News | Wednesday, 09 December 2009

The essentials in Copenhagen

Rather than getting every small detail of a new global climate treaty done in Copenhagen, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer hopes the conference will reach agreements on four political essentials.

The UN climate conference in Copenhagen may not yield a new global climate treaty with every minor detail in place. But hopefully it will close with agreements on four political essentials, thereby creating a clarity the world – not least the financially struck business world – needs.
The wish for clarity is expressed by Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in an interview with Environment & Energy Publishing (E&E).
According to Yvo de Boer, the four essentials calling for an international agreement in Copenhagen are:
1. How much are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?
2. How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions?
3. How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change going to be financed?
4. How is that money going to be managed?
“If Copenhagen can deliver on those four points I’d be happy,” says Yvo de Boer.
He sees a need to get something signed and agreed in Copenhagen, but he thinks it will be very difficult to get every final, small detail of a whole new treaty done. The new climate treaty will be replacing the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005.
The Kyoto Protocol which sets binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions has been signed and ratified by 184 parties of the UN Climate Convention. One notable exception is the United States, and Yvo de Boer is “really happy” to see the US back in the international climate change process and that the US is also engaging domestically in the process.
“My big lesson from the Kyoto era is that it’s really important that the government delegation that represents the United States is in close touch with the Senate, with the elected officials on what’s acceptable and what’s not,” says de Boer, and he adds:
“I think that a major shortcoming of Kyoto was that the official delegation came back with a treaty they knew was never going to make it through the Senate. And this time I have the feeling that the communication is much stronger, that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, through John Kerry, is really expressing strongly what they feel needs to be done in Copenhagen.”
Yvo de Boer thinks the Kyoto Protocol was rejected by the US for mainly two reasons. Firstly, because it did not involve action on the part of major developing countries. Secondly, because it was felt by the Bush administration that Kyoto would be harmful to the US economy.
Copenhagen will be a whole different scenario, and de Boer feels confident that President Barack Obama can successfully engage China and India and convince them to sign the next treaty.
“I think that Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Beijing was a really important and encouraging step to get us moving on that road,” says Yvo de Boer.
Asked about the global recession, de Boer thinks it will certainly have an impact on the negotiations in Copenhagen.
“You see already that investments in renewable energy projects are going down, partly because of the oil price going down and partly because of the economic activity going down,” he says.
But even though greenhouse gas emissions are expected to slow down as a result of shrinking industrial activities, de Boer does not believe it will lessen the pressure on countries to act and sign a new treaty.
“I get the impression talking to business people that they still want clarity from Copenhagen. If you’re making investments now, for example in the energy sector, in power plants that are going to be around for the next 30 to 50 years, you can’t really afford to keep waiting and waiting and waiting for governments to say where they’re going to go on this issue.”


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09 December 2009


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