There are essentially two sides of the climate change coin: adaptation – because the climate has already changed and poor countries are feeling the heat, and mitigation – because most of us want to leave behind a planet that our children can live in. Both are vital components of a new global deal.
Today Japan became the latest of the world’s richest countries to announce a greenhouse gas emissions target for 2020. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ] – the world’s top climate scientists – said 2 years ago that rich countries needed to reduce their emissions by 25%-40% by 2020 against 1990 levels. After a big fight in Bali in 2007 and an emotional appeal by UN climate chief Yvo do Boer those numbers made it into the Bali Action Plan that forms the basis for these UN climate change negotiations.
Since 2007 many scientists have called for even tougher targets and the Alliance of Small Island States have called for a 45% cut.
So it is extremely disturbing to see that only Norway (with 30%) has committed to a target within that range. The EU has a unilateral target of 20% which it says it will increase to 30% if other countries commit to doing the same. But so far the offers have come in at 5% from Australia (it will increase this to 25% if developing countries commit to specific cuts) and 3% from the US (if the Climate Bill passes through Congress).
Japan’s target is a 15% cut by 2020 but against 2005 levels rather than the accepted baseline of 1990. Against 1990 levels this equates to a cut of only 8%. However, Japan is already committed to a 6% cut on 1990 levels by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol. So this means that the new target is only 2% more. And because that 2% is to be achieved between 2012 and 2020 than works out as an annual reduction of only 0.25%.
If Japan is allowed to get away with this then the prospects of a decent global deal in Copenhagen look remote.