Rhein on Energy and Climate

In two months another climate conference will take place. Formally it will be the 16th meeting of the “Contracting Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change” (COP 16).

Nobody following climate issues has high expectations for its outcome. That makes it different from Copenhagen. After the failure of the climate legislation package in the Congress, the USA will not be in a position to make any commitments for cutting emissions. China will hide in the woods, as long as the USA, number two emitter of climate gases, will not act convincingly and take the lead. And the EU will not take additional commitments as long as other big emitters are delaying action.

Cancun will therefore be at best a sort of interim meeting on the way to South Africa (COP 17) in late 2011. But that meeting is also bound to fail unless the parties will achieve some practical results at Cancun.

So far only the EU Climate Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, has expressed her views on what she expects from Cancun. Basically she hopes to achieve progress in three areas: protecting tropical rain forests, curbing C02 emissions from air transport and finalising the financing package 2010-12 for climate measures in developing countries.

The three issues have been under discussion for more than three years.

A deal on a better protection of tropical forests was well advanced before the Copenhagen meeting in the fall of 2009. In view of the very negative impact further forest destruction would have for the global climate there is no time to be lost to finally address it.

Air transport is the fastest growing emitter world-wide. It can effectively only be addressed by global action. The EU rightly insists on the need for the International Air Transport Organisation to (IAC0) to provide for the necessary framework. The ministers assembling at Cancun should therefore invite the IACO to submit a set of comprehensive proposals for reducing CO2 emissions from air transport for the Climate Conference in South Africa.

In Copenhagen the developed countries had agreed to make available $ 20 billion for climate adaptation in developing countries during 2010-12. Cancun has to decide on the framework and the priorities for such a programme. The most effective, though a bit unorthodox way would be to allocate the total amount to the preservation of tropical forests, via the REDD programme.

Connie Hedegaard forgot another pressing issue to be addressed at Cancun: phasing out subsidies on fossil energy.

These boost to C02 emissions and constitute a major impediment to investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Their volume is huge, $ 550 billion in 2008 according to the IEA. It should be possible to achieve a consensus on phasing them out by 2020 This would reduce global C02 emissions by 7 percent and help mobilising the huge amounts of public finance that need to be invested in renewable energies.

The EU should link its agreement to the 2010-12 financial packages to an agreement on phasing out fossil energy subsidies. Indeed, the G 20 has agreed on such a phasing out at their Pittsburgh Summit in 2009. China, Russia, India and Indonesia have made some progress in that direction. But it remains necessary to put pressure on the main culprits, i.e. Iran, Venezuela, Iraq and Egypt.

Assuming agreements on fossil energy subsidies, deforestation, air transport and the modalities for the financial package 2010-12 the contracting parties should start debating on the type of agreement for South Africa in late 2011.

The “Copenhagen Accord”, to which 139 parties have signed up, seems to be the best agreement the international community can reasonably hope for in the medium-term. It does not constitute a formal international agreement with binding commitments. But it lists the major objectives that the international community should pursue (stabilisation of temperatures, stabilisation and reduction of green house gas emissions, mitigation and adaptation measures etc.)

It is the only document that contains emission targets for major emitter countries accounting for some 90 percent of global emissions. But the list has not been established according to common standards. The reference dates vary: many countries tie their emissions to external conditions to be met, e.g. financial support; few countries have given any indications on how to achieve their targets.

The Accord stipulates a review of achievements in 2015. This is too long.

To be serious the parties have to review implementation as of 2011 and establish a working party to that end, which should carefully scrutinise the measures taken and the results achieved by each country. The working party must be staffed by a professional secretariat able to undertake the necessary analyses and impose common rules for measuring emissions. This is essential for proper verification and monitoring. The working party should therefore progressively become the crucial “work horse” of international climate policy allowing for critical assessment and mutual learning about policy making and technologies.

The Copenhagen Accord should supersede the Kyoto Protocol which has lost its relevance as an effective instrument for coping with climate change, as very bit emitter countries like USA, China, Brazil, India have not signed up for it.

International climate policy needs to become more realistic than in the past decade. There is no hope for mandatory emission targets in the foreseeable future. Nor is there hope for emerging countries cutting their emissions before 2020. All one may hope for is a growing awareness among major emitter countries of the need for action. This awareness will grow with the frequency of severe climate catastrophes, rising prices of fossil energies and progress in technologies, which will offer opportunities for employment, exports and profits.

The EU can boast of being more aware than any other single country, though it also must work hard to overcome vested interests opposing green taxes, insulation standards, wind turbines and transmission networks. Whatever its internal obstacles it should continue leading the way for other countries to follow.

Brussels 05.10.10 Eberhard Rhein

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