Paris: Key meetings unfolding in Washington, New York and Pittsburgh in the coming week may determine whether a two-year effort to combat climate change will triumph or be written off as a flop of historic dimensions.
Negotiations under the United Nations (UN) flag are tasked with delivering a treaty in Copenhagen in December to curb the emissions that drive global warming and help poor countries most threatened by drought, flood and rising sea levels.
But for months the process has been deadlocked by rifts between rich and developing countries over how to divvy up the task of slashing greenhouse gases and who should pay for it. The more than 190 nations at the table cannot agree on the treaty’s geometry or even on a procedure for drafting the text.
Pressure is mounting for a breakthrough in what has been dubbed “Climate Week,” which kicks off in Washington on Thursday and Friday with a ministerial-level gathering of the world’s 17 largest carbon polluters.
Next Tuesday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon will host a climate summit in New York, to be followed by a two-day Group of Twenty (G-20) summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 24-25. In the corridors, bilateral talks and haggling among blocs of nations will help shape the Copenhagen denouement.
“This is a critical moment for the climate change debate,” said US senator John Kerry, who is fighting to push ambitious domestic energy and climate legislation through the Senate. “What happens now in September is going to lay a lot of the foundation for what is achievable in December.”
“The situation is a little desperate, and time is slipping through our fingers,” Brazilian environment minister Carlos Minc told AFP. “If we want an agreement in Copenhagen, we need to make real progress here and now.”
“This is a unique opportunity to show political will and face up to global warming,” said Kim Carstensen, head of the WWF’s global climate initiative. “Without new, powerful political impetus at the meetings in September, the climate negotiations could be doomed.”
Poor and emerging economies say the US, Japan and the European Union (EU) are historically responsible for today’s global warming.
Rich countries acknowledge that charge but say the problem of climate change will only be resolved if China, India and Brazil—the big polluters of tomorrow—take on firm, if lesser, commitments too.
Developing nations are demanding that wealthy ones commit to cutting carbon pollution by at least 40% before 2020. An 80-strong bloc of small island states and the world’s least developed nations have set the bar at 45%.
That is a far cry from the offers of the table, even from the EU, which has unilaterally vowed to slash emissions by 20% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. The US 2020 targets remain modest by comparison: legislation wending its way through Congress would trim carbon dioxide output by about 4% off the same 1990 benchmark.
The one silver lining is Japan, whose incoming government has offered to cut carbon dioxide pollution by 25%, if others follow suit.
A UN panel of climate scientists have said developed nations must cut emissions by 25-40% by 2020, and by at least 80% by 2050, to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels. On finance, the gap is even larger.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calculates that, by 2020, the cost of mitigating and adapting to climate change will be $100-200 billion (Rs4.8-9.7 trillion) per year.
Some estimates are even higher.
But even the modest down payment called for by the UNFCCC of $10 billion has caused wealthy nations—coping with stalled economies and concerned about the money will be managed—to balk.
Much of the focus will be on the two biggest emitters of CO2, the US and China, whose leaders are expected to stake out their positions at the special UN summit.
“The crucial question is this,” said Kerry. “Can we forge a partnership that can act boldly enough to prevent a climate catastrophe?”