Costs of C.O.P. failure tagged

Kevin Smith on the lack of progress in Copenhagen as rich countries push of a weak and unfair deal
17 December 2009
In the media

The United Nations-backed climate-change negotiations are now in deadlock, with many key issues still unresolved, mainly on emissions cuts  and financing the developing world’s coping mechanisms.

COPENHAGEN—The world, according to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the climate summit here, “is [at] a defining moment. If we do not act to tackle climate change, the costs to our standard of living will be huge—a reduction in our national income of up to 20 percent, an economic catastrophe equivalent in this century to the impact of two world wars and the Great Depression in the last.”

He said world leaders thus needed to aim higher to save the world from climate disaster. He believes the problems are not insurmountable, but the leaders are facing an “uphill struggle” in their effort to seal a climate deal.

He seems to be right on track. The United Nations-backed climate-change negotiations are now in deadlock, with many key issues still unresolved, mainly on emissions cuts  and financing the developing world’s coping mechanisms.

But delegates from more than 192 nations said that with more than 110 world leaders now at the summit, including US President Barack Obama and Philippine President Arroyo, it is possible their presence will force a breakthrough on how to salvage a deal into a legally binding treaty in effect within six months.

The position laid down by President Arroyo concentrates more on mitigation and adaptation measures for the Philippines, highlighting that rich and industrialized countries have the obligation to compensate the poor and vulnerable nations.

Arroyo has called for at least a 30-percent reduction of greenhouse- gas emissions below the 1990 level for the next seven years. She has also appealed to industrialized countries to establish a 2-percent global tax or levy on every ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

“Rich nations are now urged to deliver their climate pledges. How this conference ends will depend on whether world leaders can bridge deep disagreements,” said Presidential Adviser on Climate Change Heherson Alvarez.

Alvarez said Mrs. Arroyo will also urge the developed nations to fashion a financing scheme to assist the Philippines and other developing countries in meeting the challenges of a warming world that is already bringing supertyphoons, long droughts, wide desertification and food shortages.

The 15th Conference of Parties  in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the formal name of the talks here, is widely regarded as the largest and most important environment summit yet, having drawn more than 15,000 delegates.

Negotiations to come up with a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, have dragged on for the last two years, lowering expectations that a new deal will be agreed to at Copenhagen.

As it is, country leaders’ speeches during the plenary continued but with little progress toward a global agreement.

Negotiators said the only concrete agreement to emerge on Friday may be a deal on halting the destruction of the world’s rainforests by 2030.

“Every nation here seems to agree that the rainforests are worth saving,” said Tony la Viña, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, who serves as lead negotiator for the program Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). “It’s a positive outcome as under the REDD, people in rich countries must pay to protect them by making the trees more valuable alive than dead for their owners.”

La Viña said this progress will greatly benefit the Philippines because this particular pact would help protect forest cover and biodiversity.

Sudan’s Vice President Nafie Ali Nafie, who spoke on behalf of the G-77 and China, said they want to see the Kyoto Protocol renewed for a further period, a position the EU has protested previously because in their view it would not lead to sufficiently large reductions in emissions.

“We will oppose any agreement which in any way results in the Kyoto Protocol being superseded or made redundant,” said Nafie. “We hope to maintain a party-driven, open and transparent process that ensures the right of all developing countries to participate fully in shaping the outcome of this conference.”

‘Lack of political will’
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez slammed the “lack of political will” of the most powerful nations to take serious action to avert climate change, and called for systemic change to save the planet.

“There is a group of countries that believes they are superior to those of us from the South, to those of us from the Third Word...this does not surprise us...we are again faced with powerful evidence of global imperial dictatorship,” said Chavez, speaking in Spanish.

Sweden’s Minister for the Environment Andreas Carlgren, representing the EU, called for emissions reductions from the world’s emerging economies such as India and China that are greater than those they have so far committed. Carlgren also stressed the US and China “now hold the key to successful final negotiations.”

The EU, Carlgren told the assembly, recognizes the action already taken by some developing countries. “But the world needs more. We will never succeed without important contributions from the emerging economies. They must reduce emissions significantly compared to ‘business as usual.’”

Emerging giant economies China, India, Russia and Brazil want to keep the Kyoto process because it commits developed countries to legally binding emissions cuts without making the same requirements of poorer nations. But advanced countries led by the US want a new framework that binds China and other emerging economies to targets.

China plans to curb emissions for each unit of economic output by up to 45 percent by 2020, an amount it claims to be equivalent to that being made by developed countries. The EU proposed 20 percent for itself from 1990 levels. The US offered a 17-percent cut from 2005 levels by 2020. But developing countries are demanding that industrialized countries cut their greenhouse emissions by 25 percent to 40 percent from 1990 level.

Stop blame game
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns the world stands at the crossroads between a sustainable future and a path to catastrophe. “Now is the moment to act.”  

Ban said rich and poor countries must work together and “stop pointing fingers” at each other. “I can tell you at this time that we could have some perspective on agreeing on this long-term financial support [for poorer nations].”  

He said negotiations made advances on the pledges for the fast-tracking of long-term financing. EU leaders have pledged $10 billion every year for the coming three years until 2012; and Japan, also $10 billion.

“Now we have two-thirds commitments that have already been made and I am quite convinced that this can be made,” Ban said, referring to the estimated $30 billion needed until 2012 to help developing economies.

As this developed, six rich countries announced they have agreed to put up $3.5 billion to stop deforestation in a program that would run from 2010-2012.

The pledge was made by Australia, Britain, France, Japan, Norway and the United States—marking the first major advance at the 12-day climate conference, which remained mired on Wednesday on procedural wrangling.

“Actions to reduce emissions from forests can help to stabilize our climate, support livelihoods, provide biodiversity conservation and promote economic development,” they said in a joint statement. “As part of an ambitious and comprehensive deal, we recognize the significant role of international public finance in supporting developing countries’ efforts to slow, halt and eventually reverse deforestation.”  

They described this as “an initial investment” in developing countries that submit “ambitious” plans for preserving their forests instead of logging the resources for timber.

“We collectively commit to scaling up our finance thereafter in line with opportunities and the delivery of results,” they said.

Deforestation accounted for around a fifth of annual emissions of greenhouse gases but this has recently fallen to around 12 percent, according to new figures.  

Outside the venue, protests were everywhere. Kevin John Smith from the Transnational Institute said activists have been angered by the lack of progress, as well as with logistical problems at the summit. “Most are upset on the negotiations and those rich nations seem pushing for a weak and unfair deal.”  

Demonstrators were tear-gassed by the police in the chilly morning hours despite the fact that none of them had resorted to any act of violence. Police fired pepper spray and beat protesters with batons.

Published by Business Mirror