Climate change: The road to Copenhagen [Archived]


This article is part of our special report European Business Summit.

From 7-18 December, governments from 192 countries meeting in Copenhagen will attempt to thrash out a sweeping agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, amid growing signals from scientists that global warming is occurring more quickly than expected.

Scientists across the world have been stepping up their warnings on climate change, saying glaciers are melting faster than expected, sea levels are rising more rapidly than ever and water supplies are drying up fast (EURACTIV 13/03/09). 

But despite these warnings, world governments are still struggling to come up with a coordinated global response.  

The biggest challenge is to find a way to share global emissions reductions between rapidly developing countries, like China and India, and more industrialised regions, like the US and Europe, which are responsible for the bulk of historical CO2 emissions. 

However, bridging those views will be anything but easy, as decisions by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have to be taken unanimously. 

The United Nations Climate Change conference is the 15th UN Conference of the Parties (COP) and represents the last stage in global talks, launched in December 2007 in Bali, to clinch a deal on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. 

At their 2007 Bali meeting, more than 190 government representatives agreed to work out a new climate treaty by the end of 2009. 

Any new deal would need to come into force before January 2013 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Global options for tackling climate change'). 

Beyond Copenhagen: Towards a comprehensive deal in 2010

After two years of preparatory work, only one thing seems certain: Copenhagen will not mark the end of the process, but is rather expected to set out a legal framework for more detailed negotiations to continue during the course of 2010 (EURACTIV 18/11/09).

Beyond Copenhagen: Towards a comprehensive deal in 2010

After two years of preparatory work, only one thing seems certain: Copenhagen will not mark the end of the process, but is rather expected to set out a legal framework for more detailed negotiations to continue during the course of 2010 (EURACTIV 18/11/09).

Optimists say such delays are nothing new in international negotiations and are not necessarily a recipe for failure. Indeed, it was not until four years after an agreement had been reached on the Kyoto Protocol that details were finalised to allow ratification, they point out.

Negotiators are hoping to work more quickly this time, leaving the legal details to 2010. Crucially, Copenhagen should set out a clear action plan and a timetable for moving to a legally-binding agreement, EU leaders have stated (EURACTIV 30/10/09).

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer has outlined the elements required to make Copenhagen a success in terms of concrete figures and measures on mitigation and funding. 

Specifically, developed countries must agree binding targets for significant emission cuts by 2020, while developing countries must outline measures to halt their emissions growth below a business-as-usual scenario, de Boer said. 

In addition, rich countries will have to provide long-term financial assistance to poorer ones and set up a €10 billion climate fund to help them adapt to the immediate impacts of climate change, he added. Finally, the negotiators must agree to establish a governance structure that will deliver these goals, de Boer said.

Delegates so far have made progress on technical details, including how to measure deforestation and the principles of putting up an international fund to help poor and vulnerable countries to cope with the impacts of global warming (rising seas, floods, droughts, storms and wildfires). 

However, key issues such as long-term goals for slashing emissions and avoiding dangerous climate change impacts, as well as the introduction of a technology-transfer mechanism to allow developing countries to move towards low-carbon economies, need to be hammered out.

President Obama in balancing act

The US administration has a decisive role to play in global negotiations. President Barack Obama has promised to set ambitious targets. However, trapped between international pressure to curb greenhouse gas emissions and a US Senate that is not prepared to act, the White House is coy about President Obama's plans. 

Last month, the White House pledged to cut emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, a drop of about 3% below 1990 levels. This pledge relied on the adoption of a meaure by a Senate committee calling for 20% cuts by 2020, but that is expected to be weakened as the legislation moves through other Senate committees. 

In June 2009, the House passed a bill aimed at CO2 emission reductions of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and sharper cuts in the following decades, using a cap-and-trade system.

But Obama has another ace up his sleeve. At the end of March 2009, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave the White House a report alleging that pollution tied to climate change could endanger human life. This discovery could give the government the authority to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act, according to a US Supreme Court ruling dating from 2007. 

In the short term, the report's findings set the EPA on a collision course with US carmakers, coal-fired power plants and other businesses that rely on fossil fuels, which fear complex and costly rules. 

Obama is under political pressure from both parties to scale back his priorities, despite his insistence that the country had no alternative if it wanted to succeed. 

"Sometimes you have to fail before you can succeed," Obama has repeatedly said. "And often it takes not just the commitment of an innovator, but the commitment of a country to innovate," he added. 

European Union's leading role

The EU, which has already committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, has pledged to raise the target to 30% if other industrialised countries commit to similar reductions, namely the US. 

