Friday, December 11, 2009

Drawing a Blank at Copenhagen

Despite a lot of hot air and boiling tempers, little has happened so far at Copenhagen that would suggest that a concrete, binding multilateral climate change agreement will emerge from this summit. Jim Prentice, Canada’s Environment Minister, is right to downplay expectation and Obama is considering his options as to whether or not he will now attend - odds are that he will.

A draft agreement issued by the organizers of the summit leaves blank all of the key items – emissions targets, new funding for developing nations, governance mechanisms and the permissible trading in offsets and CO2 licensing. What it does do is to tie any new agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, something China, the US and India were seeking to avoid.

The big kafuffle today has been, as it has been all along, about money. The European Union has offered to pay €7.2bn Euros (UK£6.5bn; US$10.6bn) over the next three years to help developing nations adapt to climate change. Agreement to make this offer came after a hard fought battle within the twenty seven nations of the EU, with many Eastern European countries being reluctant to pay into this fund. Consequently, some of the funds required to meet this new obligation will come from existing development activities – not new funding at all.

This offer for “fast track funds” to 2012, when the current provisions of Phase 1 of the Kyoto Protocol expire, are seen as insulting by the G77 poorest nations and the island states, who are seeking between $500 billion and $1 trillion a year for adaptation and reparations. Lumumba Stanislaus-Kaw Di-Aping, representing the G77 bloc of developing nations and China at the Copenhagen talks, described the EU pledges as "insignificant". "I believe [the funds] are not only insignificant, they actually breed even more distrust on the intentions of European leaders on climate change," he said, repeating the statement he made when the Danish proposal was leaked earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, work goes on trying to find consensus on the tough emissions targets which the developed world has to achieve by 2020. The science would suggest that the target should be a forty percent reduction in C02 emissions from a 1990 base by 2020 and that this would represent the minimum cut to provide a fifty-fity chance of holding temperature rises to 20C by the end of the century. So far, the aggregate value of the offers made by developed nations amount to around 18% on 1990 levels. What is more, many propose to use offsets and trading to achieve these targets – mechanisms which don’t actually reduce emissions, but give the appearance of doing so.

This is a real challenge for both developing countries and environmentalists. Buying permits from countries which have “spare” emissions certificates does not reduce emissions in the country buying those certificates. It does, however, transfer wealth. For example, one reason the Russians signed on to Kyoto was to secure a raft of emissions certificates. When its economy declined, emissions declined but Russia continued to trade certificates to secure revenue. No emissions reductions were achieved by any measure other than recession, but all parties could claim that they were doing their bit for the environment. The draft agreement now circulating maintains these Enron like book-keeping fictions.

What is clear, after the first week of dialogue, drama and dissent is that this summit is not about the environment. It is about money and power. The argument about emissions targets is about money – how can economic growth and development be sustained while at the same time providing the appearance of doing the right thing by the environment? Beneath this formulation of the problem are questions of money. How do we help the developing world accelerate economic growth and at the same time adapt to the impact of climate change? Their answer: money. How do we manage these multi-lateral arrangements to transfer vast amounts of money? The answer here is governance, which in turn involves money and power. What is really beneath the difficulties in reaching agreement here is money and power.

For the first time in a conference of the parties, the authentic and shrill and heartfelt voice of the less developed nations and the island states has been heard very clearly around the world. They see both an opportunity to secure sustainable investment and at the same time fear the consequences of climate change. However real or imagines these fears are, they are making sure that the world knows what they see to be at stake. By forcing the issue of reparations and by refusing to be brow-beaten by the developed nations, they are taking a stand which may make agreement more difficult, but may also make an agreement more realistic.

If there is to be an agreement in the next five to six days, the developed world is going to have to bite the bullet and commit to very significant emissions – doubling the offer on the table – and at least ten times more in funding than has been offered to date. Don’t hold your breath.

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