Copenhagen 2009 – mission impossible?
24 November 2009
Progress towards a common consensus has been slow, and several fundamental issues remain unresolved as the landmark UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December approaches. Gordon Brown, acknowledging the importance of ironing out nations' differences and reaching a new global deal, has become the first global leader to pledge personal attendance at the conference. So what are the key issues that still stand as barriers to reaching a radical new international agreement on climate change?
Form of agreement
It remains undecided as to what form an agreement reached at Copenhagen should take. Developing nations are pressing for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the existing international climate change treaty which commits only developed nations to a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Developed nations argue that to extend Kyoto would be to continue to exclude emission-heavy developing nations such as China and India from the international climate change regime.
Obstacles also lie in the fact that the US Climate Bill is not likely to receive Senate approval for some time. With the US effectively unable to pledge any concrete commitments, it is now unlikely that a legally-binding agreement will be reached, and a non-binding political agreement may be the best that can be hoped for. That at any rate was the signal being sent by Presidents Obama and Hu Jintao from the Asia-Pacific summit in November.
Emission reduction targets
Agreement reached at Copenhagen is likely to commit nations to a percentage reduction in GHG over a defined period. The exact percentages that different nations should commit to is unresolved. Japan's Prime Minister has made the most ambitious pledge so far by promising to cut Japan's emissions by 25% (of 1990 levels) by 2020. Similar pledges from other large emitters have not been so forthcoming, with neither China nor the USA indicating a percentage reduction that they would be prepared to commit to. The EU, however, has promised that, if a deal is reached at Copenhagen, it will pledge a 30% reduction in the EU's total emissions of CO2 (of 1990 levels) by 2020, and a 85-90% reduction in CO2 (of 1990 levels) by 2050.
Much of the complexity of the negotiation in this area stems from developing nations' argument that to require them to cut back on GHG emissions would be to deny them the opportunity to develop their economies in that way that developed nations did a century ago.
There is at least some international consensus on the issue that, if developing nations are to be bound by GHG reduction targets, they should be compensated for the associated economic and infrastructure sacrifices that they will inevitably have to make. The EU has expressed the opinion that, by 2020, support equivalent to at least €100 billion a year must be pledged to developing nations. The EU will contribute up to €50 billion a year, depending on other nations' commitments, some of whom have argued that the provision of 'green technology' to developing nations would be far more beneficial than direct monetary assistance. Alastair Darling has admitted that, in the context of the world's current economic crisis, an agreement as to the level of assistance will be entirely worthless if countries lack the confidence in the means of delivering it.
The UN Climate Change Conference will be held in Copenhagen from 7-18 December 2009. We will be following the progress of the conference closely and will address the outcome of the conference.