Climate change talks usually carry a rhetorical overdrive that seldom addresses the underlying negotiations that make or break international deals.
This is perhaps the first lesson in the events of the week in Copenhagen, where the world learnt of leaked documents showing how world leaders will be asked to sign an agreement which appears to give more power to rich countries, to the detriment of the greater involvement of the United Nations in climate change deals.
News is in of the leaked Danish text, a secret draft that is understood to carry the signature of the United Kingdom, the United States and hosts Denmark.
At face value, it is a clear departure from the Kyoto protocol’s principle that rich nations, which have emitted the bulk of the CO2, should take on firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, while poorer nations were not compelled to act.
Instead, the draft wants effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank, and even abandon the Kyoto protocol – the only legally binding treaty the world has on emissions reductions. In short the document talks of forcing poorer developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts that were not pay of the original UN document; creating a new breed of poor countries dubbed “the most vulnerable”; weaken the UN’s role in handling climate finance; not allowing poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes. The discrepancy bears witness to the hypocrisy of the talks in Copenhagen.
There is no doubt that the developed world must face up to its responsibilities. And that means avoiding the predicted increase in global average temperature of more than 2C above preindustrial levels; which means a reduction of annual worldwide emissions from the present level of some 50 billon tonnes of carbon-dioxide down to 20 billion by 2050 – that is half what the world was emitting in 1990.
The onus is clearly upon developed countries – read the EU, Japan and the US – but also on developing countries like China and India. This means that given the wealth of these economic powerhouses, rich countries must take the lead in reducing emissions.
They can also offer the finance required to reduce emissions in poorer, developing countries: up to €200 billion required for 2020. It is indeed a lot of money, but a fraction of their GDPs – a small price to pay compared to the costs the global economy will face without a legally binding Copenhagen deal.
And yet, obstacles stand in the way of this deal: US President Barack Obama faces an unyielding Senate, which shot down the Kyoto negotiations and left America out of that deal.
The massive corporate financing of the Senate’s members makes Copenhagen already out of reach. Because even if a legally binding treaty is agreed, getting it ratified and implemented before Kyoto runs out at the end of 2012 looks already hard enough.
Europe itself has a poor track record on meeting its commitments on climate finance. At a UN meeting in Bonn in 2001, the EU, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and New Zealand said they would jointly pay developing countries $410 million a year from 2005 to 2008. Barely 10% of the promised money has so far been delivered.
As the time window for preventing the 2C increase closes fasts, it will be these world leaders that will determine the fate of generations yet to come. Much of what gets decided in Copenhagen will be up to national governments to fully ratify and implement. The tortuous road to prevent the irreversible progress of climate change looks like it has yet to come to an end.
The fact of the matter of simple: clear leadership is needed to forge a legally binding instrument, rather than brave declarations that serve to inspire people to no positive end. Those legally binding obligations all find an answer in the irrefutable, scientific data on climate change. Without the necessary climate finance and ratified legal instruments, this world is heading for disaster.