Climate change activists are pooling their resources as we speak in Barcelona at the Barcelona Climate Change Talks. This is an antecedent to the big United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December where countries are expected to draft real solutions to stopping the over-production of greenhouse gases. Part-time Green Prophet Stacy Feldman reports from Barcelona:
It’s crunch time on global climate change.
This week, delegates from 192 nations are meeting in Barcelona, Spain, for the final five days of global negotiations leading up to the make-or-break UN Climate Change Conference from Dec. 7-18 in Copenhagen.
For two years of these climate treaty negotiations, oil-producing Middle Eastern economies have gotten flack for fighting to protect the oil trade and not the planet. At the Bangkok climate talks in October, the Saudi delegation led a quiet campaign to get compensation from nations that cut oil consumption due to coming carbon regulation, a position it first took back in 2000.
Barcelona is likely to produce similar distractions. But on day one, the talks were centered squarely on the United States delegation, the key player in bringing serious financing commitments and credibility to a climate treaty.
America must deliver targets, the UN warns
In an unusually firm warning, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said the U.S. must deliver concrete mid-term greenhouse gas reduction targets by next month or it will destroy efforts to achieve a framework for a global climate change deal in Copenhagen.
“I do not think the international community will accept an agreement that lacks clarity from the U.S. on targets,” de Boer said on Monday.
De Boer’s worst fear is that the Copenhagen conference will end with a lack of clarity on key issues and lead to a protracted political standoff.
“Negotiations must stop at Copenhagen. Otherwise negotiations will drag on when only the technical work should be going on,” he said.
A decision by the Obama administration to put a concrete 2020 target on the table could be the game changer for the world, he suggested.
And according to de Boer, it’s possible. For one, there is an emerging consensus from Congress, big business, the U.S. energy industry and the public on the value of climate change change action for the first time, he said. That stands in stark contrast to 1997, the year the Kyoto Protocol was secured, when Congress perceived climate laws as damaging to the economy and the Kyoto Protocol as letting developing nations off scot free.
But the fact remains: There are still no specific commitments from the U.S., or any sign that they are coming.
In contrast, de Boer praised developing nations, including China, India, Mexico and Brazil, for already coming to the table with ambitious goals, leaving the U.S. looking like a laggard.
Jonathon Pershing, deputy special envoy for climate change, who is representing the U.S at the Barcelona talks, said America’s development of a domestic target for greenhouse gas cuts is currently underway in Congress, and blaming the U.S. at this stage is not constructive for international negotiations.
The U.S. climate legislation wending its way through the Senate this week would commit the United States to a roughly 7 percent cut below 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2020. The U.S. House signed off on an even weaker commitment. Both are substantially lower than the EU target of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, which could jump to 30 percent if other rich nations sign on. Japan recently pledged a 25 percent cut in its emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels.
Targets still uncertain
On top of that, the passage of climate reduction targets remains uncertain — and unlikely before December.
According to Angela Anderson, director of the Climate Change Program at the U.S. Climate Action Network, the U.S. is not likely to put a specific level of emissions reduction on the table until the bill becomes law. The reason is that “that the Obama administration does not want not go down the same road as Kyoto,” she said, and put an international climate treaty before Congress that cannot be ratified.
While de Boer focused on America’s obligation to cut its emissions, he also drove home this vital point: It is “absolutely feasible” to arrive at specific figures for all of the four “political essentials” — ambitious mid-term targets for developed nations; nationally appropriate mitigation targets for developing nations; financing to unleash urgent action in developing countries; and a governance structure to implement the mandate.
“I see no need for an extension in the deadline of Copenhagen,” he said.
The key for success, he said, is “absolute clarity” in commitments in a way that all nations can be subsequently held accountable after the Copenhagen summit closes.
Pessimistic nations among us
De Boer, it seems, was working to downplay comments he made last week that a final deal in Copenhagen would be “physically impossible” to achieve. Certain nations were said to be spreading the pessimism deliberately as a means to lower ambitions for success in Copenhagen.
Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for climate and energy, who will chair the Copenhagen talks, agreed with de Boer that while all of the details will not be solved in Denmark, it crucial that the deal “have a binding form” with clear targets so that when the delegations leave Copenhagen they will be forced to deliver on the promises they made.
In regard to the U.S. commitment on carbon dioxide emissions cuts, she said, “It’s hard to imagine how the American president can be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10 in Oslo, 100 kilometers from Copenhagen, and at the same time send an empty-handed delegation to Copenhagen.”
Both Hedegaard and de Boer praised developing nations for presenting goals for tackling climate change.
“Today, already China is the world leader in terms of reducing emissions,” de Boer said. “The world is lacking similar clarity from industrial nations.”
About Stacy Feldman:
Stacy Feldman is co-founder and foreign editor of SolveClimate.com, a news site launched in 2007 that has become part of the global conversation on climate solutions. Previously, she worked as communications director for a an environmental organization in New York. She currently lives in Israel, and has a masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University.