UN says pollution has levelled off, but figures have holes

UN says pollution has levelled off, but figures have holes

Emissions from industrialized countries plateaued in 2006 after six years of growth, the United Nations (UN) said on Monday. But the countries have not yet reported emissions from the past two years, and the new report did not include large emerging economies such as India and China.

The UN report was released two weeks before the world’s environmental ministers are to meet in Poland to discuss ways to curb greenhouse gases and against the backdrop of the global financial crisis.

In presenting the latest findings, UN officials said they were concerned that the economic downturn would add a new layer of uncertainty to the coming talks, because many of the programmes under development to curb the emissions that cause global warming require credit and financing.

While they expressed some optimism about the new data, which went through 2006, the last year available, they said the slight decline—one-tenth of 1% from 2005 to 2006—was too small to indicate a significant downward trend. Overall, among the 40 industrialized countries that reported to the UN, emissions had increased by 2.5% from 2000 to 2006, leading the climate panel to denounce what it called “continued growth".

“This is a critical moment for ministers and politicians," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, at a news conference in Bonn, Germany. He called the coming climate negotiations “the most complicated process the world has ever seen". De Boer said he found some cause for hope in the figures issued on Monday. “What I saw was a slowing of the increase in emission from industrialized countries."

But his statistician Sergey Kononov pointed out that the percentage decline had been so small that it could have been caused by either improved policies or simply the relatively warm 2005-2006 winter.

Just one year ago, the UN climate agency convened the world’s environment ministers in Bali, Indonesia, where the group committed itself to hammer out a climate pact by 2009. Rich nations pledged to design a system to help the poor in coping with global warming.

The current agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, expires in 2012 and does not cover the US or developing nations.

However, the US, a reluctant participant in the UN meeting last year, now has a President-elect, Barack Obama, who has pledged to make climate change a centrepiece of his administration. Perhaps more important, the fallout from a global economic crisis has turned the economics of climate change upside down.

“It is clear that the financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn will have implications for climate negotiations," de Boer said. But he added that “it will take time to see how".

©2008/The New York Times