Ambassador: Avoid turning climate talks into a new Doha round

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After the last round of climate talks ahead of the UN conference in Copenhagen ended with a sense of pessimism and pending defeat, the Danish Ambassador to the EU, Poul Skytte Christoffersen, warns in an interview with EURACTIV against the danger of postponing a deal until next year

Poul Skytte Christoffersen is Denmark’s permanent representative to the EU. 


He was speaking to Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

After Barcelona there is a sense of pessimism and pending defeat, isn’t there? 

It is clear that the situation is difficult, but there is also a tendency when you are looking at things from a very narrow perspective – and those engaged in day-to-day negotiations tend to look at the small texts and how many square brackets – to have a rather pessimistic perspective on what can happen in Copenhagen. 

I have a more optimistic perspective. If you look at what has been happening in the world in the last twelve months, you see an enormous movement which allowed the climate agenda to be brought to the front of the political agenda in many countries. 

You have seen it in the EU. With our climate and energy package we have been able – despite difficulties – to uphold a movement aimed at sustaining an ambitious international agreement, also with regards to finance. 

We have seen an enormous shift happening in the US. From the Bush era to the Obama administration, we have seen developments for instance in Japan with a completely new vision with what government should do in respect to climate change. 

I think our impression is also that in China and India, we have a process where very serious changes have been planned for what concerns energy and climate policy in order to solve our problem. 

Of course, despite adding all this together, you come up with results that do not live up with the plan to reach the 2C limitation plan, but there is clearly an upward trend in what has been done in this respect. 

The first challenge is to make sure that this upward trend is continued and accelerated. And Copenhagen should ensure this. 

What can realistically be achieved in Copenhagen? Are we a long way from a climate treaty? 

Ideally, we should aim for a full-fledged agreement. We should avoid that international uncertainty should become an excuse for postponement of policy decisions at national level, also for the sake of the business community, which needs certainty. 

The scariest scenario would be that countries and regions would start to protect themselves through trade restrictions, to avoid being put in unfavourable situation. That would jeopardise progress achieved on climate change. 

All this shows that the cost of no agreement in Copenhagen is very serious. We, of course, hope that people will realise it. That would create sufficient political pressure to bring us as close as possible to the ideal situation.

But we also need to be realistic. If we look at the late negotiations, perspectives are not very bright because a number of details and square brackets have been left out of the agreements. 

The chances of a comprehensive deal are fading fast and industrialised countries have begun pushing for a political agreement. Do you believe a simple political agreement is enough to keep the ‘movement’ afloat or do we need a legally binding text? 

For me this appears to be putting the cart before the horse. 

The important thing has to be substance. What kind of extensive agreement can you achieve in Copenhagen on mitigation and adaptation? Mitigation targets from developed countries and actions from developing countries. What kind of specific action can you envisage in regard to tropical forests? What kind of international system can you put in place? What kind international finance order can you expect? 

These are the key issues. Whether you can get a legal text is less important than having an international agreement on substance. If you have this, then you have a clear understanding. Substance precedes form. If we get the substance right then the translation into legal text will become – if not simple – then at least an easier process. 

There is still a political divide between developed and developing nations. On mid-term targets, developed nations’ combined efforts of 11-15% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2020 are way below the 40% requested by developing countries. How can we bridge this divide? 

We have to increase the pressure. We have to underline the risks of not reaching an agreement. I will not try today to define a compromise. This is not just a question of horse-trading. 

If you believe in what science tells us and the consensus around the UN climate panel and if you believe in science, it gives a certain consequence. If you believe in the two degree limit, you have to respect that consequence. 

You have to respect this finding. In a way there is no compromise in this situation. 

But Denmark, being the host country of COP-15, has the daunting task of coming up with a breakthrough plan. And there are rumours of a document that Denmark is preparing… 

And you would like to have a copy… 

I would like to have an understanding of whether the agreement would be on targets or financing, or whether Denmark is following another logic to reach a consensus? 

First, let me make things clear: Denmark is the host country. The event takes place under the UN umbrella. It is also true that in order to facilitate an agreement in the UN context, the UN and other states look up to Denmark as a sort of facilitator. This is an enormous challenge. 

I go back to the idea that the important element is the substance, not the form. We need a solution that does not slow down the momentum. Copenhagen should be an occasion to increase that momentum. 

Let’s come to substance. Realistically what mid-term targets can developed countries agree on? What will it take to put enough pressure on the US to come up with something agreeable? 

If I had the answer to your question, I would not be sitting in this humble office. You need to know what will happen in American internal politics. Neither I nor my authorities have the power to turn political realities around. 

Are you confident the US will come up with something more than has been agreed so far? 

It would be naïve for me to say yes. We are perfectly aware of the difficulties. Obama is faced with a difficult situation in Washington. But you cannot expect from us to have the solution to that challenge. At the end it can only be the Americans that give an answer to that challenge. 

In terms of finance, the EU came up with 100 billion euros by 2020, with 22 to 50 billion in public money. Do you think that will be matched by any other developed countries? 

I can only say that the way the EU offer is constructed is to maximise pressure on the rest of the world. 

We are the only entity that has come up with a figure to define what is needed. That is a very strong signal. 

If you have that figure as an endorsed figure, the other figures follow, because the 100 billion is an estimation of costs – part of these will be carried by the countries implementing the deal, part by the international carbon market and part of that through international public finance. You cannot know how much it should be covered by public finance before you know what the ambition of the agreement is overall. 

The higher the ambitions as far as mitigation is concerned, the higher the international carbon price, the more projects you can finance through the market.

But it will not be EU that will limit the ambitions in this area. 

That is indeed the best way to put pressure on others. You do not put pressure by giving a cheque of 25 billion euros and saying: “that’s my contribution”. And then what…in terms of negotiating tactics this is the best way to play the game. 

And regarding fast-track money up till 2012. The UN wants 10 billion euros a year. Do you think this is feasible money considering the current economic crisis? 

If we enter into the logic of saying that there is not enough money, then we are digging our own grave. 

The EU has taken the lead in showing that investment in climate should take us out of the crisis. If we enter into the logic that we cannot afford financing, then we do not go anywhere, even if of course public expenditure is difficult. But the fast-track money is seed money for investment, which will come back later on. 

But what is stopping the EU from putting money on the table?

We want to use the same logic as before: we want to use this money as leverage. Unless the others become more generous in December, it becomes very difficult for the EU to deliver. That’s the kind of realism we need to have. 

So is it Mexico or Copenhagen? 

I can give you no guarantee that this will be done in Copenhagen. But we will push as hard as we can and this is not just to have our name on the agreement. 

There is always a danger in postponing things. I have been living closely to the Doha round. I have seen postponement. The moment is never right. And once you get in this logic, it is a slippery track. 

That is the problem: not what name you assign to that Agreement. But let us not forget that for every day that goes, the bigger the costs of non action. 

Do we risk the ‘Dohaisation’ of the Bali roadmap? 

We need to do everything to avoid that. 

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