Climate task force issues call to arms

A 2ºC limit on global temperature rise is one of the key recommendations of an international climate change task force, set up to chart a path through the deadlock under the Kyoto Protocol. The task force also urges international collaboration on low-carbon technologies, ambitious targets for renewable energy and a framework to engage the USA and developing countries in a future emissions reduction framework.1

The task force was established in March 2004 by three think tanks - the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Centre for American Progress and the Australia Institute - with the aim of breaking the impasse in international climate negotiations.

The group was jointly chaired by US Republican Senator Olympia Snowe and former UK Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers. Its 14 members include leading politicians, business people and environmentalists from eight countries.

Mr Byers remains close to the Prime Minister - and the report is intended to buttress Mr Blair's bid to prioritise climate change under this year's presidency of the G8 (see box ).

Launching the report, Mr Byers called for "urgent action" and strong political leadership on the international stage. He was, however, cautiously optimistic that the USA could be re-engaged: "In the first term of the Bush administration the door on climate change was locked. It's now unlocked - but still shut."

The main recommendations are as follows:

  • Temperature objective: Governments should endorse a long-term objective of preventing global average temperatures from rising by more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. Beyond this level, the task force warns, "the risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly" (see main article). Achieving such a target would probably require global emissions to peak within the next decade.

  • Post-2012 framework: A framework should be developed for the post-2012 period, building on the Kyoto Protocol and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Industrialised countries should take on deeper legally binding emission reduction commitments.

    The USA and Australia - which have refused to ratify the Protocol - would be placed on a transitional "parallel track" with a view to full integration as soon as possible after 2012. They would be urged to commit to binding domestic emissions caps and cap-and-trade schemes. These should be constructed to allow for future integration into a single global market, and could link with the EU or Kyoto trading system "provided there is parity in the level of the caps" or a system for "discounting" credits if their caps are less stringent.

    Developing countries would progress through a three-stage process: aligning development and climate goals; committing to reducing carbon intensity in key economic sectors, notably transport and energy; and eventually taking on binding emission targets. Some countries have already reached a level of industrialisation that would take them beyond the first stage.

  • Technology partnerships: G8 countries should more than double their R&D budgets for low-carbon energy systems by 2010. They should also commit to generate at least 25% of electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

    A "G8-plus" group - which would include major emerging economies such as China and India - should be established. This would pursue technology agreements on issues such as promoting fuel-efficient vehicles, shifting agricultural subsidies towards biofuel production, driving use of cleaner coal technologies and improving institutional capacity and common standards to permit integration of emissions trading systems.

    Export credit agencies and multilateral banks should adopt minimum efficiency standards for the projects they support, or portfolio-wide carbon intensity standards.

    Finally, there should be a "step change" in financial and technical assistance to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.

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