A year ago at the Copenhagen conference, the talk was all about deals and final agreements that would put the world on the road to a low carbon future.
This year, at Cancun, the expectations are so low that just keeping the show on the road is the main priority.
At best the hope is that a final and comprehensive deal can be struck this time next year in South Africa.
Chris Huhne, the UK’s energy and environment secretary, has warned, bleakly that: “We are not expecting a final agreement [at Cancún]. The objective is to reinvigorate the talks. Success means getting the world to within shouting distance of a deal, keeping the show on the road and making practical progress on areas like forestry, finance and reduction commitments.”
Officials in Cancun are hoping for progress on REDD (Reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation), the UN scheme that supposedly rewards developing nations for keeping their forests standing.
However new research has shown that the whole thing is a farce, and that far from protecting forests, it will give money to some of the world’s largest oil, mining, car and gas corporations who will make hundreds of millions of dollars.
The new report, from Friends of the Earth International, has analysed several hundred, large-scale REDD pilot schemes. It shows that banks, airlines, charitable foundations, carbon traders, conservation groups, gas companies and palm plantation companies have also scrambled into forestry protection.
If we are not careful, such is the money to be made that there will be a “Redd race”.
“A Redd race is under way” argues FoE. “Redd is emerging as a mechanism that has the potential to exacerbate inequality, reaping huge rewards for corporate investors whilst bringing considerably fewer benefits or even serious disadvantages to forest dependent communities. It could become a dangerous distraction from the business of implementing real climate change cuts.”
FoE continues “There are significant risks that Redd will lead to the privatisation of the world’s forests, transferring them out of the hands of indigenous peoples and local communities and into the hands of bankers and carbon traders.
The system is so full of loop-holes that, according to Greenpeace, Indonesia is planning to class large areas of its remaining natural forests as “degraded land” in order to cut them down and receive $1bn of climate aid for replanting them with palm trees and biofuels.
With flawed schemes likes these being offered as “solutions” it is of no surprise that scientists are predicting that global temperatures are likely to rise by 4 degrees Celsius by the 2060s.
Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, described a 4C world in her research paper, which is published in a special collection of Royal Society journal papers today:
“Drought and desertification would be widespread … There would be a need to shift agricultural cropping to new areas, impinging on [wild] ecosystems. Large-scale adaptation to sea-level rise would be necessary. Human and natural systems would be subject to increasing levels of agricultural pests and diseases, and increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.”
Warren added: “This world would also rapidly be losing its ecosystem services, owing to large losses in biodiversity, forests, coastal wetlands, mangroves and saltmarshes [and] an acidified and potentially dysfunctional marine ecosystem. In such a 4C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world.”
The days of wanting to keep to a 2 degree rise are long gone. “There is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global surface temperature at below 2C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary,” said Kevin Anderson, at the University of Manchester, who with colleague Alice Bows contributed another research paper to the Royal Society.
Anderson continues: “Moreover, the impacts associated with 2C have been revised upwards so that 2C now represents the threshold [of] extremely dangerous climate change.”
We may be just trying to keep the show on the road, but the road is becoming a lot harder, the longer we take.