Danish minister: No more time to delay climate choices

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With only 70-or so days to go before leaders meet to agree on a post-Kyoto climate deal in Copenhagen, there is a need to speed up negotiations and “make political choices,”  Danish Climate Change and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard told EURACTIV in an interview.

On 7-18 December, hundreds of nations will gather in Copenhagen to piece together a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol on combating global warming. Danish Climate Change and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard will host the UN-led climate conference.

Hedegaard was speaking to Daniela Vincenti-Mitchener.

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

With only 70-or so days to go until the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, do you see enough progress at the negotiations in Bangkok to achieve a comprehensive deal? 

Yes, within the last few weeks we have started to awaken as the deadline set for Copenhagen 2009 approaches. 

For instance Japan two weeks ago came forward with a new ambitious target to reduce 25% of emissions by 2020 compared to 1990, and that is even one of the most energy-efficient countries in the world doing that. 

Last week [24-25 September] we saw in New York Chinese President Hu Jintao coming up with new suggestions as to what China is going to do. He said that they are going set deviations from business-as-usual. 

We also saw in New York last week India moving its position, accepting that it is going to take national actions, but they are also going to verify this with the international community. 

Indonesia came forward with a substantial target. I could mention a lot of things. Of course there are many obstacles, but there is also progress and people are starting to respond to the deadline. 

But you know that one of the major obstacles is the United States. Do you think the US is going to come forward with ambitious short to medium-term targets? 

I hope so. [US] President [Barack] Obama has repeatedly said he is going to take international leadership on the climate issue. Of course that raises expectations as to what the US is able to deliver. 

We all know that they have some difficulties with their Senate. But I hope that they can very soon pass their health reform, so that they can give their attention also to the climate issue. I hope it will be doable also for the Americans to be ready for Copenhagen. 

Let’s take the worst-case scenario: the US, deadlocked by the health reform and the economic crisis, does not take leadership. In the absence of a complete treaty, what would constitute a successful outcome of the conference? 

What matters for Copenhagen is that afterwards we can credibly say that Copenhagen has brought about a change in the sense that the binding political decisions taken there have put the world on the right track. So that we can make it likely that we can stay below the two degrees average increase in global temperatures. 

That is basically what we must strive for. At the G8 meeting this summer and at the Major Economies Forum, they said that we must stay below 2C. 

And one could say that the largest economies said ‘A’ then and now in Copenhagen they must deliver and say ‘B’ – so they must deliver according to what they said this summer. 

Still, recent reports from Bangkok say the draft agreement is long, confusing and contradictory, and there are still more than a thousand points to be agreed. How do you think we are going to break that deadlock with so little time ahead of Copenhagen? 

I said at the opening of the Bangkok meeting you are referring to that now the good political will expressed last week in New York must be translated into the formal negotiations. 

It is crucial that the negotiators start to diminish the text substantially. It is much too long, much too complicated, there are too many square brackets. They must diminish the text and make the political choices much clearer. 

It will be a task for the negotiators within the next two weeks in Bangkok. 

When it comes to clear-cut emission targets, what do you think would be a good outcome for the negotiations after Bangkok? 

Well, obviously I want to get as ambitious an agreement as possible. And I also want to get an agreement that makes it likely that we can stick to what science tells us is necessary. 

We all know that it is difficult to make the targets add up. However if you take the average of what the countries have already delivered to the table, we are around 15-16% reductions. Of course I would like to have this even higher. 

But it’s not that we have not come anywhere. 

So if we go for that kind of short-term CO2 emissions reduction, we will need to hike long-term targets? 

The less the world does by 2020, the more we have to do in years to follow. And the longer we postpone action, the more expensive it’s going to be. 

That’s why obviously we should have as ambitious reduction targets by 2020 as possible, because that makes the transition in the longer run smoother. And that will be the case. 

Then if we go short-term for a 15-16% target, what would the long-term target be? 

I did not say that. I said that if you take what has already been announced then it is 15-16%. 

But if we take the worst-case scenario and no more progress is made. It is obvious that the long-term target would need to be higher to offset the slow pace of emission cuts… 

Yes. This is why we should get more on the table before Copenhagen. 

One of the stumbling blocks of the negotiations is definitely funding mitigation and adaptation in developing and poorer countries. What do you think should be the starting point? Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, said rich nations must put new credible sources of cash on the table with $10 bn as a starting point. Isn’t that too little when we know that the climate change fight is likely to cost about $300 bn? 

I think there are two discussions here. One is: ‘How could we have some fast-track financing here and now?’ The other is the way we are negotiating for Copenhagen, ‘What is going to be agreed for after 2013?’ 

But then here is the discussion: “Why don’t we get some financing on the table for 2010, 2011, 2012 right away?’ That’s fast-track financing.

And there, a relatively few billion dollars would make a huge difference to many developing countries. So that is important. 

In the longer term, on the way to 2020, what really matters is that we can set up a financial architecture, with a variety of sources, that can generate substantial – several digit billions of dollars – on a steady yearly basis. 

That’s what we are waiting for with something like the Mexican proposal that all countries, according to some criteria, contribute to financing [climate change]. We can have auctioning revenues from the carbon market going into the financing system. 

Denmark has suggested a levy on bunker fuel for international shipping. There are a variety of suggestions that together can generate substantial amounts of money. 

OK. Can we not pin-point that figure in a deal?   

I think what matters the most is to get upfront financing now and then establish the architecture, so that as the years go by you can fill more money into this system. 

It’s also important to set up some mechanism for technological cooperation, because that will also be a huge incentive and help developing countries a lot. 

What technology mechanism do you have in mind? 

For instance we could make some centres of excellence in different areas, in different regions, where we could be much better at disseminating the technologies that we already have in this world. 

We could through the carbon market, the clean development mechanism, help disseminate new technologies. We could also collaborate much more in developing new technologies, the technologies of the future. 

There are many things you can do within the field of technologies to take care, and we will much better at sharing best practice and disseminating technologies, much better than we are doing today. 

The EU has proposed an OECD-led global carbon trading market. Do you see this happening in the near future? 

That’s what we are working very hard to get, and now the EU is embracing this idea. Japan is establishing a market, Australia is establishing a market, and the Waxman-Markey bill in the US Senate is proposing such a market. 

Within a few years?

Yes. Australia is trying to do it next year or 2011, so is Japan, and the Waxman-Markey bill if that goes through will create a US market within a few years. You have the EU carbon trade market. 

That would be a sort of a very solid start to make a global market. 

If you had to dream up a perfect deal, what would it be? What would it take to achieve it? 

My hope is that we will get a binding, political and ambitious agreement in Copenhagen that sends the world on the right track to protection from catastrophic climate changes.

Such an agreement must be based on building blocks of the Bali roadmap. To reach this goal, all 192 countries have to agree. This is our common task for COP15. And it is not an easy one. 

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