Hopes fade for climate treaty


With the clock running out and deep differences unresolved, it now appears there is little chance that international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December will produce a comprehensive and binding new treaty on global warming.

The United States and many other major emitting countries have concluded that it is more useful to take incremental but important steps toward a global agreement rather than to try to jam through a treaty that is either too weak to address the problem or too onerous to be ratified and enforced.

Instead, representatives at the Copenhagen meeting are likely to announce a number of interim steps and agree to keep talking next year.
“There isn’t sufficient time to get the whole thing done,” Yvo De Boer, who heads the UN climate secretariat and serves as the de facto overseer of the negotiations, said. “But I hope it will go well beyond simply a declaration of principles. The form I would like it to take is the groundwork for a ratifiable agreement next year.”
Negotiators have accepted as all but inevitable that representatives of the 192 nations in the talks will not resolve the outstanding issues in the brief time remaining before the Copenhagen conference opens in December. The gulf between rich and poor nations, and even among the wealthiest nations, is just too wide.

Helping poor countries
Representatives of the 16 largest emitting countries plus the European Union, who concluded a meeting in London on Monday, said they had made progress on the level of aid needed to help poor countries adapt to climate change and adopt less-polluting energy technology.

They also said they had settled some questions on the ‘architecture’ of any agreement reached in Copenhagen, while acknowledging that it would fall short of a binding treaty.
Yet expectations remain high for a meeting that carries important weight not just for the environment but for a broad range of international issues, including trade, security, economic development, energy production, technology sharing and the very survival of some vulnerable island nations.

So officials are now narrowing expectations and defining the areas where there is agreement, such as the need to halt and then reverse the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, although how and by whom remains the subject of intense dispute. Negotiators are also discussing what form any declaration that emerges from Copenhagen might take and how to ensure that any promises made there are kept.
Among the chief barriers to a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen is US Congress’ inability to enact climate and energy legislation that sets binding targets on greenhouse gases. Without such a commitment, other nations are loath to make their own pledges.
The chief American climate negotiator, Todd Stern, said he will not go beyond what Congress is willing to endorse. His deputy, Jonathan Pershing, affirmed this at a negotiators’ meeting in Bangkok. “We are not going to be part of an agreement we cannot meet,” he said.

Administration officials and congressional leaders have said that final legislative action on a climate bill will not occur before the first half of next year.
European officials have been pressing hardest for some form of binding treaty modelled on the Kyoto protocol of 1997, which the US refused to ratify because it imposed emissions limits on developed nations while demanding nothing of rapidly growing economies like China and India.

American officials have said that no agreement at Copenhagen is better than a bad deal that cannot be ratified or enforced. They note that it took four years after the initial negotiation of the Kyoto accord to complete it.

There is general agreement among international negotiators and observers that the parties to the Copenhagen talks, held under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will agree to continue discussions next year, and perhaps set a deadline for reaching a final agreement by mid-year or December 2010.
The rest of the outcome, even the form it may take, remains uncertain. The world’s biggest economies agreed at a meeting last summer in D’Aquila, Italy, on a goal of limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Fahrenheit above current levels, though they did not agree on the means to get there or on how to enforce it. Such a goal is expected to be part of any declaration from Copenhagen.

Also likely to be included is a statement that wealthy nations should cut their emissions below certain benchmarks and that emerging economies should reduce their rate of emissions growth below a business-as-usual curve. No numbers were attached to either of these pledges and that remains the stickiest of issues.

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