March 25, 2009
The success of the Copenhagen Climate Conference is at great risk.
International climate diplomats have lost sight of what it should achieve. They seem more concerned with creating new financial mechanisms for adapting to future climate change than getting tangible reductions of green house gases by the major emitting countries.
Last Friday, the European Council was right in rejecting the call for what would have been a premature endorsement of new international financing mechanisms and underlining the need for exploring in more detail any such mechanisms. The Commission will have to submit proposals for common EU position in Copenhagen.
The misplaced digression into secondary issues like finance mechanisms seems to reflect a growing unwillingness of the international community to take effective action against climate change.
It is deaf to the pressing calls from the scientific community to cut back green house gas emissions substantially below 1990 levels. It is equally deaf to the dramatic appeals by the International Energy Agency, warning its member countries about the risks of non-action and showing them the “technology paths” along which to proceed.
Most technologies for reducing green house emissions are there. But most governments fail to set the right incentives for applying them. Instead of making fossil energies more expensive or imposing strict energy efficiency standards for vehicles, buildings or electric appliances, lamps etc. they continue subsidising oil, gas and coal consumption. In 2007, developing countries have spent more than $ 300 billion to that end!
Finance will come forth, if the right incentives are set. It will essentially have to come from one billion business, home and car owners, not from governments, let alone new international mechanisms.
According to the IEA, humanity will have to invest $ 1.000 billion annually from 2010 to 2050 in low carbon technologies in view of preventing global warming from exceeding 2°! Any new international funding mechanism is peanuts compared to these magnitudes! There is therefore not much point for diplomats, let alone heads of government endlessly quarrelling about. The argument these funds are indispensable for reaching a compromise at Copenhagen between OECD and developing countries only shows its emptiness.
Copenhagen is bound to lead to meaningless results if the major emitting countries fail to commit to substantial reductions of their green house gas emissions. At present this appears as the most likely outcome.
• Green house gas emissions should reach their peak by 2020, before starting their progressive decline towards halving 50 below 1990 levels.
• That requires OECD countries to reduce their emissions by at least one third below 1990 levels and China, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa etc. To expand emissions by less than on third.
• The EU call to its OECD partners for an emission cap of 30 percent below 1990 levels is most likely to go unheard. The US government has already made crystal clear that this is politically and economically out of the question.
• China, Brazil and South Africa have started taking some climate relevant action. But their efforts are likely to remain inadequate.
• Russia and other oil exporting countries are adamantly resisting all calls for serious action, despite their have huge unexploited potential for energy saving and raising energy efficiency.
Effective climate policy begins at home, not at the conference table of climate diplomats. It begins with the awareness of the political elite that continuing business as usual will have disastrous consequences for the future of humanity.
Obama has understood this and reversed a decade of irresponsible energy policy by one of the two major emitter countries. Thanks to this reversal the USA is now in the driver’s seat, together with the EU.
The awareness has to begin at the top level. Obama should therefore invite his colleagues from the EU, China, Russia, India and Brazil for an intimate, but well-prepared meeting in the autumn and convince them to take effective action. Only if the few countries that really matter for the global climate agree among them on meaningful national climate programmes will it make sense to convene a jumbo meeting of close to 200 heads of government and ministers in Copenhagen.
The worst outcome from Copenhagen would be a text lacking backbones, without verifiable national commitments for action and tough compliance mechanisms. The EU needs the courage to say so at the June European Council meeting and let its partners know. As the only group of countries having done its share to reduce green house gases it can afford to speak up.
In any case, defining the outlines for whatever international financial mechanisms at this stage would be putting the cart before the horse!
Brussels 23.03.09 Eberhard RheinAuthor : Eberhard Rhein