Climate change pact elusive at Paris summit

Friday 11/12/2015
Visitors at a COP 21 exhibit, at Le Bourget, near Paris, on December 3rd.

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.