Climate change pact elusive at Paris summit
Beirut - There was flickering optimism that, after years of bickering on how to curb global warming, the mammoth Paris summit on climate change would come up with a binding agreement that would severely curb carbon emissions, which, if left unchecked, would make large regions of the planet uninhabitable within a few decades.
But as the 12-day UN conference, the biggest since global negotiations on climate began in 1992, moved towards its conclusion, the prospect of achieving a pact that might save the planet seemed as elusive as ever with representatives from an unprecedented 195 nations.
French President François Hollande, who has staked much political capital on the summit, is hoping that the discord that wrecked the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen will be overcome by the looming appeal to world leaders to iron out their differences.
But the same old sticking points that have repeatedly blocked progress remain. These focus mainly on who pays for the huge undertaking of reducing carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming, the result of 300 years of what one official termed “massive fossil fuel burning” by the leading industrial nations in Europe and the United States.
Because developed states account for about 80% of historic carbon emissions, which are derived mainly from burning coal, oil and gas, the poorer countries of the world insist that the rich states pay the lion’s share of the estimated $100 billion-a-year bill as of 2020 when current commitments run out.
The target to control these emissions is a new global climate accord, the first in 18 years, that will seek to hold the temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius, with mechanisms ensuring countries are accountable for meeting their targets in a transparent way.
With a 1-degree Celsius increase nearly reached, time is clearly of the essence, so there will be lot riding on whatever agreement emerges from the Paris conference, proving the signatories can overcome previous failures and make it work.
Food insecurity, one of the greatest dangers resulting from climate change and desertification, which is eradicating Arab land, has been a major issue at the conference since it opened November 30th. New research shows that the world has lost one-third of its effective farmland in the last four decades due to erosion and pollution.
Burgeoning population growth, a particular problem in food security terms for the Middle East, is expected to produce 2 billion more people by 2050, the US Department of Agriculture observed in a recent study.
That, it warned, “increases the magnitude of risk” as temperatures rise, rainfall patterns change or diminish and reduced availability of water will radically affect food production.
A recent World Bank report on how climate change is affecting the Middle East, where the world’s first cities and farming communities arose more than 2,000 years ago, noted that given “the high dependence of Arab countries on imported food” the expected fall in global food production will have a severe impact on the region.
Climate change is already being felt in Arab countries. The World Bank said five of the 19 countries that set national temperature highs in 2010 were Arab states.
At the same time, rising sea levels as polar ice caps melt — up to 1 metre by the end of the century — and extreme heat could disrupt the transportation of food, the US report cautioned.
A spike of 2 degrees Celsius in the Earth’s temperature would flood land on which an estimated 280 million people, many in the Middle East, live, it warned.
Major Arab cities on the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf will be at risk. In the Nile delta, a sea level rise of half a metre could displace more than 2 million people, flood 1,800 square km of cropland and cause damage worth some $35 billion in terms of loss of land, property and infrastructure.