Jerzy Buzek: COP 20 ‘was no breakthrough’

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This article is part of our special report Climate change: The road to Paris.

Despite progress made, the UN climate conference in Lima last December did not produce any breakthrough, says Jerzy Buzek. Without the joint effort of developed and developing countries, it will be impossible to find an international agreement on climate change, he warns.

Jerzy Buzek is the Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE). M. Buzek was President of the European Parliament between 2009 and 2012.

He spoke to Karolina Zbytniewska, from euractiv.pl

How do you assess the December climate summit in Lima? Media say the COP20 was more of a success – even though a moderate one.

During the Polish Presidency, at the COP19 summit in Warsaw, we have identified a timetable to reach a global agreement. Peruvians put a lot of effort into the negotiations and that should be recognised. But the main achievement of Lima meaning the “Lima call for climate action” document, is no breakthrough.

Italian MEP Giovanni La Via described the agreement as “the lowest common denominator”. Do you agree?

That is characteristic for all summits – to reach a consensus the expectations of many sides need to be met. In the European Union there are as much as 28 countries representing different interests that have to be settled.

On the global level, with 196 countries, finding a compromise is even harder, especially when global interests are so much more diversified. Let’s compare for example Bangladesh and the United States, which have completely different climate zones, levels of wealth as well as exposure to the effects of climate change.

So the summit results were blurred by national divergences?

But it upheld some crucial decisions that can help to lead to a real agreement on the COP21 in Paris next year.

First of all, national climate declarations were introduced – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. They will be submitted by states parties of the future convention by the end of March 2015. They will be described in detail to discern the extent to which we are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, 2030 and beyond.

Such a long perspective?

Yes, because every country has to provide its own compartments – by when and to what extent it can and plans to reduce emissions.

And it will include all countries since there will be no division anymore between developing countries and so-called Annex 1 countries like the European Union…

This is one of the most important changes in the approach to a global strategy for combating climate change. Previously only developed countries were listed in Annex 1, and thus were to take on reduction commitments and the financial contribution to the program for the developing countries and to the fund for the state vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

Moreover, Annex 1 gave a frozen picture of the countries situation in 1998. Some countries that were not listed in Annex 1 have currently a contribution per capital comparable to those in Europe, making the list obsolete. A more dynamic approach must be followed.

But this division still exists – there will still be a developed and a developing world in terms of the level of economic development …

That is true. However, it has been agreed that the developing countries should not avoid obligations. Moreover, the agreement is built similarly to the agreement which was developed at EU level at the October European Council summit.

In Europe we have established a common goal – the reduction of emissions at the total level of 40 percent by 2030, but the level of emission reduction at the level of individual countries will depend on their individual capabilities.

In addition, some countries – including Poland – will receive assistance in the form of free emissions permits. Also special funds will be created to support the transformation of the energy mix to the one with lower emission, e.g. by supporting renewable energy.

In the same way we build today a global agreement – we have a common goal: to save the climate and prevent an increase of average global temperature above 2° C compared to the pre-industrial era. However, each state will have individual privileges and obligations.

Why is eliminating the distinction between developed and developing countries so important?

Because non-Annex 1 countries had no obligation so far. On the contrary, they were waiting for help, e.g. from the Adaptation Fund. So the idea was to make China, India, Indonesia and other similar countries – rapidly developing and exploiting the nature – to contribute.

Today we all must make an effort, depending on our abilities. And it has to be a real effort – a real reduction in emissions, not business as usual.

And what about the poorest countries that are only beginning to emit greenhouse gases?

There are not many such countries. They do not have any big impact on global emissions, and are even not able to calculate it – and that is why the calculation will be carried out by other countries. These countries are also not yet organised enough to plan anything. All other must present their climate strategies.

Countries that will report precise plans to reduce emissions can expect assistance from the Green Climate Fund, Loss and Damage Mechanism or technological flow.

What are the predictions with respect to the planned reduction?

Poland must reduce emissions by 40 percent – like the entire Union, which, will present its declarations collectively, not as 28 separate countries one by one.

If you have a look at the US offer to reduce emissions by 16 percent, and China to continue to emit even more and peak somewhere between 2020 and 2030, it means that for more than a dozen years major emitters will actually increase emissions. Most countries outside the EU will take a much more modest contribution.

Reduction plans will be submitted by the end of March 2015. According to many commentators, however, they will not be enough to prevent temperatures from rising above 2° C…

Unfortunately, I agree with this opinion.

And what will happen if the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) considers that the declared cuts are insufficient?

Declarations should clearly go beyond business as usual, and should also contain an adequate description and justification – a proof that real changes are planned. And if it is not enough by the time of the Paris conference, the IPCC will indicate the necessary level of global contribution.

So the IPCCC will determine whether this is enough based on national declarations. How can we be sure that countries will sign if the IPCC deems the cuts insufficient?

It is difficult to predict it today. But the bottom-up approach – proposed by Poland at the climate conference in Durban – takes into account declarations and the situation of the states parties in the formulation of the final objectives. It is also the so-called principle of the so-called common but differentiated responsibility, used also in the European Union. Earlier attempts to impose top-down reduction targets have failed – in Copenhagen they were all rejected. And hence the idea of bottom-up implementation of solutions.

Let’s assume the Convention is signed. This is not a guarantee that things will change, because it will not be legally binding – correct?

We were also discussing in Lima on this point. The parties agreed that the convention will be legally binding, although this may not be enough.

International law does not guarantee any types of pressure, so the only one – but important – tool is a possibility of withdrawal of the assistance. In addition to the sense of responsibility, motivating factors should also be solidarity and international pressure, because all the commitments will be published online and will be visible for the whole world to see.

So how do you generally evaluate the results of the conference in Lima?

There was no breakthrough. We do not know what the contributions from individual countries will contain and whether they will be comparable to each other. We must continue to work hard to be able to sign an agreement in Paris.

It will not be easy as 200 countries need to co-sign it. But we will do our best to reach agreement on the COP21. I hope we will succeed and I am glad for the fact that Poland’s effort in the climate negotiations is recognised. Surely we owe this to experience we have gained in the previous round of negotiations.

Nothing guarantees today the signing of a contract for the benefit of the global climate. We are still far from success, but Lima put us closer to this success.

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