Guest Article #30

Copenhagen: from illusion to political hope

The Climate Conference underway in Copenhagen may not satisfy expectations created two years ago in Bali, but it is the opportunity to establish a fair and comprehensive Global Covenant to enhance the international community's answer to climate change. Humankind needs a solid commitment which addresses all of the outstanding substantive and political elements, including: comparable emission reductions efforts from all developed countries; enhanced and enabled mitigation actions from developing countries that already have global economic impact; and the provision of financial and technical cooperation to developing countries needing it. The agreement in Copenhagen, setting binding lines of immediate action, must lead to a constructive round of negotiations in 2010.

It was naive to presume that a new American Administration would be ready to undertake legally binding commitments ten months after its inauguration. Within the US, the Bush Administration's denial of the consequences of increased global warming delayed research and development of new technologies and renovation of capital goods during eight years. Concerned by competitiveness in international trade and without a clear knowledge of the future American contribution to mitigation efforts, a number of countries have difficulties in defining their own positions.

What are the main players' positions in the negotiations? US President Barack Obama's attendance in Copenhagen is a positive signal, so is the US Environmental Protection Agency's decision to include carbon dioxide within its mandate. Obama's offer - 17% reduction on 2005 US emissions - implies that by 2020, US emissions would attain the level it pledged to reach by 2000, according the 1992 Convention, which binds the US. Although this proposal may not seem ambitious enough to some, one should recall that between 1990 and 2000, US emissions increased by 14%.

The EU adopted its targets early on: 20% reduction by 2020 and 50% by 2050 based on 1990 levels. We now have to wait for the final agreement. I remember the EU arriving at Kyoto with a proposal to reduce all developed countries' emissions by 15%, but only being able, at the end of the negotiations, to commit to an 8% reduction of its own emissions. Some EU members have suggested the possibility to terminate the Kyoto Protocol (KP) in 2012, at the end of the first commitment period. The KP was designed to endure and subsequent commitment periods were provided for in art. 3.9., which binds all parties. The simple idea of a disruption of the Protocol regime, in the absence of any concrete legally binding proposal for the future, will create a vacuum and there is not warranty that all present parties to the Protocol would ratify a hypothetical, currently unknown, substitute.

The Russian announcement to reduce emissions by 15% below 1990 levels, in absolute numbers means a 15% increase from present emission levels. The Japanese offer to reduce 25%, has created a serious domestic debate.

As for developing countries, high level statements from China and Brazil are not only encouraging, but may also contribute to the adoption of a Global Covenant. Since 2007, China is the largest global source of emissions and this country's decision to join global mitigation efforts should encourage India to do more. South Korea already offered a target for reduction; and Mexico, probable host of the Climate Conference next year, is also indicating the preparation of a similar announcement. Indonesia and South Africa are developing countries next in line. Other developing countries, including my own, Argentina, should be prepared to undertake a more active role in the mitigation and adaptation process.

The whole negotiation is complex and needs to be streamlined by political will. Presently it evolves in two parallel main tracks, with almost 30 “contact groups” working simultaneously. Debates on technology transfer are endless, but real tech transfers only happen as part of investment projects that developed countries should promote with financial and fiscal incentives. Provision of financial resources for developing countries programmes need to be increased, as well as the number and quality of those projects. The definition of the legal format for the new commitments is not a minor point, and is still pending. Some technical parameters adopted in 1997 to add up different gases, need to be updated.

Achieving a Global Covenant based on the above is not simple, requires a reliable and wise leadership, but it is a must.