DARK Clouds gather over climate talks
Clouds gather over climate talks
Emissions Targets. Chances of reaching a treaty at next month’s UN conference in Copenhagen appear more remote than ever as the gap in demands between rich and poor countries continues to widen
By WILLIAM MARSDEN, The Gazette November 7, 2009 8:49 AM
Activists demonstrate on the final day of talks in Barcelona yesterday, a precursor to the UN Climate Change Conference Dec. 7-18 in Copenhagen.
Photograph by: GUSTAU NACARINO, REUTERS, The Gazette
MONTREAL – A sense of pessimism and pending defeat has created a scramble to get world leaders to Copenhagen next month for the final negotiations on climate change – but Canada’s negotiator says it’s already too late.
"We are clearly a long way from a treaty," Michael Martin, Canada’s climate change ambassador and chief negotiator, said in an interview as the Barcelona talks drew to a close yesterday.
Martin said the best that can be expected now is a political agreement to spend 2010 working out a final treaty.
Forty world leaders, including those of Germany, Britain and Brazil, say they are ready to make the trip to Copenhagen. There is no word on whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who failed to show up in New York in September for a United Nations climate change summit, will be among them.
But chances of reaching a treaty appear more remote than ever.
The gap in demands between rich and poor countries is widening, even as recent science warns of the increasing gravity of global warming.
As delegates from 192 countries wrapped up the final five days of talks before their ministers meet in Copenhagen Dec. 7, rich and poor nations decried the fact that two years of negotiations had so far produced a stalemate on the key issues of emission reduction targets and financing.
Both issues have been persistent sticking points, made worse by the refusal of the United States to put any numbers on the table while demanding that developing countries make pledges.
Poor countries as well as emerging economies like China, India and Brazil claim that aggregate targets so far from developed nations – which would see greenhouse gas emissions cut anywhere from 11 to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 – are far too low. They say the figure must be at least 40 per cent.
At one point, the African countries walked out of the talks Tuesday and returned only after rich nations agreed to spend more time discussing emission reduction targets. Support for their actions came from the Alliance of Small Island States and the G-77 plus China, which consists of 130 developing countries. The G-77 warned that it would abandon the talks in Copenhagen unless rich countries agreed to higher targets.
"Unless we get deep emission reductions and significant financing in a legally binding deal, we will not sign it," G-77 spokesperson Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping of Sudan told journalists.
The financing from rich countries would help poor countries reduce their emissions, adapt to climate change and convert to a clean energy economy.
Di-Aping noted that Africa and small island states already are experiencing serious effects of climate change including drought, flash flooding, rising seas and contamination of fresh water in coastal areas.
"The countries that are the least responsible for climate change are the most affected," he said.
Even rich countries left the Barcelona meeting split on their targets, with Europe calling for a drop of 20 to 30 per cent below 1990 levels, while other countries like Canada, the United States and Australia claim they can manage only much lower figures. Canada has pledged three per cent of 1990 levels.
Canada and the United States have been criticized for obstructing the process. Canada won the Climate Action Network International’s Fossil of the Week award for doing "the most to block progress in climate negotiations." The U.S. came in second.
Martin said Canada will not change its target, and he claimed that most rich countries are equally entrenched.
"We have been very straightforward with our partners on this," he said. "We are not playing games. This is a very serious matter. These numbers, our 2020 target, has been developed over time." He defended Canada’s target as "more ambitious" than those of many other countries because Canada does "not envisage that we are going to have significant use of offsets to meet that target." He added that Canada’s targets are "going to require a lot of structural change" throughout the country.
Canada is looking to use international and domestic offsets to help meet its target. In other words, it hopes to claim emission credits through curtailment of deforestation at home and abroad to offset emissions from such enormous polluters as the oilsands.
Environmentalists have criticized Canada for supporting vague wording in a treaty that would allow it to claim offsets even though they do not lead to any real reductions in emissions.
Martin said it is uncertain what percentage of the targets will be covered by offsets, but that it probably won’t be more than 10 per cent.
The exact amount will depend, he said, on the final structure of the proposed international cap and trade system and the price of carbon credits.
With little time left to reach a treaty in Copenhagen, Martin claimed the only possible next step is to reach a political agreement on the issues of targets, finance and technology transfer to poor and developing countries.
Despite clear opposition from developing countries on the stated targets of rich countries, Martin said he believes that enough progress has been made on each of these fronts – targets and finance in particular – to allow the environment ministers to reach a political consensus in Copenhagen.
He said the best that can be expected to come out of Copenhagen is "clarity on the key issues and how that will be translated into a treaty outcome." If that can be accomplished, he said he hoped a treaty will be ready "by the end of 2010" at the latest.
A glimmer of hope that America might put figures on the table came this week from the U.S. Senate committee on the environment, which approved a bill that called for emission cuts of seven per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. But whether that will translate into a treaty figure for the U.S. in Copenhagen, U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing yesterday refused to say.
Meanwhile, one major country has yet to be heard from. Russia held up the Kyoto Protocol for two years and almost scuttled the Montreal meeting in 2005 with last-minute demands. One high-placed Russian delegate had ominous words for Copenhagen: "I don’t care about the science," he said in an interview. "All I care about is the economics."