Thursday, 9 July 2009

Climate Change Political Essentials for COP15 Copenhagen

Is a further political essential for Copenhagen language which does not perpetuate the developing/developed distinction, but speaks in terms of high, medium or low GHG emitters?

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC considers that the detail of a new climate change treaty will not be finalised at COP15 in Copenhagen in December, and most people would agree with him. He suggests, however, that agreement on 'four political essentials' at the meeting will signal success, with detail being added to the new treaty later. Meaningful answers to the following questions make up those political essentials -
  • What GHG emissions targets industrialised countries will commit to?
  • What limits to emissions growth are major developing countries (e.g. China and India) willing to undertake?
  • How will help for developing countries be financed for both emissions reduction and climate change adaptation?
  • How will such money be managed?
The language of 'four political essentials' is carefully chosen but the key issue is 'how much?'. How many tonnes CO2e emissions reduction can the world achieve over the new commitment period? How many dollars will wealthier nations be willing to pay for this?

China is now the world's largest emitter of GHG but has made efforts to bring renewable energy projects on stream, decommission older fossil fuel plant, and develop a National Climate Change Program. Despite this there is reluctance to commit to quantified emissions reduction targets (see for example Xie Zhenhua). China is currently adopting a position that maintains the developed/developing country divide which is part of the ethos and language of the Kyoto Protocol, rather than admitting that it is now the leader of the select group of the world's highest GHG emitting nations.

Under Kyoto and Bali developed countries take on 'quantified emissions limitations targets' but developing countries undertake 'actions'. This divide is perpetuated in the language of De Boer's 'four essentials'. India, also a significant GHG emitter, has already said that it will not accept emissions targets.

Both China and India are pressing for 'developed' countries to take on substantial GHG limitation targets (25-40% by 2020) and to supply finance for mitigation to help 'developing' countries who will then take 'nationally appropriate mitigation actions'. However both of these developing countries seem reluctant to acknowledge that the burning issue is not categorisation of countries as developed/developing but the need for rapid reduction of global GHG emissions in tonnage terms in the interests of all.

A few percentage points reduction in GHG emissions per year from one of the countries with the highest emissions, achieves far more than all the efforts of tens of smaller low GHG emission countries.

It is time to ask whether new language or new categories are needed to replace 'developed/developing/less developed' in the context of climate change. Maybe countries considering themselves as 'high, moderate, and low GHG emitting countries' with commensurate responsibilities, would refocus the debate and give more prominence to the fundamental issue - that the world must reduce its GHG emissions substantially and as speedily as possible.

All countries should contribute according to their varying capabilities but those countries with high GHG emissions are in the best position to make a real difference.

Should new language be a further political essential for Copenhagen?

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