Developing nations hold the key to Copenhagen climate agreement
Dec 16, 2009 - Jim Tankersley - Los Angels Times
still hold some bargaining chips, but many negotiators and observers say key decisions
by poor and emerging nations will make or break any deal.
speaker discusses climate change at the Copenhagen summit. U.S. negotiators spoke
optimistically about reaching a deal. (Kay Nietfeld / European Pressphoto Agency
/ December 15, 2009)|
Reporting from Copenhagen - The
world's poorest and fastest-growing developing nations appear, increasingly, to
hold the fate of a new climate agreement in their hands. The choice they face
is, deal or no deal?
As the Copenhagen climate summit barreled into its
penultimate phase Tuesday, wealthy countries ramped up pressure on emerging economies
China and India, as well as African and island nations, to compromise and drop
near-daily procedural tactics and protests that have slowed the negotiations.
Rich nations still hold some bargaining chips, chiefly how much money they're
willing to commit to help developing countries adapt to climate change and shift
their energy sources over the long term.
A collapse in negotiations would
trigger a blame game in which developing nations brand the United States and the
West in general as the villains. Still, many negotiators and observers here say
most of the key decisions that will seal or scuttle an agreement rest with poor
and emerging nations.
China and India, whose booming economies are projected
to account for much of the world's emissions growth in coming decades, must decide
whether they can accept the two conditions the U.S. calls fundamental to an agreement:
that all nations make their carbon dioxide emissions reduction pledges clear and
that they allow the world to verify that the pledges in fact are met.
and island nations, for their part, must choose whether to accept greenhouse gas
reductions for the developed world that are far weaker than the poor countries
would like; scientists warn that the reductions proposed by wealthy nations might
not be enough to spare the world's poorest nations from flood, famine and other
devastating effects of climate change.
Inside the Bella Center, the venue
for the negotiations, summit attendees with deep ties to the developing world
diverged sharply on whether those nations would ultimately strike an agreement
or walk away.
"Only a fool will tell you definitely they know what China's
midnight position will be," said Peter Goldmark, who directs the climate and air
program for the Environmental Defense Fund, a group that works closely with China.
Goldmark thinks China will ultimately hold its line and reject international
emissions-pledge monitoring in any form, a move U.S. officials insist would kill
hopes for a deal. Other groups say China, the world's largest emitter, does not
want to risk blame if the talks fall through.
"They really want a deal,"
Keya Chatterjee, director of the U.S. climate change program for the World Wildlife
Fund, said of the Chinese. "They really care what the world thinks of them."
negotiators sided with the optimists Tuesday. "I actually think we're going to
get there with China," Todd Stern, the U.S. special climate envoy, told reporters.
"But you know, I don't know for sure yet."
Leaders of the Copenhagen negotiations
are aiming for a framework agreement, including costs and emissions reduction
commitments, that would pave the way for a new international global warming treaty
to be signed later, probably next year. If major emitters don't reach agreement
in Copenhagen, observers say, international talks could be set back indefinitely,
along with the Obama administration's climate bill in Congress.
groups say the United States and its allies have given developing nations ample
reason to shoot down an accord, by proposing emission cuts too light to avert
the worst effects of warming; by failing to provide fiscal details of a long-term
climate aid package to the developing world; and, in the case of Europe and many
other economic powers, by not moving aggressively to extend the Kyoto Protocol,
which sets emissions reduction targets with a process that gives developing nations
a strong voice. (The U.S. never ratified the Kyoto treaty, which a Copenhagen
pact would replace.)
Developed nations "are trying to bully around the
poorest countries in the world, who will be most impacted by climate change,"
said Erich Pica, president of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.
group and others also criticized wealthy countries for what they called a pressure
campaign to bring developing nations on board, including President Obama's calls
Monday to the prime ministers of Ethiopia and Bangladesh to enlist their help
in the climate negotiations.
One of the sharpest critiques came from Desmond
Tutu, the South African archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who said Tuesday
in a letter to African heads of state that the emission cuts on the table would
"condemn Africa to incineration and no modern development."
unlikely, though, that wealthy nations will boost their carbon emission commitments
In his news conference, Stern reiterated that the Obama
administration was unwilling to go beyond its pledge "in the range" of 17% below
2005 levels by 2020, which is roughly the size of the cut laid out in the climate
bill the House passed last month. He also said the total reductions spurred by
climate legislation, which is pending in the Senate, could still end up being
much higher than 17%.
Large sums of financial aid could help bridge the
gap and bring African and island-nation delegates to an agreement, said environmentalists
who spent the day talking with diplomats. "They want to find a way forward" with
a financing package, said Heather Allen, an international advocate for the Natural
Resources Defense Council.
Chinese officials offered similar signals in
Beijing. "We still maintain that developed countries have the obligation to provide
financial support," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, adding that that
was "the key condition for the success of the Copenhagen conference."
Copenhagen, optimism reigned in the pronouncements of conference leaders as the
negotiations shifted to a ministerial level. Dignitaries such as Britain's Prince
Charles and former Vice President Al Gore called for action, and security workers
began preparing for the arrival this week of more than 110 heads of state and
government, including Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
"The deal is
clearly visible," Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said, "and not just
any deal, but a deal that can be . . . a real turning point."
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