Copenhagen on brink as nations demand tougher targets

Small island states and African nations insist proposal for 1.5 degree temperature target is not up for negotiation

Over half the world's nations have today said that allowing average temperatures to rise by more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels would devastate their countries and as a result they are not willing to negotiate a deal that aims for a two degree temperature rise.

The proposal for a 1.5C target was tabled yesterday by the tiny island state of Tuvalu, and today the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), a grouping of 43 of the smallest countries, backed the new target, insisting any rise of more than 1.5C was not negotiable. They were backed by 48 of the least developed nations, primarily from Africa.

Both rich nations and emerging economies have been calling for a 2C target, which would aim to ensure that global warming does not lead to so-called " tipping points" whereby natural carbon sinks begin to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

However, scientists have repeatedly warned that even a two degree rise would have a major impact on low-lying nations and those already prone to droughts. They have also said that there is a danger that some tipping points could occur at temperatures lower than a two degree average rise.

"We have two research stations; one in the Pacific and one in the Caribbean. They both suggest a rise of 2C is completely untenable for us," said Dessima Williams, a Grenadian diplomat speaking on behalf of Aosis. "Our islands are disappearing, our coral reefs are bleaching, we are losing our fish supplies."

The so-called Tuvalu Protocol called for any Copenhagen Agreement to focus on limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees and ensuring atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases fall from 387 parts per million (ppm) now to 350ppm.

However, the resolve of the vulnerable nations to block a deal based around the two degree target looks set to be tested with both rich nations and large emerging economies insisting any more ambitious target is untenable.

There is no tested way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere beyond an unprecedented program of afforestation, while attaining the 1.5 degree goal would require emission cuts that are far deeper and faster than anything on the table in Copenhagen. Essentially, all industrialised nations would have to completely decarbonise their economies by 2050, while developing nations would also have to deliver cuts in emissions of well over 50 per cent on current levels.

UN conference chief, Yvo de Boer, hinted that the 1.5C target would face fierce opposition, noting that "it is theoretically possible that the conference will agree to hold temperatures to 1.5C but most industrialised countries have pinned their hopes on 2C".

There were also indications that the gap between the rich nations and the large emerging economies remains as wide as ever, when a leading Indian negotiator was quoted as saying the country would not sign up to any deal that imposes binding emission targets.

India has said it will cut its carbon intensity by 20 to 25 per cent by 2020 and will engage in a major energy efficiency and renewable energy programme. However, rich nations, led by the US, have been pushing India, China and other large emerging economies to make their climate change commitments legally binding in return for the climate funding being offered by industrialised countries.

US negotiator Todd Stern told the conference that while the emerging economies had tabled "significant" proposals, these had to be incorporated in a binding global deal to ensure they did not end up as domestic "press releases".

But senior Indian negotiator Chandrashekar Dasgupta told Indian news agency PTI that India would not sign a deal that imposes binding targets.

"We are quite prepared through our national communications to report what we are doing, but that is for the purpose of information only," he said. "It is not subject to review, to verification, to re-negotiation, to dialogue or any such thing. It is a nationally determined voluntary target ... Nothing less, nothing more."

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