The UN’s climate change panel (IPCC) has warned that if measures are not taken to lower global CO2 emissions between 50 and 85% by the year 2050, it will be too late to halt the rise of the earth’s average temperature above the 2 degree Celsius mark.

The question remains: how strong is the political will to heed this warning - despite the last-minute agreement reached in Durban (December 11) by nearly 200 countries to adopt a legal agreement on climate change by 2015 which won’t go into effect until 2020?

The accord that was finally reached at the end of the week-long conference is largely a stop-gap measure designed to keep the current 1997 Kyoto protocol in effect until a new agreement is adopted.

The good news is that - unlike Kyoto - the Durban deal would put all countries, including the world’s top emitters - China, India, Brazil and the US - under the same legal regime to enforce commitments made to control greenhouse gases. 

The bad news is that there are indications that some countries are dragging their feet. The day after Durban ended, Canada announced it will no longer abide by Kyoto although it will honor its pledge for a new accord by 2020.

“We don’t expect other countries to follow suit,” said Jonathan Lynn, director of communications at IPCC in Geneva. “Canada was clearly concerned that under Kyoto they would have to pay a penalty and that’s why they’ve withdrawn.” Rather than reduce greenhouse gases as promised under Kyoto, levels have risen by more than 4% largely due to Canada’s embrace of tar sand mining, resulting in an enormous fine.

Pressure from coal and oil lobbies is also compromising efforts to go green in the US and other industrialized countries. While the Obama administration tries to encourage investment in renewable energies by granting tens of billions in special subsidies, oil and gas production has boomed thanks to private investment.

Both the IPCC and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) noted that many of the studies denying that human activity plays a major role in global warming are funded by coal and oil interests.

“Some of this funding does come from vested interests,” said WMO spokeswoman Claire Nullis.  She cited a recent study by scientists from the University of Berkley - funded by the coal industry - that disputed the WMO graphs about warming temperatures.  However, the move  backfired: “They came up with very similar findings and that has caused a lot of unhappiness -  to put it mildly - among those who would deny that global warming is taking place and that it is human-induced.”

(Photo © M. Molendyke)