December 05, 2011

This Weekend’s News: Up, Up and Away?

As international delegates kickoff the second week of annual
climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, The New York Times reported on Sunday that global carbon emissions
demonstrated the largest jump in recorded history in 2010, despite a still
sluggish global economy that contributed to a remarkable drop in emissions in
2009, “upending
the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist
through the recovery

The analysis found that the majority of global carbon
emissions (57 percent) came from developing countries and that “the
combustion of coal represented more than half of the growth in emissions
The analysis suggests that some developing countries increased their share of
coal use – long considered one of the cheapest forms of conventional fossil
fuel sources – in part as an effort to generate the energy necessary to improve
economic growth. China, for example, is the world’s number one consumer of
coal, consuming
about 16 percent more coal in 2010 than 2009
, according to the U.S. Energy
Information Agency. 

new figures show a continuation of a trend in which developing countries,
including China and India, have surpassed the wealthy countries in their
overall greenhouse emissions
,” The
New York Times
reported. “Emissions
per person, though, are still sharply higher in the wealthy countries, and
those countries have been emitting greenhouse gases far longer, so they account
for the bulk of the excess gases in the atmosphere
.” This latter measurement
has been a perennial sticking point in international negotiations, where
developing countries – particular China – have insisted that developed
countries like the United States take responsibility for their historical contributions
to climate change. Moreover, China has been the most pronounced about the need
for carbon emissions to be measured per capita. 

The findings are likely to provide little – if any – grease
to move climate negotiations closer toward an international binding agreement
to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, the evidence will
probably only reinforce sticking points, especially with the United States and
China, on what is considered an equitable arrangement between the developed and
developing countries.  

The reality of the situation is rather sobering, given the
real urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions despite the lack of a sense of urgency. The New York Times explains that:

Scientists say the rapid growth of
emissions is warming the Earth, threatening the ecology and putting human
welfare at long-term risk. But
their increasingly urgent pleas that society find a way to limit emissions have
met sharp political resistance in many countries, including the United States,
because doing so would entail higher energy costs

Just in the last several weeks, the International Energy
Agency warned that
the dangerous effects of climate change are likely to be irreversible within
the next five years
. Meanwhile, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change released the findings from its Kampala, Uganda conference
cautioning that climate change is behind some recent extreme weather events, and
those kinds of events are likely to worsen in coming decades, including record-high
temperatures and coastal flooding

This Week’s Events

Today at noon, tune in via webcast to A Presentation of the Results of The
Future of the Electric Grid: An MIT Interdisciplinary Study.

On Tuesday at 5:45 PM, head over to the Austrian Embassy’s
Office of Science and Technology for “But Will the Planet Notice? Why Only
Economists - Not Recyclers - Can Stop Global Warming

On Wednesday at 10 AM, the Environmental and Energy Study
Institute will explore Hydropower: How Canada-U.S. Partnerships
Contribute to America's Clean Energy Economy
. At 1 PM, CSIS will host
an event on Developing North America's
Unconventional Oil Resources: Focus on Tight Oil

At 9:30 AM on Thursday, SAIS will host Transatlantic Energy Futures: Strategic Perspectives on Energy
Security, Climate Change and New Technologies in Europe and the United States
At 6:30 PM, head over to the Embassy of Australia for Climate Change and Security in the

On Friday at 9:30 AM, check out the Wilson Center’s event on
Accounting for Culture in the Military:
Implications for Future Humanitarian Cooperation