Hopes for a strong global deal on climate change were waning on Friday afternoon, as Copenhagen talks entered their final stages with a deal hanging in the balance.
“It is now obvious that we will not get all we had hoped for,” the European Commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, said in a statement this afternoon.
Barroso signalled that the EU was already looking to the next big UN climate meeting, scheduled for Mexico City in December 2010. He also said that countries needed to “learn the lessons of this [Copenhagen] process”.
So far the EU has not decided whether it will make good on a promise to reduce emissions by 30% by 2020. The EU has made a unilateral pledge to cut emissions by 20%, but will only go to 30% if other countries make similar commitments.
Barroso said that the EU was “ready and willing” to go to 30%, “if others are also ready to move on ambitious deals”.
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The EU had hoped that the US would announce a more demanding emission-reduction pledge, but US President Barack Obama, who arrived to much fanfare this morning, did not make a more ambitious offer in his speech to the conference.
Obama said he was “confident that America will fulfil the commitments that we have made: cutting our emissions in the range of 17% by 2020 and by more than 80% by 2050” – essentially re-iterating the existing US pledge.
Mark Kenber at the Climate Group said: “The EU is clearly frustrated that its efforts to show leadership have yet to be reciprocated by the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. Without movement from these critical parties, the EU is unlikely to lift its emission-reduction target to its more ambitious 30% pledge. Failure by the EU to commit to this upper level would be a blow to the environmental ambition of any global deal.”
What is in the draft UN text and how it compares to the EU position
- Industrialised countries should make “deep cuts” in emissions, but figures remain undecided. The text refers to an “x%” reduction compared to 1990 and “a y%” reduction compared to 2005.
The EU favours a 1990 baseline for measuring emissions reductions, whereas the US prefers 2005.
- Developing countries should make “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” (NAMAs) that are subject to international measurement, reporting and verification.
The EU wants fast-growing developing economies such as China to cut emissions to 15%-30% below the business-as-usual trendline. No such figures are mentioned in the text.
- Least-developed countries and those most vulnerable to climate change should get $30 billion (€21bn) in “fast-start funding” over 2010 and 2012 to help them adapt to climate change.
This matches what the EU wants. The EU thinks that the least-developed countries should get €15bn-€21bn over the same period and has pledged €7.4bn of this total over three years.
- Rich countries should mobilise to raise $100bn (€70bn) a year from public and private sources.
EU leaders agreed in October that the total bill could be around €100bn – €30 bn more than the estimate in the UN draft text.
What the 2ºC target means
The yardstick to judge the success of the Copenhagen talks can be expressed in one number: 2ºC. Will world leaders have done enough to prevent global temperatures rising 2ºC above pre-industrial levels?
Current pledges fall short of this limit, according to an internal document drawn up by the United Nations climate secretariat on Tuesday and leaked to campaigners and the media last night. Total emissions need to be 43.7 gigatonnes in 2020 if the world is to keep within the 2ºC limit. But pledges fall short by between 1.9-4.2 gigatonnes.
“Unless the gap is closed, global emissions will peak later than 2020 and remain on an unsustainable path that could lead to concentrations equal or above 550ppm [parts per million] with the related temperature rise around 3ºC,” the text states.
Global emissions would need to peak around 2015-2020 and then go into steady decline, says the paper. But delaying the peak date would make the cost of tackling climate change “extremely expensive and politically unfeasible”.
But meeting the 2ºC would not be an unqualified success. A temperature rise of 2ºC is expected to halve crop yields in Africa and leave 250 million Africans facing problems getting water, according to the scientific consensus report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. Some scientists think that climate change is happening faster than that IPPC report anticipated and that 2ºC may not be a strong enough buffer to limit dangerous climate change.
Some politicians, including Stavros Dimas, the European environment commissioner, have called for the Copenhagen agreement to include a review clause allowing it to be updated in line with evolving scientific evidence. But if negotiators manage to craft an agreement that respects 2ºC this will be presented as a great success.
EU leaders met counterparts from the Africa Union, Australia, Brazil, China, Russia, South Africa and the US among other countries last night and this morning. On the EU side, the attendees included Barroso, Sweden’s Fredrik Reinfeldt, Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and the UK’s Gordon Brown. Obama joined the meeting this morning.
But the meeting did not yield a breakthrough to push the talks forward. Negotiators are continuing to work on a draft text, with new versions circulating every half an hour.
“It is still all in play,” said Matthias Duwe at Climate Action Network Europe. The talks “can collapse or they can come to an agreement.”
But he warned that “any agreement they get at this stage will be much weaker than what Copenhagen was expected to deliver”.
Jo Leinen, a German Socialist MEP and leader of the European Parliament’s delegation in Copenhagen, voiced the EU’s frustration. He said that the US and Chinese leaders’ speeches were “stuck in the already well known starting positions and do not suffice for a successful conclusion of the UN conference”.