenest government” has downgraded environment concerns in its pursuit of gas. This year, the UK hosts the G8 summit for the first time since 2005. Eight years ago, the threat of climate change was placed firmly on the agenda by then prime minister, Tony Blair.
Number 10’s current incumbent, David Cameron, recently issued his list of priorities ahead of the Lough Erne summit in June and climate change is missing. The omission comes despite the past 12 months providing a real insight into the kind of extreme weather events that will only become more common as the world gets hotter.