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Will carbon emission reductions ever be enforced globally?

Posting in Energy

The Durban climate talks have reached a promise to sign a global treaty by 2015. However, is this an empty promise, or will it help reduce carbon emissions?

The Durban climate talks raised hope that governments across the globe were finally serious about tackling the problem of carbon emissions. However, is this simply the latest move by politicians to assure climate campaigners with promises they do not intend to pursue in their time of office?

Conducted in Durban, South Africa, countries made voluntary agreements to cut their emission levels by 2020. The talks ended with a last-minute deal between countries to create a legally-binding treaty, salvaging the talks from failure and potentially securing global enforcement of legislation that otherwise countries can choose not to keep.

The deal secured in South Africa was considered a step in the right direction, although environmental groups believe the treaty is not aggressive enough in terms of limiting 'dangerous' climate changes.

The former United Nations chief, Yvo De Boer, stated the summit entailed: "a clear signal that the international community is committed to taking the climate change agenda forward, and will continue."

According to De Boer, businesses should begin preparations this year to prepare for a 'low carbon economy'.

By securing a promise to create a legally-binding treaty, business owners may have more faith in government intentions and conduct themselves accordingly. This has the potential to increase investment levels in renewable energy sources, and ensure business owners consider their company emission levels seriously.

If the treaty is reached and signed within the next three years, then it will create a global standard that all businesses will be obliged to adhere to.

Whether this faith is misplaced, however, remains to be seen.

Lord Stern, responsible for the 2006 Stern review of the economics of climate change, told the Guardian that the 'efforts of many businesses and nations so far to cut emissions would not have happened without the impetus given by the international negotiating process'.

The agreement will have to create clear reporting guidelines and new regulations companies will be required to implement in the future, to do their part in improving carbon efficiency. The treaty is expected to finish negotiations by 2015, with 2020 named as the year for implementation.

The deal reached at the conference also requires countries to adhere to the Kyoto protocol beyond 2012; removing confusion over the immediate future of the legislation.

It is expected to legally bind 194 countries to the common cause of carbon emission cuts. However, considering the difference in emission levels and economic status between different countries, the question begs to be asked whether all countries will adhere to EU directives, and whether the treaty will be enforced.

If it is signed at all.

The first World Climate Conference was executed in 1979. The same concerns were raised, and a plethora of studies were completed. A flurry of summits received politician attendance, from Geneva to New York. Yet, there is still an air of complete inaction. No-one seems to want to take steps further than putting another meeting in the diary, and 'agreeing to agree' later on.

The 'wait and see' approach can be blamed on our dedication to finances and our current lifestyles. We don't necessarily want change or restriction; we don't want to pay more for renewable energy sources. The threat of taxes to implement changes would no doubt raise outcry based on an already pressured economic environment.

Perhaps it will take an environmental disaster before we sit up and take note.

While politicians pencil the next meeting in the diary, carbon emissions increase, pollution levels rise, and the world of politics carries on with more 'pressing' matters.

Photo credit: Flickr

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure