Copenhagen: Environment ministers made progress on Tuesday towards a scaled-down climate deal in Copenhagen next month, with Washington facing pressure to promise deep cuts by 2020 in greenhouse gas emissions, although a political statement at the much-awaited climate talks, barely 18 days from now, is uncertain.
Getting ready: Danish climate minister Connie Hedegaard (L) and executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer at a press conference in Copenhagen on Tuesday. Casper Christoffersen / AFP
“We still need more movement,” Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change secretariat, told a news conference at the end of two days of talks among 40 ministers from around the world on a deal meant to be agreed at the 7-18 December meet in Denmark.
“Industrialized countries must raise their targets and financial commitments further... I look to the US for a numerical mid-term target and a clear commitment on finance,” he said.
The US is the second greenhouse gas emitter behind China, but US carbon-capping legislation is stalled in its Senate. Many nations say that Washington should promise a deep 2020 cut to help unlock a deal in Copenhagen.
“In the end, an agreement in Copenhagen will depend on an American number. Without a clear and ambitious number, the whole agreement will be in danger,” Swedish environment minister Anders Carlgren, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, said.
Ministers said the informal 16-17 November talks, the last big meeting before Copenhagen, marked a constructive step.
“My feeling is that it looks better today than when we started meeting,” Danish climate and energy minister Connie Hedegaard told a news conference after the meeting.
Several ministers said there was widening acceptance of the idea that the summit would agree a politically binding accord on key issues, but that time was too short to agree a legally binding treaty this year as originally hoped.
“We made progress, but we have a long way to go,” Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh said. “The next six months are going to be much more intensive because you have to translate this politically binding agreement into a treaty.”
Ramesh, who returned to India on Wednesday, said that there was still some hope for an operational agreement in December, which might be like a Copenhagen mandate for action for the coming year.
In 2007, a Bali action plan was finalized so that the world could strike a deal at Copenhagen, which will be delayed further if no agreement is struck.
“More or less the earlier points were reiterated and developing countries said that any proposal that does not conform to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), or the protocol, will not get our support,” Ramesh said.
Many developing nations have strongly opposed any delay of a full treaty, saying their citizens are most vulnerable to impacts of climate change such as heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, rising sea levels, disease or species extinctions.
Denmark envisages a political deal that will include deep 2020 cuts in emissions by all prosperous nations, actions by poor nations to fight climate change, and cash and technology to help the poor cope with global warming.
Ministers in Copenhagen welcomed US President Barack Obama’s statement after a summit in China that Copenhagen should end with a deal that has “immediate operational effect” even if the goal of a legally binding pact is no longer achievable.
Hedegaard said the looming deadline had helped bringing new commitments in recent weeks from nations such as the US, Brazil, South Korea, Indonesia, Mexico and Norway.
Outside the conference centre, a group of demonstrators fell over and played dead beside giant letters spelling “Delay Kills”. They say Copenhagen must agree a full legal text or risk ever more deadly impacts from water shortages and hunger.
But others saw hope of a deal next month. “Reports this week that Copenhagen is as dead as a dodo were wildly exaggerated,” Kim Carstensen, head of WWF’s global climate initiative, said.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, host of the summit, said that Obama’s acceptance of a proposed deal on key points in Copenhagen while delaying a full treaty implied US willingness to promise clear 2020 targets for cuts.
“The American president endorsed our approach,” he said.
Mint’s Padmaparna Ghosh contributed to this story from New Delhi.