/ 8 December 2009

Haggling begins at UN climate talks

Negotiators at the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen got down to the nitty-gritty on Tuesday, seeking compromises on carbon emissions and funds for poor countries that could unlock a historic deal between world leaders.

Hopes of a breakthrough at the 12-day summit in Copenhagen were boosted late on Monday after the United States government announced it would start to regulate carbon dioxide as a dangerous pollutant.

“It will only help to persuade delegates and observers from other countries that the US is seriously using all the tools it has,” David Doniger, policy director of the National Resources Defence Council’s climate centre, said in Copenhagen.

While the US announcement provided welcome momentum on the first day of the talks, delegates said the next few days would see different countries lay out their positions.

“It’s going to be an exercise in clearing the undergrowth over the next three or four days,” a senior delegate from a developed country told Agence France-Presse.

Towards the end of the week, former Danish climate minister Connie Hedegaard, chairing the December 7 to 18 conference of 194 nations, will carry out a “stock-taking” of positions, she said.

Hedegaard will then put together a draft blueprint for the conference’s outcome, which will be put to environment ministers, meeting early next week, and then to more than 110 heads of state and government attending the climax.

The leaders include US President Barack Obama, Premier Wen Jiabao of China, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of Japan, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the heads of the 27 countries of the European Union (EU).

The official was upbeat about progress on many peripheral issues, but said the core question of emissions controls would be a matter for the summit.

The talks, under the banner of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), are a landmark.

They are the boldest attempt in a 17-year odyssey to turn back the threat of climate change through global political consensus.

If all goes well, the conference will yield an outline agreement that sets down pledges by major emitters of greenhouse gases for curbing their pollution.

It will also set down the principles of long-term financing, possibly worth hundreds of billions of dollars, to help wean poor countries off high-carbon technology and beef up their defences against climate change.

Further negotiations would be needed over the next year to flesh out the agreement. Once agreed and ratified, the accord would take effect from 2013.

To show good faith, rich countries are under pressure to kick in $10-billion a year in fast-track funding over the three years from 2010 to 2012.

“Help for adaptation has to be the heart of the agreement,” the French Minister for Sustainable Development, Jean-Louis Borloo, told Agence France-Presse.

He estimated that the most vulnerable countries would need $30-billion per year over the next 20 years to help reduce their exposure to likely droughts, flood, rising seas and storms.

Deep rifts
Two years of talks have taken place in the run-up to Copenhagen.

They have exposed deep rifts on the question of emissions burden-sharing.

Reducing greenhouse gases carries an economic cost in energy efficiency and in shifting away from the oil, gas and coal, the cheap and plentiful “fossil fuels” that are the mainstay of the world’s power.

Developing countries, several of which are already big polluters, are refusing to budge unless rich nations slash their emissions by at least 40% by 2020 over 1990.

Among advanced economies, eyes have turned to the US, which remained on the sidelines of the climate arena for eight years under George Bush.

Obama is now bulldozing away Bush’s policies and is steering legislation through Congress that would reduce US emissions by 4% by 2020 compared with the 1990 benchmark.

This is just a fraction of what the EU, Japan and others are demanding.

But the US also argues that its campaign against carbon has to be viewed holistically — in other words, there are many other measures that should be taken into account when assessing its effort.

Obama’s hand at Copenhagen was strengthened when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labelled six greenhouse gases a dangerous pollutant that would be subject to government regulation, sidestepping Congress.

France’s climate ambassador Brice Lalonde said: “This gives additional credibility to the US commitment.” — AFP