In a proposal tabled in January 2009, the European Commission stressed that action by the developed economies of the OECD would be insufficient on its own, because emissions in the developing world are growing rapidly and threaten to outweigh efforts by industrialised countries. 

The EU is thus proposing that developing countries - including China and India but with the exception of Africa's least-developed states - should slow their emission growth by 15-30% below business-as-usual levels by 2020 (EURACTIV 29/01/09).  

But how to divide the overall emissions cut target is still the subject of negotiation at UN level, and has so far divided EU member states.

In its proposal external, the Commission suggested taking into account four criteria for calculating each country's contribution:

  • GDP per capita;
  • Emissions per unit of GDP;
  • Emissions trends between 1990 and 2005, and;
  • Population trends over the period 1990 to 2005.  

"The emission reduction efforts which are needed from the group of developed countries (25 to 40% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels) should be distributed fairly and in a way which ensures comparability of efforts," said EU leaders at their spring summit in March.

At their October summit, EU leaders endorsed the long-term target of reducing collective developed-country emissions by 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050, as agreed previously by their environment ministers (EURACTIV 30/10/09)

EU leaders talked up the agreement as a huge breakthrough in negotiations that have been dragging on for months.

"The EU has a very strong position now that the countdown to Copenhagen has started. It's a decision that enables the EU to continue taking the lead in the negotiations, a position that encourages others to deliver," said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Finding convergence on emission cuts

But the leaders stressed that the agreement was entirely conditional on action by other developed countries. 

Scientists and European governments insist that larger cuts are needed. US President Obama himself, meanwhile, has suggested that the US could compensate with swifter reductions in the years beyond 2020, and his recent budget proposal calls for US emission reductions of roughly 80% by 2050 (2005 levels). 

Other industrialised countries have made significant pledges in recent weeks. Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has promised to slash emissions by 25% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, if other major emitters also take meaningful action.

South Africa has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 34% by 2020, but says it will need financial aid from developed countries to do so.

Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, said his government believes it is essential to keep Canadian targets in line with those of the US due to the close integration of the countries' economies. Canada's target, Harper said, is a 20% reduction from 2006 levels of greenhouse gases by 2020. The proposal also includes the establishment of a cap-and-trade system with the United States.

Russia has agreed to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 22-25% below 1990 levels by 2020. However, this commitment would actually mean a rise in emissions, which in 2007  were 34% below 1990 levels in 2007.

Historical respnsibility

For all industrialised countries, however, and particularly the US, it will be difficult to agree on reduction targets unless their citizens see that major developing countries are also willing to engage further. 

Developing nations, on the other hand, point out that industrialised economies are mainly responsible for climate change and should assume their responsibilities. They are also asking for financial assistance in adapting and mitigating the effects of global warming. 

Emerging economies putting pledges on the table

Nonetheless, China and India have come forward with some proposals. China promised to reduce carbon intensity - the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per yuan of economic activity - by 40-45% by 2020 from 2005 levels. That still means its emissions will rise, but by less than economic growth.

India is prepared to quantify the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it could cut with domestic measures, but will not accept internationally-binding targets, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said, stressing that the country's per capita emissions will never rise to match those of developed nations.

Meanwhile, both countries last year adopted their first national plans to tackle climate change, prioritising renewable energy sources. Considered among the world's biggest producers of greenhouse gases, they both refuse to accept binding targets for emissions, saying wealthy developed nations must assume the bulk of responsibility for the problem. 

Brazil has instead focused its action on reducing deforestation. Its plan could encourage more pledges from wealthy countries seeking to essentially pay Brazil to preserve its forests for the good of humanity. 

Climate aid agreement within reach? 

On financing, an agreement appears even more difficult to reach, as the EU is the only one to have put figures on the table. The bloc argued that developing nations would need €100bn a year by 2020 to fight climate change but did not specify its own contribution, expecting proposals from others first.

Between €22-€50 billion a year would have to come from international public financing, but how much the EU would fork out will depend on "comparable commitments" from other countries, EU leaders said at the conclusion of a two-day summit on 30 October.

Moreover, the leaders agreed that €5-€7 billion per year will have to be made available as fast-track funding between 2010 and 2012 before the entry into force of the new climate treaty. But the EU's share will only be determined after Copenhagen, the conclusions state (EURACTIV 30/10/09).

The US Senate is mulling a proposal to provide international aid for forest preservation and deployment of new low-emission energy technologies in developing countries (EURACTIV 04/12/09). The plan is seen as the foundation for US international financial commitments to be presented in Copenhagen.   

But funding will be crucial to getting developing countries on board, as 'no money, no deal' has become the catchphrase of international negotiators.

World on course for 3.5°C warming 

Currently, the Copenhagen deal is headed for 3.5° global warming, new analysis by Ecofys, Climate Analytics and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) warned last week (4 December). 

