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Still an “uphill battle” to Copenhagen

news.2009.factorysmokeGetting a climate deal agreed in December will require an ‘uphill battle’ said UK energy and climate change Secretary Ed Miliband in London yesterday, despite incremental progress from the world’s largest economies on agreeing the way forward.

Miliband addressed the press following a two-day meeting of the Major Economies Forum, a US-inspired initiative that includes 17 of the world’s developing and emerging economies. The meeting aimed to address some of the key obstacles to securing a global treaty and involved six guest nations, including some of the world’s poorest such as Ethiopia.

Although the forum is not part of the formal UN negotiation process, its members collectively account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, so any shift in their positions will significantly affect prospects for reaching an agreement in Copenhagen.

I attended the press conference and reported the story for Nature News [subscription]. It’s interesting, as Andy Revkin points out over on Dot Earth, that the final communiqué from the meeting was seen by some observers as empty rhetoric but by others as containing substantial signs of progress.

Miliband certainly gave the impression that the meeting was successful, saying “there was a sense that substantial progress had been made”. That was reflected to some extent in the press coverage.

But Miliband was scant on the details of what exact progress had been made. He highlighted three areas where agreement had been reached: the need to substantially increase funding for adaptation and mitigation in the developing world (but he didn’t say by how much or by when), how that money will be transferred (this presumably relates to the decision that the UN, rather than the World Bank, will administer the fund) and the need for an international deal to reflect current commitments by both rich and poor nations (an issue that’s important to the US; Stern said there won’t be an agreement without this).

A cursory look at the communiqué suggests that progress by the MEF this week was incremental, and perhaps even insignificant, given the larger issues on the table. The address by US climate change envoy Todd Stern last night suggested that getting a deal that involves the US will be tricky.

I’ve elaborated on this in the full story, but in short, the US is unlikely to sign up to targets if the Waxman-Markey bill hasn’t passed through the Senate by December. And if it has passed, the issue of the legal framework of the treaty will be contentious: many developing nations want a Kyoto-style protocol, whereas the US isn’t keen on such an agreement, instead favouring one that commits both developed and developing nations to mid-term targets for 2020.

Speaking yesterday in London, Stern said that the US is “historically the biggest emitter, but the capacity of the world to get where we need to go [will] be more determined by what happens in China and other major developing nations in the future. It has to involve the major developing economies – that’s the only way it’s going to work”.

Olive Heffernan

Image: PurestockX


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