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With 2°C Target Falling Swiftly Out of Sight, Inaction on Climate a 'Crime Against Humanity'

With commitments failing to keep pace with soaring temperatures, dire warnings as climate negotiators meet in Bonn in preparation for Paris summit

Jon Queally

International climate talks continue, but it is the action (or lack thereof) that humanity needs to worry about.

"By ignoring the need to prevent a breach of the 2C tipping point, the point beyond which scientists are unable to predict the sheer scale of [climate] impacts... Paris will go down in infamy as the scene of a modern day crime against humanity."
—Asad Rehman, Friends of the Earth

As representatives from nearly all the world's nations meet in Bonn, Germany this week with the aim of building a framework for a final deal that can be signed at the UN climate summit in Paris later this year, voices from the least developed countries and members of civil society are warning that the major powers are still offering far too little in the way of meaningful action.

According to the sharpest critics of the largest polluting nations—which includes the U.S., Canada, China, and the European Union—a continued failure to make bold and enforceable reductions of greenhouse gas emissions should be considered nothing less than a "crime against humanity."

As observers describe progress at the talks in Bonn as moving at a snail's pace, the attempt to forge a meaningful agreement for Paris appears to be slipping quickly through the fingers of world leaders.

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As the Guardian reports on Sunday:

With little negotiating time left ahead of the UN climate summit in Paris later this year, diplomats from nearly 200 countries meeting in Bonn have reportedly made little progress, raising the possibility of a last-minute diplomatic fiasco, as happened in Copenhagen in 2009.

The mistrust between countries that built up in Copenhagen now threatens the Paris talks, said Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who is chairman of the 48-strong least-developed countries group. “The [UN] process is flawed by a complete lack of trust and confidence between rich and poor countries,” he said. “We need time. Because of this lack of trust we have no other way of proceeding. We have to go ahead with baby steps. We are not making much progress, but we are going in the right direction. There are so many issues. It’s a process of attrition.

“Every year there is a watering down of the commitments. It feels every year that we are losing out. Twenty countries contribute 80% of emissions, the rest 20%. Yet we in Africa are being asked to cut emissions. OK, we say, but help us. Give us finance, technology.”

Concern is growing that rich countries, which have together pledged to mobilize $100bn a year to help countries adapt to climate change, are so far unwilling to discuss how the money will be raised, said Martin Khor, director of the South Center, a leading intergovernmental thinktank of developing countries. “The developing countries are disappointed that there seems to be little hope that the $100bn will materialize. They have no idea what will be available, so they cannot plan ahead. If countries really wanted a [strong] deal, they would be talking about finance by now,” said Khor.

Last week, just ahead of the talks, Reuters spoke with several experts who said the mood behind closed doors was somber as many admit privately that the agreed target of the UN-member states of limiting global temperature increases this century to no more than 2°C (2 degrees Celsius or 2C) is simply no longer attainable given the level of commitments currently on the table.

"It's just not feasible," Oliver Geden, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Reuters in discussion of the target. "Two degrees is a focal point for the climate debate but it doesn't seem to be a focal point for political action."

And David Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego, told the news agency that he predicts the 2C goal will slip away despite the public assurances by negotiators and other government officials that it is still alive. For the idea of holding temperatures below 2C, said Victor, "Paris will be a funeral without a corpse."

In an exchange with Common Dreams, however, Asad Rehman, head of the international climate campaign for Friends of the Earth, said the talks in Paris may well be considered a funeral, but disputed the idea that there are no dead bodies involved.

"Breaching the 2C target is not a 'funeral without a corpse,'" Rehman explained, because "the corpses already have names and faces and are from every corner of the world – they are dying in their thousands from heat in India, as we speak. The more the reality of climate change impacts the lives of people in every corner of the world, the more scientists warn us of the dangers of failing to act, the greater the reluctance of political leaders to act. Rich country leaders are playing Russian roulette with all of our futures for the sake of short term economic interests."

He added, "By ignoring the need to prevent a breach of the 2C tipping point, the point beyond which scientists are unable to predict the sheer scale of impacts on our food production, our homes and our lives, politicians will effectively signing the death sentence for millions. Paris will go down in infamy as the scene of a modern day crime against humanity."

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that on current emissions trends, the planet is now on target for a temperature increase of  4.8C or more by 2100 — a level of warming that would drive dramatic increases in hunger, extreme weather, species loss, and waves of climate-fueled migrations of tens of millions of people.

In order to even come close to meeting the 2C target, the IPCC has said that global annual carbon emissions must fall by 40 to 70 percent by 2050 compared to 2010 levels – and to zero or below by 2100. Currently, governments are not even close to such commitments.

According to Alix Mazounie, a French activist with the Climate Action Network (CAN), who spoke with Agence France-Presse over the weekend, "If countries really want to show that they are moving out of fossil fuels, as the IPCC recommends, they have to set a target for 2050 and a deadline for reaching zero emissions."


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