The 0.5 Degree Question
In the final 48 hours of the Copenhagen climate conference, one of the biggest differences remains a very small number: half a degree.
While most of the attention here is focused on the remaining divide between the United States and China when it comes to measuring and verifying emissions reductions, a much larger split remains between the 102 countries that have called for a limit on temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius and the much more powerful nations that have called for a 2 degree target.
The nations pushing for a 1.5 degree target include members of the Alliance of Small Island States, the G77, the bloc of Least Developed Countries, the Africa Group, and several nations from Latin America and Asia. But there is significant pressure being exerted on these nations to consent to the 2 degree target that has been embraced the United States, European Union, China, and other nations here seen as the most powerful players in a final deal. But leaders from the 1.5 camp say they are holding firm on their target, and won't sign onto a deal that calls for anything else.
"I will not sign anything less than 1.5," said Apisai Ielemia, Prime Minister of the tiny island nation of Tuvalu, which may become one of the first casualties of global warming. The low-lying Pacific island nation made headlines last week for shutting down talks with calls for a legally binding treaty. Now they're staking out their desire for a deal at this summit that will not condemn them to rising tides, they say. "This meeting is about our future existence," said Ielemia. "We don't want to disappear from this earth ... We want to exist as a nation, because we have a fundamental right to live beside you."
"For developed countries to choose to not use that figure, is morally, politically irresponsible," said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese chairman of the G77.
The debate over what figure to put in the final agreement here maybe meaningless, however, if the corresponding emissions reductions goals would not put the world on a path to stay below that limit. A leaked draft analysis from the UNFCCC of the commitments put on the table from developed countries states that what they have pledged so far would lead to a 3 degree temperature rise. If targets aren't raised, "global emissions will remain on an unsustainable pathway," the document states.
Meanwhile, frustrations remain high among developing nations over what they see as pressure from rich nations to consent to a higher target. "We are not yielding to these pressures, because our future is not negotiable," said Ielemia.