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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

U.N.Climate Talks Underway in Bonn, Germany

Air Date: Week of June 10, 2011

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Delegates meet in Bonn for the 34th climate meeting. (UNFCCC)

Climate delegates are meeting in Bonn to lay the groundwork for negotiations in South Africa later this year. Kilaparti Ramakrishna is Vice President and Director of Policy at Woods Hole Research Center. He tells Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood about the challenges that lie ahead for December’s Durban climate talks.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Mass, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. As critical climate talks get underway in Bonn, Germany, let’s do the numbers. Negotiators from 183 nations will be there to try to keep the level of carbon dioxide in the air under 450 parts per million, or else - global temperatures could rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius.

And things don’t look good: last year we pumped 31 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere - the highest in history. For the story behind the numbers Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood spoke with one of the leading scientists attending the Bonn climate talks.

CURWOOD: With me now is Kilaparti Ramakrishna - he’s Vice President and Director of Policy for the Woods Hole Research Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Now this meeting in Bonn is the 34th of these climate meetings, but frankly some folks say they don’t seem to be showing a whole lot of results. Tell me, why is this meeting important?

RAMAKRISHNA: This meeting is to be seen in light of the progress made in Cancun. And Cancun progress needs to be seen in light of what the world community wanted to accomplish in Copenhagen and, by broad perception, did not. This is the session that is going to help us get to where we need to be so that when we convene in Durban, we make progress.


Kilaparti Ramakrishna (UNEP)

  

CURWOOD: These talks are taking place now in the context of the latest research from the International Energy Agency that says the concentration of CO2 is now up to a record 395 parts per million in the atmosphere. How much do you think this information will add urgency to these talks?

RAMAKRISHNA: That information is giving everybody pause, that, despite putting in place a series of measures and national legislations and regional agreements and what have you, that the trend is continuing upwards. And that is a cause for concern and also brings in a certain amount of urgency, and more needs to be done.

CURWOOD: So the Kyoto Protocol will expire next year - the so-called ‘first commitment period’ of the Kyoto Protocol - what were the goals of Kyoto and how successful have countries been in reaching those goals? It doesn’t sound like a whole lot has happened.

RAMAKRISHNA: Right. If you take the Kyoto Protocol, you know, the first commitment period basically talked about emissions reductions by industrialized countries, to the tune of about five percent as a collective. But they did not talk about what the developing countries might do, and the emissions from the developing countries are increasing, as they should, because of their needs for increasing economic development and so on. In other words, measures by the industrialized countries alone, as part of the Kyoto Protocol first commitment period, are not sufficient.

CURWOOD: As I understand it, the big impasse at these meetings is that the developing countries say that they are going to reduce their emissions but they want to do it on a voluntary basis at the same time that industrialized nations are to go forward on a binding basis. Now industrialized nations agreed to do that back when this began, but now they say that, look, developing nations have huge growth in emissions and that everybody should be together on this - everyone should agree to a binding commitment.

RAMAKRISHNA: Clearly we will not have a situation where all parties agree to the same kind of legal measures. You have to look at what large emitters, as they’re called, you know, India and China, are doing. China closed down about 2,000 inefficient factories, and if you look at their next five-year plan, it has ambitious measures on energy efficiency. And the same thing can be said about India. So you need to factor those things in and think about not just one legal instrument, as we have historically been familiar with, but by keeping it all under public scrutiny, develop a system of naming-and-shaming and keep the pressure on the governments through these conferences and various sessions under the UN framework convention on climate change.

CURWOOD: The climate talks in Copenhagen did agree that developing countries would get some 30 billion dollars from the developed world to spend on climate mitigation and adaptation over the course of three years, and we’re now, what, one and half years into that timetable for the money. What’s it been spent on and how much has come from the countries that made these pledges?

RAMAKRISHNA: A very good question. If you ask the industrialized countries, their response is that: ‘yes we have spent a lot of that amount already.’ But if you ask the developing countries, they say: ‘no, nothing has come through so far.’ So the short answer to the question is - not much is seen so far, though one and a half years had lapsed. This really is, as the executive secretary said, the golden key. If you demonstrate that the money is flowing to where it is needed, then, more countries would want to join in the actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

CURWOOD: Now, in Cancun, participants agreed, I believe for the first time, on a maximum temperature change, an average temperature rise, for the earth of, what, two degrees Celsius. But, Kilaparti Ramakrishna, practically what does that mean and how would one enforce such an agreement anyway?

RAMAKRISHNA: To keep the temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius, what the scientific community tells us is that by 2020, emissions will have to be at 44 billion tons. And if you were to succeed in that goal, there is only a 50 percent chance of keeping the temperature to below two degrees Celsius by 2020. But the challenge does not stop there.

Once you reach 2020, you need to reduce emissions rapidly - almost two percent per annum, going up to 2050, to keep the temperature increase at a safe level. We have never seen reductions of that kind in the history of human development. But it can be done, because there is no other alternative.

CURWOOD: How do you stay optimistic in looking at this? Our record is that we don’t seem to be able to get to reductions.

RAMAKRISHNA: I’m optimistic because, finally, this is a normal topic of conversation amongst finance ministers and presidents and prime ministers of the world. They can make it happen. It needs to be a concerted attempt at the global level like never before attempted. But if you believe this to be a global problem requiring, you know, global solutions, given the commitment that various heads of state and government demonstrated so far, it can be done.

CURWOOD: Kilaparti Ramakrishna is Vice President and Director of Policy at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Thank you very much, sir.

RAMAKRISHNA: Thank you very much, Steve.

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

 

Links

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Woods Hole Research Center

 

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