Climate Negotiations in a Hurry Part I
The world leaders agree with climate scientists that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions sharply in the coming decades to avoid serious consequences of climate change. But they disagree on how to do it. The international climate negotiations have been going on for a number of years without the leaders agreeing on an effective international agreement that can follow the Kyoto Protocol.
- What is the history behind the climate negotiations?
- What are the countries negotiating about?
- Why was there never a climate agreement in Copenhagen?
- What alternative is there for the road ahead?
Ahead of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen in December 2009 , intensive efforts were made to establish a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The Copenhagen meeting was seen as a deadline for a new international climate agreement that should be more ambitious than its predecessor. A new agreement did not come into place, and negotiations continued until the next party meeting (COP16) to be held in Mexico in December 2010.
2: Great hopes for Copenhagen
The climate negotiations in Copenhagen showed how great the gap between rich and poor countries is and how deep the mistrust between the parties is. Many had high hopes for a new binding climate agreement ahead of the meeting, and slogans such as “Hopenhagen” and “Seal the deal” were often used. The meeting also received record media attention, and over 30,000 delegates, members of the press, researchers and activists from 190 countries were present during the negotiations.
At previous party meetings, the negotiating delegations mainly have our bureaucrats and possibly environmental ministers in the last part of the meeting. But a number of heads of state also came to Copenhagen, among them US President Barack Obama. The loss of hope was all the greater when the negotiations had to be concluded without the goal of a new binding international climate agreement having been reached.
There were intense negotiations throughout the two-week meeting. Negotiations in the UN follow a number of formal rules that make the talks slow. This applies in particular to the requirement that decisions must be unanimous and that everyone has the right to speak. The Danish meeting leader Connie Hedegaard tried to bring about informal negotiations between the most important countries, but this was not well received by countries that felt seen in the hallway . These insisted that all countries must attend all negotiation meetings. Informal talks were called undemocratic , especially by the poor countries.
3: The Copenhagen agreement
The most important outcome of the meeting was the Copenhagen agreement. This agreement – which is more of a non-binding statement – aims to reduce emissions so that the global average temperature does not increase by more than 2 degrees . This is a goal that both the EU and Norway had before, and the new thing was that large emitting countries such as the USA, China and India also joined this so-called 2-degree goal . However, the agreement is not legally binding and says little about how the goal is to be achieved. Some researchers believe that we have already emitted so much CO2 that the heating will in any case exceed 2 degrees.
Although negotiations on a new climate agreement were stalled, a number of advances were made on technical issues – such as how the conservation of rainforests should be converted into emission reductions. The rich countries also promised to help finance adaptation to climate change for the poorest countries.
4: After Copenhagen
The next meeting of the Parties to the Climate Convention (COP16) will take place in Cancun, Mexico . Here, the parties will continue the attempt to reach a new international climate agreement that will take over for the Kyoto Protocol. Towards Mexico, there will be more meetings between the parties. It was recently negotiated in the German city of Bonn, where the Secretariat of the Climate Convention is located. Here, the negotiators only agreed that they will have two more negotiation meetings before COP16 in December.
Even with the extra meetings, the leader of the secretariat, Yvo de Boer, believes that the meeting in Mexico will end with a new binding agreement that is more ambitious and which includes obligations for more countries than the Kyoto Protocol.
5: Deep divide between rich and poor countries
The main reason why it is so difficult to reach an international agreement that prevents dangerous man-made climate change may seem to be the deep divide between rich and poor countries . The poor countries believe that the rich countries have accounted for most of the greenhouse gas emissions so far. The rich therefore have the main responsibility for reducing CO2 emissions, it is said. The poor countries want to continue their economic growth in order to reach the level of prosperity of the industrialized countries. To achieve this, they must use more energy, and this in turn will increase greenhouse gas emissions if they do not use renewable energy or nuclear power.
The rich countries agree that they themselves must take the lead and reduce their emissions. But at the same time, they argue that emissions from those countries with strongly growing economies – such as China and India – will increase global emissions further if they do not also commit to curbing their emissions growth in the future. According to collegetoppicks.com, China has now surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitting country. But if we measure emissions per capita, the Americans are far ahead of the Chinese.
Another factor that makes it difficult to reach an effective international agreement is that the climate problem is so complex . This means that climate measures will have major effects on all parts of the country’s economy. This makes the problem more difficult to solve through an international agreement than other environmental problems. An example of an environmental challenge that the world has managed to solve together is depletion of the ozone layer . The Montreal Protocol (agreement) set the framework for replacing the so-called CFC gases with other gases in a solution that was beneficial to all interest groups involved. Such a solution is much more difficult to achieve in an international climate agreement.
The solution to the climate problem is not a solution with a capital L, but a combination of a number of large and small measures that will lead to a redistribution of resources between different countries, companies and individuals.
6: The tragedy of the commons
The problem with global warming is – as the name implies – global. Emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane know no national borders and spread rapidly throughout the world. This means that all countries will benefit from others reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, with the costs it entails for them, while they themselves do nothing. They may even serve where the others have to pay.
This problem is called by researchers the tragedy of the commons , and it can lead to no one seeing the benefit of taking the first step to solve a common problem. An illustrative example of the commons’ tragedy is the phenomenon of overfishing, which empties the sea of fish. Fishermen want to fish even though they know that the fish will disappear if everyone continues to fish as much as before. The only thing that can help is an agreement between all the fishermen on a fixed fishing quota, where everyone tends to avoid overfishing.