Copenhagen: what is at stake?

The biggest climate meeting in history, with participants from 192 nations, begins in Copenhagen, seeking to overcome distrust between rich and poor nations to agree to curbs on greenhouse gas emissions and raise billions for the poor in aid.


All eyes are turned on the 192 country representatives gathered in the Danish capital of Copenhagen for the biggest climate talks in history. As the effects of global warming start to take hold, pressure is piling up on world leaders to reach an ambitious, sweeping agreement to fight climate change.

Scientists say that man-made carbon emissions (also known as greenhouse gases) from burning fossil fuels and massive deforestation are triggering a dangerous rise in the earth’s temperature that threatens life on the planet. If global temperatures rise by more than 2°C, warns the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), every single region of the earth will face the negative consequences of climate change.

A day before the two-week talks formally begin on Monday, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said that time was up to agree on the outlines of a tougher climate deal than previously reached. “I believe that negotiators now have the clearest signal ever from world leaders to draft a solid set of proposals to implement action,” he told reporters.

Succeeding where Kyoto failed

In the past, knowledge of climate change and its risks did not stop man-made greenhouse gas emissions from rising steadily: up by 30% since the 1992 conference in Rio de Janeiro, the first within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

In 1997, the UNFCC spawned the Kyoto Protocol which set the target of a five percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, in particular CO², from 1990 levels by 2012. But because a number of the world’s biggest polluting countries, including the United States and China, failed to ratify the treaty, it too proved insufficient in curbing carbon emissions and the global warming that ensues. 

This time, the United States, China, India and other key countries have announced emissions reductions pledges ahead of the conference, boosting hopes of a successful agreement in Copenhagen. “We will get an agreement – and I believe that the agreement will be signed by all UN member states, which is historic,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende.

According to Yvo de Boer, the Copenhagen talks must deliver three things:

Concrete and ambitious environmental targets for rich countries
“Scientists are saying that we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 and 40% by 2020”, says FRANCE 24 environment editor Eve Irvine. The European Union has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020 and has “added that it may be willing to go up to 30% if other countries make a similar effort,” reported Irvine from Copenhagen. The United States have set lower targets: a 17% reduction based on 2005 emission levels (only a four percent reduction in comparison with 1990 emission levels).

A list of financial pledges to help poorer nations green their economies
“The other big question of the Copenhagen summit is money,” says Irvine. Yvo de Boer

has asked rich nations, in particular the United States, to contribute “at least 10 billion dollars a year” until 2012 to help developing nations invest in green technology. “The UN climate chief told me he is hoping [US President] Barack Obama will come not only with his pockets full of money, but also his suitcases,” says Irvine.

A clear commitment by developing countries to fight against deforestation
Making strong commitments against cutting down primary forests, mainly concentrated in equatorial countries in South America, Africa, and South-East Asia, is one of the major issues at stake in the Copenhagen talks. Scientists believe that massive deforestation is responsible for 20% of global carbon emissions - as much as all of the world’s road, air, ship and rail transport emissions put together. 

De Boer claimed on Monday that the conditions were right for such an ambitious agenda to be reached. “Never in the 17 years of climate change negotiations have so many different nations made so many firm pledges together. Almost every day countries announce new targets or plans of action to cut emissions,” he said.

A strong agreement in Copenhagen would send out important economic signals, giving investors a clearer idea of future government policies on taxing carbon pollution and creating incentives for clean energy (such as wind and solar) and green transport.




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