No climate treaty expected from Copenhagen


THE UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next month is no longer expected to produce a new international treaty to combat global warming, but rather a series of “political decisions” on the way forward.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that with just over four weeks to go it would be “physically impossible to finalise all the details of a treaty in Copenhagen”. Instead, as he told a press briefing in Barcelona yesterday, he thought it was “absolutely feasible to adopt a set of decisions” that would deal with the “political essentials” of an agreement, leaving the details to be worked out later.

These “essentials” are: (1) commitments by developed countries to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions; (2) action by developing countries to constrain the rise in their emissions; (3) the extent of international aid; and (4) who will administer it.

“There has to be absolute clarity on all of these points in a way that nations can be held accountable”, the UN climate chief said. His “worst fear is that a lack of clarity in Copenhagen would lead to negotiations dragging on” – perhaps for several years.

“Governments must give their clear answer on what they will do to avoid dangerous climate change and how they will do it,” Mr de Boer said. “Copenhagen must open the door to the common good and close the door on common disaster.”

Three weeks after their last round of talks in Bangkok, delegates representing 180 countries have reconvened in Barcelona to see if they can make further progress in whittling down the negotiating text and clarifying the issues involved.

As Greenpeace strung a banner from the Sagrada Família basilica’s soaring spires urging world leaders to “make the climate call”, US negotiator Dr Jonathan Pershing said: “We need to move away from polemics and rhetoric to operational language.”

Emphasising that it was “extremely important for the US to be part of this deal, as we don’t want to be outside it”, he said President Barack Obama was working very closely with congressional leaders to ensure legislation to deal with climate change was passed. After claiming that the US had done more over the past 10 months to cut its emissions than in its entire history, he was asked if Mr Obama would go to Copenhagen. “I don’t know,” he replied. “Other heads of state are talking about it, and it remains to be seen.”

Danish climate minister Connie Hedegaard, who is scheduled to chair the Copenhagen conference, noted that Mr Obama would be in Oslo on December 10th to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to co-operate with other countries in the spirit of multilateralism.

Referring to the refusal of the US to spell out its emissions reduction targets, she said: “It would be very hard to imagine that Obama receives the Nobel Prize only 100km from Copenhagen while sending a delegation to the climate summit with empty hands.”

Angela Anderson, of US Climate Action Network, said it was “really astounding” that the Obama administration was also proposing a system of “international peer review” of different countries’ efforts to cut emissions, rather than a binding global treaty. “That’s fundamental to what we’re here to negotiate,” she said. “If we had used the same approach as the US is proposing for clean air and clean water legislation, you would be able to see the air you breathe and walk across the Potomac [river in Washington].”

Kim Carstensen, of the World Wildlife Fund, quoted a Spanish expression about “moving into the moment of truth” in characterising the current phase of climate talks. “We know everything we need to agree – the only thing that’s lacking is political will,” he said.

But Swedish environment minister Andreas Carlgren, speaking on behalf of the EU, said it “certainly expects a comprehensive and ambitious agreement to be reached in Copenhagen.

“The EU is prepared to cut a deal. Failure is just not an option,” he added.

The Barcelona round of climate talks, which are being held in a convention centre on the city’s outskirts, continue until Friday.