Ministers resigned to political climate deal in Copenhagen

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Environment ministers made progress on Tuesday (17 November) towards a scaled-down climate deal in Copenhagen next month, with Washington under pressure to promise to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

“We still need more movement,” Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, told a news conference at the end of two days of talks among 40 ministers from around the world on a deal meant to be agreed at the 7-18 December meeting in Denmark. 

“Industrialised countries must raise their targets and financial commitments further […] I look to the United States for a numerical mid-term target and a clear commitment on finance,” he told a news conference. 

The United States is the second greenhouse gas emitter behind China but US carbon-capping legislation is stalled in the Senate. Many nations say that Washington should promise a deep 2020 cut to help unlock a deal in Copenhagen. 

“In the end, an agreement in Copenhagen will depend on an American number. Without a clear and ambitious number the whole agreement will be in danger,” Swedish Environment Minister Anders Carlgren, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, told Reuters. 

Ministers said the informal 16-17 November talks, the last big meeting before Copenhagen, marked a constructive step. “My feeling is that it looks better today than when we started meeting,” Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard told a news conference after the meeting. 

Running out of time

Several ministers said there was widening acceptance of the idea that the summit would agree a politically binding accord on key issues but that time was too short to agree a legally binding treaty this year as originally hoped. 

“We made progress but we have a long way to go,” Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said. “The next six months are going to be much more intensive because you have to translate this politically binding agreement into a treaty.” 

Many developing nations have strongly opposed any delay of a full treaty, saying their citizens are most vulnerable to impacts of climate change such as heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, rising sea levels, disease or species extinctions. 

Denmark envisages a political deal that will include deep 2020 cuts in emissions by all prosperous nations, actions by poor nations to fight climate change and cash and technology to help the poor cope with global warming. 

Ministers in Copenhagen welcomed US President Barack Obama’s statement after a summit in China that Copenhagen should end with a deal that has “immediate operational effect” even if the goal of a legally binding pact is no longer achievable. 

Hedegaard said the looming deadline had helped bringing new commitments in recent weeks from nations such as the United States, Brazil, South Korea, Indonesia, Mexico and Norway. 

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, host of the summit, said that Obama’s acceptance of a proposed deal on key points in Copenhagen while delaying a full treaty implied US willingness to promise clear 2020 targets for cuts. “The American president endorsed our approach,” he said. 

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

The global community is currently engaged in negotiations to agree a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. 

An agreement on a new treaty is set to be reached at the Copenhagen climate conference in December, but talks have stalled over developed countries' reluctance to commit to concrete financial aid for developing countries and a lack of commitment from developed countries to sufficient CO2 reduction targets. 

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