Rhein on Energy and Climate

10 days before the start of the Copenhagen climate negotiations the outcome seems slightly more open than a few weeks ago.

· The scientific community has just in time presented new evidence about the extremely risky acceleration of climate change, thereby putting negotiators under heavy pressure to come to substantive agreement now, rather than accepting further delays.

· The international community seems finally understand somewhat better the high stakes of what will be decided in Copenhagen. Some 60 countries will therefore be represented at the level of heads of government. Visibly no government wants to appear as the “spoiler”.

· That is why most developed countries have announced emission reduction targets for 2020 ahead of the Conference. But most of these appear too positive as they are based on 2005 rather than on 1990, the Kyoto-agreed reference year.

These developments are unfortunately no guarantee for a successful outcome. Far from it!

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The developed countries` reduction targets remain very far below of what is required to slow the pace of climate change and give an incentive to emerging countries to take more action against climate change. Scientists insist on developed countries to commit to a reduction of 25-40 percent by 2020 below 1990 levels; but – barring miracles – developed countries as a group will not descend more than five percent below their 1990 emissions. The EU will be the honourable exception; the USA, Korea, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, not to mention the OPEC countries, fall very short of what they ought to do. This in turn will not induce China, India and Brazil and others to being more forthcoming.

Negotiators are therefore likely to get caught in a downward dynamics. Negotiators from democratic countries, which have already adopted legislation or are still in the legislative process, will not dare to go beyond their legislators, fearing more ambitious targets will not be ratified. And emerging countries will continue to insist that rich countries deliver first before they will join forces.

There might be two ways out of this dilemma:

· The first one would be a deal between key emitter countries to go beyond their modest targets, on the basis adequate reciprocity. Thus the EU might accept a 30 percent reduction if all other OECD countries committed themselves to reduce their emissions by 20 percent until 2020/25 over 1990 (!) and emerging countries to peak their emissions before 2025.

· The second one would be for those developed countries unwilling or unable to commit to 20 percent reductions by 2020/25 to agree to pay the lion’s share for the conservation of tropical forests, which would be as important for climate stability as C02 reductions by developed countries.

These would be optimal outcomes from Copenhagen. But Copenhagen will hardly offer a fertile ground for these types of concrete negotiations. Negotiators risk being lost in complex legal and institutional issues, from financing climate adaptation to “commitments”, monitoring and eliminating the many brackets in the draft text.

It is therefore more likely that Copenhagen will end after two weeks of confusing and often frustrating discussions with minimalist results that will not lead to any slowing down of global green house gas emissions at all in the next 10 years.

The UN machinery will have proved unable to forge an effective global climate pact. It had opened too many complex avenues and tried to satisfy too many diverging interests.

The OECD countries will bear a huge responsibility for a failure in Copenhagen. Most of them have lacked compliance with their Kyoto commitments and fallen short on future commitments.

If this pessimistic scenario turns out to become true, the EU will have to launch a high level political campaign of persuasion in the very first months of 2010 trying to convince its OECD partners to shoulder their responsibilities and accept targets and policies similar to those that the EU has adopted during the past two years. This might be very first challenge for the future Commission for climate policy.

It should equally propose that the IEA becomes the future watch dog for climate and energy policies of its member countries.

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Without an agreement on effective global action before the end 2010 Humanity can only “hope” that the acceleration of climate change, in melting glaciers, more droughts and floods, more intense tropical storms, melting of permafrost etc. will scare the political leadership in countries like USA, Canada, China and India sufficiently fast for a dramatic change of awareness and radical climate policies.

“Green industries” might help in awareness buildings serve as pressure groups for amending inadequate climate and energy legislations. Front-runners like the EU and courageous NGOs like Green Peace should constantly monitor shortcomings of laggard countries and step up pressure upon them to act.

But it is not at all sure that all this will lead to timely and effective action before serious damage from climate change will have become irreversible.

Brussels, 25.11. 09 Eberhard Rhein

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