Copenhagen Climate Conference Heats Up

cop15_logo_img1The heat is on for COP 15 (that’s Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Number 15: whew!). It is beginning to look like this conference is going to be a bit of a dud. Why? Because governments are already facing economic pressures that will make firm, legislated commitments to CO2 emissions reductions targets very difficult to achieve politically. Even the EU, a bastion of forward thinking on climate change if there is one, has struggled to achieve political unity behind its own climate change policy. Developing countries (especially China and India) need to be brought into a treaty but rightly point out that the rich world needs to do more to cut its own emissions and provide financial help to developing countries before it expects them to sign on to economically damaging reduction targets of their own.

What possible formulas exist that might be adopted at Copenhagen? Well, at the July 2009 G8 Summit developed and developing nations agreed that global temperatures should not rise more than 2C above 1900 levels (that is the level above which, the UN says, the Earth’s climate system would become dangerously unstable). The G8 countries committed themselves to cut their emissions of CO2 by 80 percent…by 2050. However, the summit failed to persuade developing countries to accept targets of cutting emissions by 50% by 2050, and no firm plan of action indicating how any of these targets would actually be achieved was presented.

Sounds pretty theoretical to me.

Meanwhile, the European Commission and EU governments agreed on the target of cutting greenhouse gases by at least 20% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. The EU is trying to achieve a 20-20-20 target: a 20% cut in emissions of greenhouse gases (by 2020); a 20% increase in the share of renewables in the energy mix; and a 20% cut in energy consumption (the first target will rise to a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions if an international agreement is reached committing other developed countries and the more advanced developing nations to similar reduction targets). This is kind of a carrot “if you do this we will do even more, double dare ya” kind of move.

But again, plans for implementation are vague and many governments are already squeaking about the costs to their economies, job loss, and so on (all serious issues, of course).

So the final result at Copenhagen may be a classic agreement to do more later, establish principles and guidelines but no binding targets, and even if such targets are set, provide no clear implementation plan at the domestic level.

I hope I am wrong about this, but I think Copenhagen is set to fizzle.

C’mon world leaders, prove me wrong.

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