The Copenhagen talks have ended in chaos and confusion with the multilateral process stretched to the point of collapse. It seems distrust and narrow self-interest have won the day.
So what now?
The Copenhagen Accord exists and has been heralded by some as a new beginning, involving a wider number of countries in a common effort to avert catastrophe. Despite its unclear legal status, countries who support it should now record nationally derived targets in an annex before the end of January 2010. This raises the question of what targets will countries enter and can they be increased?
Europe was the first to invent the conditional target offering a 20% reduction by 2020 but a higher 30% cut in the event of an international deal. Australia and New Zealand quickly followed suit. The difference between the lower and upper end of the range of targets in Europe represents some 3 billion tonnes of emissions between 2013 and 2020. This is a significant sum. As leaked UN documents showed the gap between what countries are pledging to do over the next decade and what science demands is already worryingly large. If Europe decides to allow 3 billion tonnes more emissions to occur it will knowingly increase the global risk we face, locking in high emission technologies and making the task of catching up more difficult in the following decade.
For the EU, which has long proclaimed its leadership in committing to action on climate change, the move to the higher target should be a no-brainer. The 20% target is now so weak as to be equivalent to business as usual. Compared to a 2005 baseline it will deliver less investment in solutions in the near term than the paltry US target, despite the fact that we have a head start, with the policies in place already to deliver the reductions. [Recent studies]( “”) have shown that hitting the 30% target will cost over €100 bn less than the 20% target would have cost pre the recession partly because of the huge volume of [‘hot air’]( “”) that has been generated under the weak caps set under the much vaunted ‘EU Emissions Trading System’. Tightening caps provides a highly cost effective way of meeting the higher target.
For all these reasons Europe has to move to a higher ambition target and enter it into the accord – to do anything less would be an insult to all those vulnerable countries relying on leadership from developed countries and put us well behind in the race to develop a low carbon economy.
But despite these compelling reasons the EU is prevaricating. The stated reason is that they want to wrest greater commitments from other countries before agreeing to move. But that strategy has clearly failed. Europe cannot now stay at its lower number when it knows that doing so will take us ever further from the goal of 2 degrees they claim they so vehemently support. They would do well to listen to other countries who were unequivocal about their intention to press ahead unilaterally. President Lula demonstrated real leadership when he passionately explained why Brazil would be taking on an ambitious target despite having no obligation to do so, Premier Wen Jiabao used his speech to list off China’s unconditional unilateral climate policies and Obama firmly stated the actions the US was preparing to take to protect their own self interest irrespective of what the rest of the world did. Only Europe persisted in its ineffective ‘I will if you will’ schoolyard strategy.
Obviously the real reason for the EU temerity is the fact that countries such as Germany and Italy are under considerable pressure from industrial lobby groups who know well that a move to a higher target will result in tighter caps on their emissions. But we must persuade Europe’s leaders to move. These are the voices of old industry – the voices of the bright green companies that are emerging to challenge the old order are less clear but they must become more vocal join with NGOs and counter the negative lobbying.
We have a month to turn the EU’s position around. All European NGOs interested in salvaging something positive from the flames of Copenhagen must address their efforts at securing this policy change. Three billions tonnes is worth fighting for – we cannot allow our leaders to knowingly allow this level of pollution. Its time Europe started acting like it truly meant what it said.