The Straits Times: Climate deal just a ‘plan to make a plan’

The Straits Times gets the opinions of environmental groups and stakeholders on COP17’s Durban Platform.

Climate deal just a ‘plan to make a plan’

NGOs say not enough done to protect world from irreversible change

IT HAS been hailed by some as ground-breaking for getting all countries to agree to work together.

But environmental NGOs, or non-governmental organisations, in Singapore are not enamoured with the outcome of the recently concluded United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

On top of harbouring little hope that the annual conference would yield a legally binding agreement for all nations, they say the deal to work towards such an agreement is hardly ambitious enough to protect the world from irreversible climate change.

‘The agreement is fundamentally a plan to make a plan, and it can only be hailed as a success once a legally binding deal has been officially adopted,’ said a sceptical Jose Raymond, executive director of the Singapore Environment Council.

More than 190 countries at the talks agreed on Sunday to a road map towards a global, legally binding accord for countries to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions.

If the pact gets the go-ahead as scheduled in 2015, it will take effect from 2020.

Conservation International Singapore senior adviser Michael Totten was slightly more optimistic.

‘The good news about the Durban climate negotiations is they didn’t break down; the bad news is that action was delayed for years,’ he said.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs researcher Henrick Tseng commented that the deal, achieved only after talks stretched into some 30 hours of overtime and ended on Sunday morning at 6am (noon Singapore time), was ‘not particularly ambitious’.

Prior to the talks, Mr Tseng had expressed pessimism in view of developed nations’ reluctance to commit to a second round of emissions cuts.

Now, again, he was concerned that developed nations might reject further commitments en masse.

‘A crisis of confidence in the Durban road map could erupt and the US, China and India will find less incentive to cooperate in forging and binding themselves to a global treaty,’ he said.

The three countries are the world’s biggest emitters, accounting for nearly half of total emissions. They have been reluctant to commit to cuts: China and India because they feel they need room to develop, and the US because it wants all countries to commit before it will do so.

Environmental consultant Eugene Tay agreed, explaining that there is also the risk that countries may pass an agreement but not ratify it, he said, much like what the United States did with the Kyoto Protocol.

The US signed the Protocol in 1998 but has never ratified it, meaning it is not bound by the legal agreement.

Yet, current science indicates the world is on track for at least a 3.5 degC temperature rise, more than the goal of capping global warming at 2 degC to stave off the impact of climate change.

To address that, Mr Tay said, individual governments should do more. For instance, South Korea is about to pass a law requiring ‘cap and trade’, the capping of emissions and then trading of emissions allowances.

And Singapore has said it will cut emissions by 7 to 11 per cent by 2020, if no global binding deal is reached, and by 16 per cent if one is.

Mr Totten feels business could play a significant role. For example, electronics giant ST Microelectronics announced its plans in 1998 to emit zero net greenhouse gases by last year, and accomplished this through energy efficiency, renewable energy use and carbon offsets.

This is something Singapore is beginning to do as well. A proposed Energy Conservation Act will require heavy industrial users of energy to improve their efficiency and appoint energy managers.

Mr Billet Hoontrakul, director of youth energy-issues group Energy Carta, said: ‘We can’t afford to wait for governments to come to an agreement. We have to demand it from the ground level.’

The group is trying to make sustainable business attractive to young people as a career, added the 20-year-old, a second-year engineering student at the National University of Singapore.

It is also working on a board game to help young people understand the complexities of climate negotiations and motivate them to act and to call for their governments to do the same.

Image taken from The Guardian

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