UN climate chief downgrades hopes for post-Kyoto treaty

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It seems unlikely that a comprehensive climate treaty will be sealed at December’s UN conference in Copenhagen despite progress made, but a political agreement is still very much possible, Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate official, told journalists yesterday (28 October).

“It is absolutely clear that Copenhagen must deliver a strong political agreement and nail down the essentials” for a strong long-term response to global warming, said de Boer, head of the Bonn-based UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

Ahead of Barcelona next week (2-6 November), the last negotiating round before the Copenhagen talks, de Boer pointed out that “time is running out”. 

With less than forty days to go until Copenhagen, de Boer spelled out four essentials which would form the “framework” for a deal. These include ambitious emission reductions targets for industrialised countries, appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries, significantly scaled-up financial and technological resources and an equitable governance structure to manage the funds. 

“It is physically impossible, under any scenario, to complete every detail of a treaty in Copenhagen,” de Boer added, noting a technical process will have to be put in place next year to work out all the details. 

Using history as a supporting argument, de Boer noted that when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, “a number of key political questions that remained outstanding” were sorted out. 

“It took five years, I believe, before the Kyoto Protocol was ultimately ratified by a sufficient number of countries and entered into force. So to get every last detail right, it takes time,” he added, stressing that not one of the countries that ratified Kyoto had the domestic policy framework in place to implement the targets at the time. 

‘Stable and predictable’ finance: All eyes on Brussels 

Referring to European climate leadership, de Boer described the summit of EU leaders starting in Brussels today and the G20 finance ministers meeting in Scotland in mid-November as the two major opportunities to break the deadlock on three key issues, which include mid-term emissions reduction targets, action from developing countries to limit emissions and most importantly clarity over “stable and predictable” financing. 

Recalling that the EU had postponed decisions on both short and long-term financing a number of times already, de Boer said he hoped a UK proposal for annual up-front financing of EUR 10bn would get a positive response from other member states. “All eyes are on the EU to provide clarity,” he said. 

Regarding long-term financing, the UN climate chief stressed the need to agree on a burden-sharing formula for how funds will be generated to help developing countries combat climate change. 

De Boer sees the Montreal Protocol (on substances that deplete the ozone layer) as a basis for developing a viable burdensharing mechanism. 

It is estimated that the total net incremental cost of mitigating the effects of climate change and limiting CO2 emissions in developing countries could amount to around EUR 100 billion annually by 2020, to be met through a combination of efforts, including the carbon market and public finance. The EU’s contribution should be in the range of EUR 2-15 bn.

The European Commission last month said the EU should provide €5bn-7bn of “fast track” funding between 2010 and 2013 to help developing countries “front-load” measures to tackle climate change (EURACTIV 11/09/09). 

Danish compromise in the making? 

If no agreement is reached by the UN negotiating parties in Copenhagen, de Boer confirmed that it will be up to the Danes, ahead of the high-level segment at the end of the conference, to decide how to take the process forward. 

Although no-one wants to talk about a ‘Plan B’, speculation is rife that the Danes are preparing a compromise text that would see the light should all other attempts to reach a deal fail. 

“What has to be absolutely clear is that we do not have another year to sit on our hands until Mexico,” where the next annual UN talks after Copenhagen are due to take place, de Boer said, stressing that this December presents a “unique window of opportunity”. 

China and US will not sign bilateral agreement on targets

Meanwhile, ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to China next month, US climate envoy Todd Stern said the United States did not expect to sign a landmark agreement on carbon emissions targets with China. 

“I don’t think we are getting any agreement per se,” Stern said. 

A deal between China and the United States – the biggest emitters in the world, together accounting for about 40% of greenhouse gases – could help unlock a Copenhagen accord. 

The two countries are expected to agree to deepen cooperation on clean energy ahead of Copenhagen. 

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

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks have been disrupted by a divide between rich and poor countries. Developing nations are asking their industrialised counterparts to commit to sizeable CO2 reductions and to offer financial aid to help poor nations with their efforts. But developed countries have not made any firm commitments on funding, and only the EU has taken on a firm CO2 reduction target, which nevertheless fails to meet the developing world's demands (EURACTIV 29/04/09).

At the sidelines of a G8 meeting in Italy on 9 July, the Major Economies Forum, comprising 17 countries that are accountable for 75% of global emissions, agreed for the first time to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius but failed to come up with targets (EURACTIV 10/07/09).

In an attempt to break the deadlock, the European Commission presented on 10 September a blueprint for international climate funding (EURACTIV 11/09/09). It suggested that the EU's share of climate mitigation and adaptation aid for developing countries could be in the range of 2-15 billion euros a year.

But so far the EU has been unable to decide a common position as its poorer member states are concerned that they will end up paying more than they can afford. A finance ministers' meeting on 20 October failed to produce conclusions on disagreements about fast-track financing between 2010 and 2013, as a coalition led by Poland argued that all such contributions should be voluntary (EURACTIV 21/10/09).

EU leaders are set for difficult talks as they meet this week (29-30 October) to reach an agreement on funding under a new climate treaty ahead of the UN-led Copenhagen conference in December (EURACTIV 27/10/09).

  • 29-30 Oct.: EU summit.
  • 2-7 Nov.: UN negotiations in Barcelona.
  • 7-8 Nov.: G20 Finance ministers meeting
  • 10-11 Dec.: EU summit.
  • 7-18 Dec.: UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen.  

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