ANN CAHILL: Leaders to continue trying for climate deal

GOVERNMENTS from around the world will this week sort through the outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit as the UN prepares to try again for a binding global agreement next year.

The Copenhagen meeting, which was the largest gathering in the UN’s history of heads of state and government, was considered to be a failure as the 119 leaders did not commit to cut greenhouse gas emissions by specific figures over the next decade.

Countries have until the end of January to say what their voluntary reductions will be, but those announced at the conference would allow temperatures to rise above the critical 2 degrees C which scientists say would mean devastation for millions of people.

Failure to get the world’s two largest carbon emitters, the US and China, to commit to legally binding reductions is a major problem. China said they would reduce the intensity of their emissions as their economy grows.

But European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said that this approach could see China’s emissions double in a decade. “It depends on their growth,” he said.

The agreement reached with China and the other BASIC countries – India, Brazil and South Africa – by the US was, said Environment Minister John Gormley, “about watering down the targets”.

The UN’s chief negotiator on climate change, Yvo de Boer, said work needs to begin immediately on getting a better deal. Speaking of the accord, he said, “It is a letter of intent and is not precise about what needs to be done in legal terms. So the challenge is to turn it into something real, measurable and verifiable,” he said.

Two years work went into negotiating details on everything from how a tonne of carbon should be measures – vital for a world-wide market in carbon trading – to how to help poor countries cope with the worst effects of global warming.

This work will now continue, Mr de Boer said, and they will try to get a legally binding agreement at the next UN Climate Change conference next year in Mexico City following a major two week negotiating session in Germany in June.

But many fear that the weak accord has set back the goal of getting a global agreement.

Climate sceptic US Republican Senators including James Inhofe who were in Copenhagen said that the outcome would make it more difficult for climate change legislation including a carbon cap-and-trade bill getting the two thirds support it needs to pass the Senate.

President Barack Obama needed to have the Chinese saying that they would be transparent on measurement, reporting and verification of their carbon-curbing programme in order for the bill to pass.

He achieved this in part although China insisted they will monitor themselves on projects they fund domestically, though they will report internationally.

The failure has also made European business worried as EU countries have committed to the biggest reductions in carbon in the world – an average by the 27 member states of 20% by 2020 with Germany and Sweden at 40%. “European companies have to pay for their emissions under the EU Emission Trading Scheme are as exposed to carbon leakage as they were before Copenhagen,” said Business Europe.

Sweden’s prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt representing the EU said they did not want to rupture the process, so they agreed to the deal. But he admitted that it was not enough and said they had been fighting not to go backwards.

He and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso were clearly disgusted at the outcome and the fact that the EU was completely sidelined.


Louisa Earls is a manager at Books Upstairs, D’Olier St, Dublin, which is owned by her father, Maurice Earls.Virus response writes a new chapter for Books Upstairs

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