The most important international summit in history? Given what the latest scientific reports tell us about the quickening pace of global warming, the sense of urgency driving international attention to the Copenhagen climate change summit is warranted. Yet significant reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions seem unlikely to come as a result of COP15, which begins December 7 and concludes December 18.
Will a legally binding international treaty emerge from COP15? No. Will negotiations between the 192 nations in attendance produce a “political agreement” to be finalized sometime in 2010 and that world leaders will hold up as confirmation of decisive progress toward addressing global warming? Probably.
Four issues will dominate the negotiations taking place inside Copenhagen’s Bella Center. First, developed nations, such as the United States, must commit to significant reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions. Second, developing countries like India and China will have to reduce the rate at which their emissions increase over the next several decades. Third, developed countries will have to provide clean energy technologies and funding to developing nations as they address the effects of climate change. And, finally, negotiators will have to agree on how to monitor and enforce an international climate agreement.
In the past week, there’s been movement on several of these issues. The world’s leading emitters have all proposed cuts to their emissions. China and India have offered to cut their “carbon intensity”–the amount of carbon they emit relative to their economic output. China has pledged a 40 to 45 percent reduction by 2020 from 2005 levels; India has offered 20 to 25 percent, also by 2020 and using a 2005 baseline. The EU long ago agreed to cut its emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, 30 percent if other leading emitters commit to steep cuts. And Obama has now pledged the United States to a 17 percent reduction by 2020 from 2005 levels, which equals a paltry 4 percent from 1990 levels.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has proposed a development fund for financing clean energy technologies and climate adaptation projects in developing countries. Brown suggested that $10 billion should be made available by 2012, increasing to $50 billion a year by 2020.
These commitments, though, are a far cry from what negotiators from the world’s poorest countries, which are also likely to suffer the most from the impacts of global warming, are looking for. Last month, during preparatory negotiations in Barcelona, representatives from African nations held a daylong boycott of climate talks because developed nations did not pledge to reduce their emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, a level consistent with recommendations made by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Brown’s development fund proposal is merely enough, says Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN’s climate change body, to kick-start developing countries’ adaptation. And Brown’s offer is far less then the $200 to $300 billion that others say is necessary. How negotiators from Africa, the Association of Small Island States, and the Least Developed Countries bloc responded to this new round of offers will determine how negotiations proceed over the next two weeks.