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CLIMATE SCIENCE
US, China agree to end 'super greenhouse gases'
by Staff Writers
Rancho Mirage, California (AFP) June 8, 2013


Russian protests block UN climate talks
Paris (AFP) June 07, 2013 - Procedural protests by Russia held up part of the UN climate talks on Friday for the fifth successive day, according to frustrated delegates at the labyrinthine negotiations in Bonn.

Russia has been blocking a key technical panel whose work feeds into the 12-day negotiation round.

The Russians, supported by Belarus and Ukraine, are demanding a debate on how decisions are agreed at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 20-year forum for addressing global warming and its impacts.

They say they sought to object to a deal at the UNFCCC's last big meeting, held in Doha, Qatar, last December, that saw an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

But they complain they were ignored by the conference's Qatari chairman, who gavelled the agreement through.

"There's a big fight about how rules are agreed," said a source with a European NGO. "They obviously feel very sore about what happened there, and they are making a big deal about it."

Other countries have expressed sympathy for Russia's argument for clarity on how UN decisions are adopted, but opposed its demands for a debate.

Decisions in climate talks are already crimped by national interests and would be even weaker if they have to be formally adopted unanimously rather than by the fuzzier format of consensus, said one delegate.

"It would have the effect of redoing international law... it's awkward and dangerous, because it could drag the plenary on, so it would impact the effectiveness of a process that already struggles to make decisions," said the source.

The spat has held up technical talks on how developing countries are meeting emissions goals, on forestry projects by developed economies and beefing up carbon trading.

A coalition of 850 green groups represented in the Climate Action Network on Friday awarded Russia a symbolic "fossil" for the country "which does the most to block progress."

The decision at Doha hamstrings the sale of 5.8 billion tonnes of carbon credits that Russia had amassed under the first round of the Kyoto Protocol.

It had gained these credits not through emissions reductions efforts, but after market pressure forced the closure of CO2-spewing factories following the fall of the Soviet Union.

The wrangling in the panel, called the Subsidiary Body for Implementation, did not seem to badly affect other areas of the talks but has stoked worries of time pressure, the sources said.

Unless money can be found for an additional meeting, the Bonn negotiations will be the last before the UNFCCC's annual minister-level talks, which this year will take place in Warsaw from November 11 to 22.

The goal is to make a giant's stride toward a global pact on carbon emissions that would be signed in late 2015 and take effect in 2020.

Political interest on tackling climate change at a global level peaked in the runup to the 2009 Copenhagen Summit.

But the low-level compromise that was brokered there, amid scenes of chaos and finger-pointing, has dashed expectations that the UN forum can do very much.

China agreed Saturday with the United States to scale back production of "super greenhouse gases" used in refrigerators and air conditioners in a joint bid to fight climate change.

The two nations made the pledge after a closely watched first summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, who lead the world's top two emitters of greenhouse gases blamed for the planet's increasingly volatile climate.

In a statement, China and the United States "agreed to work together" through an international body to "phase down the production and consumption" of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), dubbed super greenhouse gases for their pollution.

The White House said that a global phasedown of HFCs could reduce carbon emissions by 90 gigatons by 2050 -- equivalent to around two full years worth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

China -- by far the largest producer of HFCs -- had until recently resisted efforts by the United States and other wealthy nations to scale back the super greenhouse gases, arguing that alternatives in appliances were not fully ready.

But China agreed in April to end HFC production by 2030 as part of a $385 million assistance package by wealthy countries under the Montreal Protocol, which was set up to fight the depletion of the ozone layer.

China and other developing nations such as India had initially argued that the Montreal Protocol was not the best instrument to target HFCs and that the issue should instead by handled under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Some critics accused China of holding off on ending HFC production as it wanted to keep the flow of money from European Union nations that can earn credits for carbon emissions by cleaning up dirty production overseas.

The US-China statement made clear that HFCs would remain within the scope of the Kyoto Protocol and the related UN Framework Convention on Climate Change "for accounting and reporting of emissions."

The statement said that China and the United States would work together at the Montreal Protocol.

The United States, Canada and Mexico -- along with Micronesia, which greatly fears rising sea levels from climate change -- have proposed a global end to HFCs through the Montreal Protocol.

The United States and China -- which together account for more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions -- have both faced international criticism for not doing more on climate change.

China has embraced solar and other green technologies, but has resisted binding commitments in talks on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that such requirements were unfair considering its stage of development.

But China has witnessed a growing debate on requiring curbs on emissions -- not just a commitment to scale back the intensify of its own emissions, as per current policy -- as concern rises over the country's pollution woes.

Obama took office in 2009 vowing to do more on climate change after the skepticism of his predecessor George W. Bush.

But efforts backed by Obama to require caps on carbon emissions died in the US Congress, where many lawmakers from the rival Republican Party question the cost of such action and question the science behind climate change.

Representative Henry Waxman, a member of Obama's Democratic Party who helped lead the ill-fated climate legislation, called the HFC agreement "a tremendous accomplishment."

"The United States and China working together to tackle climate change is a major breakthrough," he said.

The planet has charted a slew of record hot years and some scientists link recent catastrophes -- such as superstorm Sandy in the United States, droughts in Russia and massive floods in Pakistan -- to climate change.

Warming places SE Asia, India at higher risk of flood
Paris (AFP) June 09, 2013 - Rising carbon emissions will place parts of India, China, Southeast Asia, East Africa and the northern Andes at a higher risk of extreme floods, a study published on Sunday says.

Global warming will boost the frequency at which exceptional floods occur in these regions, while eastern Europe, parts of Scandinavia, Chile and Argentina will have fewer such events, it suggests.

The estimates are based on 11 models for greenhouse-gas emissions and their impact on 29 river basins by 2100.

At the extreme end of the estimate range -- if temperatures rise by four or five degrees Celsius (seven or nine degrees Fahrenheit) -- a flood event that statistically occurred only once every one hundred years in the 20th century could return every 10 to 50 years in the most vulnerable locations.

"Many of these regions are already notorious for (being) flood-prone," said Shinjiro Kanae, a civil engineer at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, who took part in the modelling.

The "return period" of once-a-century floods reduces if warming levels by 2100 are lower, though.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, is led by Yukiko Hirabayashi of the University of Tokyo.

It is one of the most ambitious attempts to finetune estimates on where flooding will occur in a warmer world. Previous studies have used only several models, or even just one, which means the range of uncertainty is very wide.

The Japanese authors note that there remains a large margin of regional variability in their estimates. They also point out that the estimates do not take into account actions that worsen or prevent flooding.

UN members have pledged to limit warming to 2C (3.6 F) compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

But the current rise in carbon concentrations is in line with 4C or 5C (7-9 F) by 2100, a figure that many scientists say would be catastrophic for biodiversity and for hundreds of millions exposed to hunger, extreme weather or sea-level rise.

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