Assessment of the targets stated so far by a new Web-based system showed that emissions would not peak before 2040. The IPCC argues that this needs to happen by 2015 to avoid dangerous climate change.

"After accounting for the new position of Russia, the announcement of President Obama of a US emission reduction pledge for Copenhagen, the developed-country emission reductions as a whole are currently projected to be 13-19% below 1990 levels by 2020," said Dr Michiel Schaeffer of Climate Analytics. But the proposed forest credits for these countries would bring this down to about 8-14%, he added.

The low reduction target is unconditional for most countries, but the higher 14% target has been made conditional on a strong Copenhagen agreement by most countries, Schaeffer said.

While Norway, Japan and Brazil are at the high end, both the EU and the US fared rather badly, the researchers said. However, if the EU were to decide to move from 20% to 30% cuts, as promised should other developed nations make similar commitments, it would move into the medium range, they said.

Towards a 'responsible green deal': Possible policy scenarios

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has identified possible policy scenarios to stabilise greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration at 550 and 450 parts per million (ppm) of CO2-equivalent, which would stabilise temperature rises to around 3°C and to 2°C respectively. 

These lower carbon scenarios would require a substantial shift in investment patterns and a major transformation of the way investment decisions in the energy sector are taken – requiring additional investment in power plants and more energy efficient energy-related capital stock. 

Such a greening of the energy system would require additional investment of USD 3.6 trillion in power plants and USD 5.7 trillion in energy efficiency during the period 2010-2030, in the 450 ppm scenario. These additional investments correspond to 0.55% of GDP per year, but they would also bring energy savings to consumers worth USD 5.8 trillion from 2010 to 2030. 

According to the IEA, OECD countries alone cannot put the world on a 450-ppm trajectory, even if they were to reduce their emissions to zero. 

While technological progress is needed to achieve certain emissions reductions, efficiency gains and the deployment of existing low-carbon energy accounts for most of the savings. According to the IEA, the power sector would need to undergo a dramatic change, with carbon capture and storage schemes (CCS; see EURACTIV LinksDossier), and renewable and nuclear energy each playing a crucial role.

On the opening day of the Copenhagen conference, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told delegates that "the world is depositing hope with you for a short while in the history of mankind".

Rasmussen said: "By the end, we must be able to deliver back to the world what was granted us here today: hope for a better future [...] The time for formal statements is over [...] Copenhagen will only be a success if it delivers significant and immediate action."

Rajendra Pachauri,  chair of the UN's Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned at the opening of the Copenhagen conference that unless a way was found to limit greenhouse gas emissions, sea ice would disappear entirely, cyclones and hurricanes would become more powerful and many of the world's cities would be drowned by rising sea levels by the end of the century.

"There is overwhelming evidence that the world will benefit from early action and that delays would only lead to costs that would become progressively higher," he said.

Sir Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics, who authored the Stern report on the economics of climate change, said: "We have to make the agreement, which will guide the world economy after Kyoto. If we miss it, we will undermine confidence in the carbon markets, which will be of vital importance in getting this whole set of investments. So, 2009 is a vital year." 

"It's the opportunity to go for low-carbon growth. And we understand, roughly speaking, what technologies are needed. Some of them will be very quick, like insulating houses, promoting energy efficiency, and that will put unemployed construction workers back into work now, this year. Others, like bringing forward infrastructure investment, take a little longer. Others like R&D have a still further lead time," Stern said. 

EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Poto?nik said: "Getting an agreement is a win, not getting an agreement is a loss. Meaning that, everybody around the table has to understand that these negotiations will be difficult; that they will have to step into each other's shoes and try to understand what are their problems." 

"But I hope that the understanding from all is that we are actually living in the same world and have no choice, so we have to deal with climate change - and we have to deal with it now. It's a one-shot chance. If we miss this chance, we really don't know when there will be a second one with that level of opportunity. So, Copenhagen should be a success," Poto?nik added.

Greenpeace USA claims that the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) presentation to the White House of a report alleging that pollution tied to climate change could endanger human life means Obama can regulate carbon dioxide "regardless of whether Congress passes legislation to cut greenhouse gases".  

"The ruling underscores the critical role the EPA can and must play in the effort to avert catastrophic climate change," said Kyle Ash, senior legislative representative at Greenpeace USA in Copenhagen. 

"President Obama can move to implement greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act beyond the weak targets of congressional legislation. Other governments at the climate summit should now expect the president to commit in Copenhagen to announce much deeper cuts by 2020 in greenhouse gas emissions when he comes here," Ash said.    

