Mini ambitions for mega global challenge
By Anne Eckstein | Friday 04 December 2009
At last things are starting to move. On 25 November, Washington announced that President Barack Obama would be flying to Copenhagen, on 9 December, to attend the climate change conference and that he would make a firm commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 17% by 2020 (compared to 2005 levels), by 30% by 2025 and by 42% by 2030. Following on from ambitious announcements made by several other countries: Japan Brazil, Korea, Indonesia and Russia, this is very good news. Not only that, it seems to have started the ball rolling with Beijing announcing, on 26 November, that China is ready to reduce its ‘carbon intensity’ by between 40% and 45% by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. These promises may not be as ambitious as their partners would have hoped, but at least it is a start and participants can head for Copenhagen feeling slightly more optimistic.
This discernible shift with only days to go before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is due to begin (7-18 December) has helped to lift the atmosphere somewhat after discussions came to a standstill less than two weeks ago and no-one had even dared to hope that a legally binding agreement with concrete targets and commitments would be possible. So does this now mean that the way has been cleared for the Copenhagen conference to end with a new “ambitious, complete and legally binding” agreement being reached in due form? The answer is, of course, ‘no’ and the key players in the process - from Yvo de Boer, executive director of the Climate Convention, to US President Obama and the European Union’s top representatives - have said repeatedly that such an agreement is today “unrealistic”.
AMBITION VERSUS REALITY
So what is to be expected from the Copenhagen conference? The highly ambitious goals set out at the launch of the revision of the Kyoto Protocol in Bali in December 2007 did not last long and for the sake of realism, have been lowered significantly. Yet Yvo de Boer, in Brussels on 23 November, announced confidently he had no doubt that Copenhagen would “result in success”. He then went on to explain that agreement has to be reached “on a number of decisions that will have to be implemented in legal form”. These are expected to cover several important points: clear and precise emission reduction commitments in industrialised countries; clear reduction targets per country by 2020; commitments per developing country in terms of the measures they intend to take to reduce the increase in emissions; and clarification of the financial commitments that industrialised countries intend to make, in the short and long term, to helping developing countries. He concluded, “we need a clear and guaranteed financial commitment with a starting budget of US$10 billion per year for immediate action for the 2010-2012 period”. This needs to be defined in terms of aid for adaptation, mobilisation of the necessary technologies and capacity building.
The Copenhagen package is also expected to contain a chapter devoted to ‘forests’, with details relating to international cooperation in the fight against deforestation. Finally, governments will have to agree on a tight schedule to transform the text into a legal document. It should be possible to convert these decisions into a legally binding treaty within three to six months. Obviously, the clearer the Copenhagen agreement, the easier and quicker this process will be.
FROM KYOTO TO COPENHAGEN
Twelve years have passed between December 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of greenhouse gases was adopted, and December 2009, when the international community is called on to determine the next steps. Twelve years, during which time the question of climate change, then a low priority, has become the most pressing question of our time: a question that now preoccupies scientists, politicians and civil society. The time has come to act. The first period of commitment specified in the protocol will end in December 2012 and scientific analyses, which in 1997 were speculation, have now come true. Global warming is a reality and human activity is responsible for 90% of it, as concluded by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), in November 1997. Conclusions that are still relevant today, as are the IPCC’s recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly if the aim is to keep the average increase in temperature below 2°C.
The Kyoto Protocol set targets for industrialised countries to reduce emissions and introduced a series of instruments to help achieve this. Ten years later, in Bali (December 2007), countries party to the Kyoto Protocol embarked on a revision of the text based on a road map intending to update the main elements. This process should be completed at Copenhagen, resulting in an international treaty involving all the countries that committed to the process in Bali, including the United States. The latest developments indicate that a ‘framework agreement’ is not impossible but it will have neither the form nor the range of a real treaty. Copenhagen will just be a step, albeit a vital one, in the long process, which will oblige the international community, united, to face its biggest challenge ever: climate change.
IPCC recommendations for reducing emissions
- global emissions to peak as soon as possible and not later than 2020
- minimum of 50% reduction in GHG in 2050 compared to 1990 levels
For developed countries this implies:
- reduction of between 25% and 40% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels
- reduction of between 80% and 95% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels
For developing countries:
- for emerging countries, a slowdown in the increase in emissions relative to economic growth by 2020, anticipated to be between 15% and 30% compared to the current trend
- for all developing countries, a slowdown in the increase in emissions by 2050 compared to the current trend.