Copenhagen Conference: Globally Reducing Emissions

Fri, Dec 11, 2009

Energy Reduction

The main goal of the Copenhagen Conference that began Monday is to set up a basic political policy to reduce global greenhouse gases by a certain amount and to determine how much wealthy countries should pay developing countries not to pollute the environment. The current climate treaty, The Kyoto Protocol, does not expire until 2012, thus whatever treaty is agreed upon at Copenhagen will be non-binding.

There are many issues on the table at Copenhagen and various factions that have divergent agendas. A big component to the Copenhagen Conference hinges upon the Kyoto Protocol and the notion that many countries seem ready to move on from that climate treaty, yet other nations want things to remain the same.

Success at Copenhagen

Yvo de Boer, the Dutch United Nations official leading the talks is quoted in NPR as defining success at Copenhagen if the following is achieved:

  • The rich nations of the world should pledge to reduce their emissions by a reasonable amount and set a timeline for achieving those goals.
  • Rapidly industrializing nations, such as China and India, pledge to take measures to address climate change, even though those will likely fall short of actually reducing their overall emissions.
  • Developed nations put forth a substantial sum of money that can be distributed immediately to the world’s poorest countries so they can start adapting to a changing climate.
  • Nations should start to figure out a long-term mechanism for providing larger amounts of financial support to developing nations so they can undertake climate-friendly activities such as restoring forests and developing clean sources of energy.

Varying Nations and Varying Points of View

The industrialized nations constitute such countries as the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan. Generally these countries share similar views about emission reductions. The United States signed the Kyoto Protocol but it never ratified it so it is not obligated to abide by it. With the exception of the US, these other countries must adhere to the Kyoto Protocol.  These countries are responsible for the majority of the excess carbon dioxide in the environment, and they have accepted responsibility for it. As these are rich countries, they recognize they need to take the most action to reduce emissions. This group would just assume do away with the Kyoto Protocol.

Another informal negotiating bloc, known as G77 and China is a group of roughly 130 developing nations that have no obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. They want it to remain that way. Yet, the industrializing nations, which include China, India, Mexico, South Korea, South Africa and Brazil are under pressure to make binding commitments. A group of 43 nations, known as Small Island States is concerned about their very existence due to rising sea levels. They’re part of the G77.

And there are a group of least developed countries, 48 in total, that make up the poorest in the globe. They want financial assistance in order to develop clean sources of energy and to survive and thrive in the changing climate.

Proposed Emissions Targets

Instead of mandating targets for each nation, the US has suggested that each nation pledge what it can do. The US has made a provisional offer of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020. This is where things were at in 2005. The European Union is pledging to cut emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels, possibly more.

For the first time the developing nations are offering their own targets – not straight reductions, but clean energy initiatives and other projects to halt the increase in emissions. China claims that by 2020 it will reduce gases by 40 to 45 percent below “business as usual,” that is, judged against 2005 figures for energy used versus economic output. India proposes a 20 to 25 percent slowdown in emissions growth.

Success in Copenhagen seems to be elusive and given the non-binding nature of the agreement, it seems that clear targets in reducing emissions will not be achieved in the short term.

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