Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tough Week Ahead at Copenhagen

As the second week of the climate summit in Copenhagen begins, three major issues are on the table. The first is a surprise.

Most of the analysts and several of the lead negotiators looking at the agenda had assumed that the Kyoto Protocol, which the US and China did not sign up to, was dead and that the task at Copenhagen was to develop a replacement multi-lateral legally binding treaty. Not so. Kyoto does not end in 2012, as many had suggested. Rather, the first phase of the protocol expires and the task at Copenhagen, at least as far as the developing nations understood, was to develop an agreement to extend Kyoto and indicate the phase 2 emissions targets and the related supports for achieving these targets. Kyoto is alive and well. The draft agreement, circulated on Friday of last week, indicates that the five year agreement under negotiations is an extension of Kyoto.

This angers China, Canada the US and some other developed countries who wanted out of the Kyoto obligations. They had proposed a completely new agreement with fewer strings attached than exist in the Kyoto protocol. The developing nations, as represented by the G77, were having none of it. It seems that they are getting their way, despite continued opposition from some key players.

The second issue is very significant. Coming into Copenhagen, the G8, G20 and the Commonwealth had all been working on the assumption that the target for emissions reduction was to stabilise the average global temperature to a rise of 20C by the end of the century. Scientific advice has been that there is a fifty-fifty chance of doing this if global C02 emissions are cut by 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050, using 1990 as a base year. This means that such emissions would need to be cut by developing nations at a much higher level – 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 on 1990 baseline. However, the G77 and the small island states have rejected the 20C target in favour of a 1.50C target, which may save many of the small islands from “drowning” as sea levels rise and would also reduce the negative impact of warming on many developing countries. This 0.50C difference is very significant, and challenges the developed world to cut emission even further and faster. By some calculations, CO2 in the developed world would need to be cut by 40-50% by 2020 and by 90% by 2050 to make the 1.50C possible. It’s a tough call. Right now, commitments on the table represent an 18% cut by 2020 and a 35% cut by 2050.

The third issue is money. The European Union has offered US$7.4 billion over three years ($2.5 billion annually) as part of the Copenhagen effort to find $10 billion a year to 2012 to support social and economic adjustments in the developing world. Both of these figures have been treated with contempt by the G77 and the small island states who are looking for a figure of between $500 billion and $1000 billion annually. The language of the rejection is important. The G77 have cast themselves as “victims” and are seeking reparations for the damage done to their nations by the developing world. Prior to Copenhagen, such language was an undercurrent – the dominant talk was of economic and development assistance. Now the language has changed and C02 is the new form of colonial oppression which needs to be recognized and the people compensated. This will be a very difficult issue to resolve.

In the midst of these very difficult, and at times tense, negotiations, world leaders will begin to arrive expecting to sign a treaty their negotiation teams have worked for several months to secure. They may get some kind of agreement, but it will not be the agreement many thought they were coming to sign just a few weeks ago.

The ideal agreement would require developing nations to cut emissions by 40% by 2020 and 90% by 2050, offer a fund of $100 billion a year to the developing world and agree on a global mechanism for monitoring compliance and sanctions for failure to achieve emission targets or to pay the agreed funds into the developing nations adjustment fund. It would also establish agreed mechanisms for offsets and carbon trading and a process for developing the next five year agreement by 2017. None of this looks possible as we reach the half way point of the summit. But, as Harold Wilson, the former Prime Minister of Britain was fond of observing, a week is a long time in politics. Watch this space.

2 comments:

Laura said...

I have just returned from Copenhagen where I was attending a number of business briefings. These were aimed at addressing the role of business in policy setting, innovation, implementation of directives and adherence to likely regulation and change. The mood was positive and most business leaders took a pragmatic point of view. There was however a degree of frustration that the policy makers may not be fully addressing the delivery issues - how to activate (and deliver) the directives. And whose responsibility that really will be . Some believed that whatever they do or don't agree, they may have missed the point that for any change to happen - be that 18%, 35% or 90%-there needs to be truly cross border action which must be undertaken by those organisations operating on a global basis.

Stephen Murgatroyd said...

Thanks Laura - exactly. Setting targets is one thing, achieving them requires a village. Harper keeps making this point - its what one does and how we get there that counts. Setting a 80% by 2050 target without a plan is basically just silly.