Act to bring about climate accord, says US church agency

By agency reporter
December 23, 2009

As the Copenhagen climate change conference ended without official adoption of a non-binding accord, the US humanitarian agency, Church World Service (CWS) called on individual nations to “act ‘as if,’ starting now.”

Delegates from 193 nations at the close of the summit did agree to “take note” of the document tooled by President Obama, China, India, South Africa, Brazil and key European countries, which did not set forth any legally binding levels for reducing greenhouse gas emissions or binding mechanisms for verifying countries’ emission levels.

Returning from the United Nations climate summit, Church World Service Executive Director and CEO the Rev John L. McCullough said, “Regardless of the agreements, signed or not signed at Copenhagen, binding or not binding, this does not leave developed and emerging nations off the hook in terms of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Nor is it a licence for emerging nations to proceed with development without self-regulated, intentional measures toward greener development.”

McCullough cited the US Environmental Protection Agency ruling finding CO2 emissions harmful to one’s health as “just one example of how nations can move ahead on their own until a legally binding international accord is reached, pending of course, that the US EPA ruling is applied.”

CWS acknowledged all parties in Copenhagen for making strides by agreeing to a US$100 billion fund intended to assist developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change between now and 2020. Said McCullough, “Secretary of State Clinton’s address in Copenhagen turned a corner.”

“Over the two decades of discussions about adaptation funding, COP15 marks the first time world leaders have agreed to an actual amount to help the world’s poorest nations who are also the most affected by climate change,” he added.

The resulting Copenhagen declaration also includes a commitment to attempt to hold global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius, but other countries and even those who crafted the accord, have also admitted that this cap is still not sufficient to curb global warming.

On the issue of transparency concerning use of adaptation funding and meeting proposed greenhouse cuts, CWS’s McCullough noted that, “There has been significant progress at COP15 in regards to furthering governance and transparency needs.”

However, while endorsing the need overall for international transparency and good governance on climate change mitigation, McCullough warns that “Any future agreement on an international monitoring mechanism does not delete or replace the need for a binding agreement to meet specified emissions targets.”

According to a Reuters report late last Friday night, a “constellation group” of 28 powerful developed and developing nations did agree to a list of national actions and commitments, which includes an agreement to give information on their emissions through “national communications” and possibly international consultations.

By all countries’ accounts, including President Obama’s, the Copenhagen agreements lead the way to, and underscore the urgency for, a more definitive agreement to be produced in next year’s UN meetings.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol accord, which the US did not sign, limits greenhouse-gas emissions among 37 industrialised nations, but that accord and its targets are still set to expire in 2012.

Church World Service had expressed the hope that President Obama would take a different stance to the Kyoto Protocols and that the Copenhagen negotiators would endorse continuance of those agreements.

“The climate clock hasn’t stopped for politics,” CWS’s McCullough said. “As one protester’s sign at Copenhagen said, ‘There is no Planet B.’”

Church World Service strongly urges the international community to recognise climate change adaptation as a high priority for immediate-to-long-term funding and action, given the current critical plight of climate-vulnerable populations around the world. The agency’s sustainable development and relief programmes worldwide have been integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions for some years.

Church World Service also promotes a focus on “sustainable consumption” on the part of developed countries. “When it comes down to it, it’s up to us as sustainable consumers, particularly in rich countries, to drive the market to climate responsibility,” said McCullough.

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