EU sticks to climate pledges amid ‘soft’ UN deadline concerns

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While the EU has decided to stick to its pledge of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, other countries are struggling to come up with targets and policy actions by the end-January deadline set by the UN to fulfil the Copenhagen Accord, as the chances of securing a legally-binding agreement by the end of the year recede further.

“Countries can indicate targets or actions by the deadline or later,” UN climate chief Yvo de Boer told journalists during his first press conference since the Copenhagen summit. “It’s a soft deadline,” de Boer stressed. 

De Boer’s statement came after it became clear that most countries were going to miss the deadline, as only nine nations have reportedly indicated their support for the Copenhagen accord, which is based on a proposal tabled by a US-led group of five nations, including China, India, Brazil and South Africa. 

“Countries are not being asked to sign the accord. They’re not being asked to take on a legally-binding target, they will not be bound to the action which they submit to the secretariat. It will be an indication of their intent,” de Boer said. 

Meanwhile, EU member states decided against going unilaterally to a 30% emission reductions target. The 30% goal had been pushed for by France and the UK. But the bloc was divided and deputy ambassadors of the 27 member states yesterday (20 January) decided to maintain the EU’s initial offer of a 20% reduction with the possibility of going to 30% if other developed countries agree on comparable commitments. 

Dimming prospects for a legally-binding agreement in Mexico? 

Political developments across the Atlantic have raised concerns as to the likelihood of passing a climate control bill in 2010. The victory of Republican Scott Brown in the special Senate race has dealt a further blow to the Democrats’ drive to pass the bill, said analysts. 

Last June, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a cap-and-trade bill that would require reductions in industrial greenhouse gas emissions and would allow pollution permits to be traded in a new regulated market, modelled on the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme. 

But the global warming bill got stuck in the Senate, where some members have been trying to find a compromise. Once Brown takes office, Democrats will hold 59 of the 100 votes in the Senate and the Republicans 41. The bill needs 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles which could its block passage. 

In this context and in light of upcoming mid-term elections in the US in November, analysts say alternatives to cap and trade could gain more traction. These include less ambitious legislation encouraging the use of more alternative fuels, such as solar and wind power. 

Such a scenario could potentially disrupt prospects to have a legally-binding agreement in 2010, experts said. 

Yvo de Boer is however confident that a deal can be reached in Mexico. “Copenhagen didn’t produce the final cake but it left countries with all the right ingredients to bake a new one in Mexico.” 

Start with the BASICs 

Much of the attention is now focused on this weekend’s meeting in New Delhi of environment ministers from the so-called BASIC group of the world’s main emerging economies – Brazil, China, India and South Africa. 

These are the same countries whose proposals which led to the brokering of the Copenhagen Accord in December. In New Delhi on Sunday 24 January, they are to discuss their joint strategy for the UN climate negotiations in the coming months. 

Their session will be the first multilateral meeting following the failure of last month’s climate summit in Copenhagen. 

Although some have described these meetings as more effective than the UN process, De Boer defended the UN-led talks against accusations that including 190 nations in the talks had derailed the chances of an agreement.

“It’s clear that you cannot have all of the countries in all of the rooms all of the time in all of the discussions, and that it needs to be broken up into smaller meetings. Consensus is then brought to the larger meeting,” he argued in response to calls for the UN process to be reformed (EURACTIV 19/12/09).

After two weeks of extenuating talks, world leaders delivered an agreement in Copenhagen that left Europeans disappointed as it failed to commit rich and poor countries to any greenhouse gas emission reductions. 

The face-saving deal, dubbed the 'Copenhagen Accord', failed to produce a binding agreement to tackle climate change, which Europe had said it expected prior to the opening of the UN conference. 

The resulting text, agreed in the early morning of Saturday 19 December after hours of wrangling, states that deep cuts in global emissions "will be required" and that countries will take action to maintain the global temperature increase below 2°C. 

The next scheduled UN meeting is not until late May, in Germany, with another in late November, in Mexico, but many officials say more will be needed.

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