Michael Grubb, chief economist at the Carbon Trust, said: "The US system overall is going to be stretched. So, I think the idea that the US will ride in like a sort of white knight and save the situation is kind of a bit far-fetched. What it has done is it's reinvigorated the sense that at least the world's talking - that everybody's talking to each other - and, by and large, that all the major countries want to find solutions." 

"So, I think the biggest thing is for the US to officially say it will rejoin the global group of industrialised countries that set quantified caps post-2012 and that it will sign up to the majority of the architecture involved in that and to some of the mechanisms behind that, including some of the flexibility," he added. 

Nick Campbell, chair of the climate working group at Europe's business lobby group, BusinessEurope, said: "I must admit I'm starting to get frightened about the Copenhagen meeting." "I wonder how this is going to come together," he added, referring to the lack of detail in the EU's plans so far. 

"The EU has promised to do its share," Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told Reuters after the EU summit in March, underlining that it would go no further until other rich nations had unveiled their targets for cutting global warming gases. 

"It is obvious that in order to calculate the amound of funding for our contribution, we need to know what other developed countries will do," added Dimas.

Green MEP Claude Turmes added: "An uncompetitive Europe already lost out in the last industrial revolution when US companies mopped up the world IT innovation market. As the green-tech revolution enters full swing, we must match Obama's level of commitment, not stand by and admire his vision." 

Joris den Blanken, Greenpeace EU's climate and energy policy director, accused the EU of wasting three months until the June summit.

 "The EU has agreed it must repay its carbon debt, but developing nations are going to think twice about joining a global climate agreement without concrete financial commitments from rich countries. You cannot start negotiating about who should contribute what to tackle climate change unless there is money on the table," he said. 

Sonja Meister, a climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said the EU's inaction was now turning into deliberate blocking of progress. "Europe must start to pay its climate debts and come up with at least 35 billion euro now," she said. 

Stephan Singer, director of WWF's Global Energy Programme, said it was "time to re-state the fundamentals of a successful global climate deal in Copenhagen". "Strong EU leadership includes ambitious targets and funding. Unfortunately at the moment we are far from that," he added. 

Elise Ford, head of Oxfam International's EU office, accused the EU of double standards. "The EU says it will pay its fair share of adaptation monies needed by poor countries, but instead of putting numbers down and building trust, it's using the issue as a bargaining chip. This is just another example of the EU back-pedalling on the fragile agreement struck in Bali, where rich countries agreed to action on adequate and predictable financial resources," she said.

The American Chamber of Commerce to the EU (AmCham EU) sees the EU-US relationship as key to the negotiations. AmCham EU believes that any agreement should be based on harmonised, market-based systems incorporating regulatory frameworks that provide incentives for the development of new technologies and take into account cost and competitiveness issues. 

Microsoft's John Vassallo, chair of AmCham EU, said: "If the international community is ultimately to be successful in meeting the challenge of global climate change, partnership and co-operation between the US and EU will be crucial. We therefore heartily endorse what the EU is doing to to reach out to the US administration on climate change, including its proposal for a EU-US working group on carbon markets."

  • Dec. 2007: Bali climate conference (COP 13): Launch of negotiation roadmap on post-2012 UN climate framework (EURACTIV 17/12/07). 
  • Jan. 2008: Commission tables climate and energy package, including EU ETS review. 
  • Dec. 2008: Pozna?, Poland climate conference (COP 14): Midway point of negotiations.
  • Dec. 2008: EU summit agrees final version of energy and climate change package (EURACTIV 12/12/08).
  • 20 Jan. 2009: Inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. 
  • 28 Jan. 2009: Commission presents proposal for global agreement to replace Kyoto Protocol (EURACTIV 29/01/09). 
  • 28 March-8 April 2009: First round of negotiations, Bonn (Germany) (EURACTIV 9/04/09).
  • 23-24 April 2009: G8 environment ministers meeting, Syracuse (Italy). 
  • 1-12 June 2009: UN climate negotiations, Bonn (Germany) (EURACTIV 15/06/09).
  • 18-19 June 2009: EU summit postpones decision on climate finance (EURACTIV 19/06/09).
  • 8-10 July 2009: G8 summit pledges to halve global warming emissions by 2050 (EURACTIV 10/07/09). 
  • 21-25 Sept. 2009: UN Climate Summit in New York (US).
  • 28 Sept.-9 Oct. 2009: UN climate negotiations, Bangkok (Thailand).
  • 2-6 Nov. 2009: UN climate negotiations in Barcelona (Spain).
  • 7-18 Dec. 2009: Copenhagen climate conference (COP 15): Projected completion of UN climate negotiations on post-2012 framework. 
  • End 2012: Deadline for ratification of any new climate deal. 

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