Call for steep emissions cuts trumps legal wrangling

Fri, Oct 9, 2009, 01:00

RICH COUNTRIES have been urged by the G77 group of developing nations to show the same leadership as Norway in making “radical cuts” in greenhouse gas emissions instead of becoming involved in a “race to the bottom”, led by the US.

G77 chairman, Sudan’s Stanislaus Lumumba, said yesterday it was “imperative to stop the mindset that the only way to achieve success is to waste more time creating new legal agreements” to replace the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

Referring to the likelihood that US senators will not adopt a new Bill aimed at curbing American emissions before December’s Copenhagen climate conference, he said President Obama had some good ideas “but perhaps he is a general without troops”.

Norway’s unilateral offer of a 30 per cent cut in its emissions by 2020 and as much as 40 per cent if other developed countries matched it won widespread praise in Bangkok, where delegates representing nearly 180 countries have been locked in talks for 11 days.

Greenpeace’s climate policy director Martin Kaiser welcomed the announcement by Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, saying “this is what leadership looks like and it’s a clear signal to President Obama to step up from the 4 per cent target” set by the US.

Norway’s offer has trumped the 20 per cent cut tabled by the EU, which has said it would be prepared to go to 30 per cent if comparable efforts are made by others. This would still fall short of the cuts scientists say are needed to avoid dangerous global warming.

South African negotiator Alf Wills, also speaking on behalf of the G77, said it was concerned by the “huge gap” between what developed countries were offering and what the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had called for in its 2007 scientific assessment.

Stressing that the G77 was “committed to negotiating an inclusive, fair and effective regime in Copenhagen”, he urged all developed countries to “build on the success” of the Kyoto Protocol by setting “deep and ambitious targets” to cut their emissions in the post-2012 period.

This approach has also been endorsed by Yvo de Boer, the UN’s climate chief, as against drafting a new legal instrument under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “When I have only one pair of shoes, it makes sense to stay with that pair,” he said.

But he was upbeat about the progress being made, saying the talks in Bangkok were the most constructive since the Bali climate summit in 2007: “We are now in the eye of the storm . . . The bricks and mortar of a Copenhagen agreement are being worked on here.”

Sweden’s Anders Turesson, who is leading the EU delegation, has said it is determined that a new global agreement to combat climate change will be modelled on Kyoto, with specific targets for all developed countries as well as penalties for non-compliance.

But Karl Falkenberg, environment director-general at the European Commission, took an apparently divergent view, saying that the EU was “not convinced” that the goal of achieving wider participation would be achieved under the Kyoto Protocol “as we know it”.

Chief US negotiator Jonathan Pershing is also angling for wider participation by China and other rapidly developing nations. “If the United States joined with other countries in the developed world without other major economies, we don’t solve the problem,” he said.

But China’s climate ambassador, Yu Qingtai, reiterated the G77’s oft-repeated line that the developed countries bore historical responsibility for the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and must, therefore, commit themselves to reducing these emissions.

China has pledged to reduce the “intensity” of its emissions – now the world’s highest – by investing heavily in renewable energy and other measures. Developing countries such as Indonesia and Mexico have also announced that they will be making unilateral cuts.

Against this backdrop, Oxfam’s senior climate adviser Antonio Hill said the G77 was “right to cry foul” because what was happening in Bangkok was that rich countries had “not only tried to change the rules of the game, but they’ve tried to change the game itself”.