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A deal struck in Lima between 196 nations today leaves open the possibility of saving the planet from dangerous overheating. But its critics say the prospects of success are now slim.
The talks—which ran two days longer than scheduled—set a series of deadlines which mean that every nation is charged with producing its plans to cap and reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.
These commitments will then be assessed to see if they are enough to prevent the world heating up more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold political leaders say must not be crossed in order to avoid dangerous climate change.
The Lima agreement invites all countries to set out their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by March 31. The next step will be to draft a legally binding international agreement on how to get below the 2°C threshold. This text is to be made available to all countries for comment by May 2015.
All eyes on Paris
By Nov. 1 the secretariat of the UN Climate Change Convention is supposed to have assessed whether the commitment of these 196 nations is enough to stop the world overheating—and, if it is not, to point out by how far they will miss the target.
All this is to set the stage for a dramatic final negotiation in Paris in a year’s time, when a blueprint for a legally enforceable deal is supposed to be on the table. This is a tall order, however, because each time the parties meet the rich and poor countries wage the same arguments over again.
The developing countries say the rich developed countries that caused the problem in the first place must make deep cuts in their emissions and pay huge sums for the poorer countries to adapt to climate change.
The rich countries say that the fast industrialisation of many developing countries means that these countries must cut emissions too, otherwise the world will overheat anyway.
The poorest countries of all, and the small island states, who everyone agrees have no responsibility for the problem, want much more dramatic curbs on emissions, and more money for adaptation to sea level rise and climate extremes than is likely to be forthcoming.
The talks take place amid their own jargon, with phrases like the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances” seen as essential to point up the difference between rich and poor nations and what they are expected to do.
The talks have dragged on for 15 years since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, in which the rich nations agreed to the first cuts in emissions while allowing the poorer nations to continue developing.
Now that China has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest polluter, and countries like Brazil and India are fast catching up, the scientific case is that every country has to curb its emissions, or else everyone faces disaster.
But whether the talks have gone far enough to allow a deal to be reached in Paris next year is a matter of many opinions.
“As a text it’s not perfect, but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the Peruvian environment minister, who presided over the talks and must have been relieved he got a text on which every country was prepared to agree.
Environmental groups were scathing about the outcome. Sam Smith, chief of climate policy for WWF, said: “The text went from weak to weaker to weakest and it’s very weak indeed.
“Governments crucially failed to agree on specific plans to cut emissions before 2020…The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near-impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency.”
“It’s definitely watered down from what we expected,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
But those not keen on limiting their own development were happy. “We got what we wanted,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, said.
Despite the different views the talks did not break down, and so there is still hope. This assessment from Mohammed Adow, Christian Aid’s senior climate change adviser, probably accurately sums up the Lima result: “The countdown clock to Paris is now ticking. Countries had the chance to give themselves a head start on the road to Paris but instead have missed the gun and now need to play catch-up.”
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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