Holding temperatures to an increase of 1.5C compared to preindustrial levels would mean stabilising carbon concentrations in the atmosphere at roughly 350 parts per million (ppm), down from a present 387ppm. No technology currently exists to feasibly remove CO2 from the atmosphere on a large scale.
The temperature issue was starkly highlighted yesterday when Tuvalu, one of the world’s most climate-threatened countries, formally proposed that countries sign up to a new, strengthened and legally binding agreement that would set more ambitious targets than what is presently being proposed. This divided G77 countries, some of whom led by China and India argued against it, fearing that it would replace the Kyoto protocol.
But they were supported by many of the vulnerable countries, from sub-Saharan Africa as well as the small island states, with passionate and powerful statements about the catastrophic impact of climate change on their people.
“Tuvalu has taken a strong stand to put the focus back on their bottom line. Nothing but a legally binding deal will deliver the strong commitments to urgent action that are needed to avoid catastrophe, especially to the most vulnerable countries and people,” said the Oxfam spokesman Barry Coates.
Today the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), a grouping of 43 of the smallest and most vulnerable countries, including Tuvalu, said any rise of more than 1.5C was not negotiable at Copenhagen. They are backed by 48 of the least developed nations.
But the UN conference chief, Yvo de Boer, implied this morning that the proposal had little chance of being adopted. “It is theoretically possible that the conference will agree to hold temperatures to 1.5C but most industrialised countries have pinned their hopes on 2C,” he said.
The 2C figure, which was included in the leaked draft negotiating text prepared by the summits host Denmark has emerged as the figure favoured by large economies and the likeliest to be adopted. But the poorest countries say that latest science implies that a 2C warming would lead to disastrous consequences – for example from sea level rise.
“We have two research stations, one in the Pacific and one in the Caribbean. They both suggest a rise of 2C is completely untenable for us,” said Dessima Williams, a Grenadian diplomat speaking for Aosis.
“Our islands are disappearing, our coral reefs are bleaching, we are losing our fish supplies. We bring empirical evidence to Copenhagen of what climate change is doing now to our states,” she said.