About Us

Copenhagen talks a four-corner fight

Dec 14, 2009 - grist.org

The UN climate talks which wrap on December 18 now rest essentially on brokering a consensus between four key players.

They have staked out rival positions on a trio of core issues -- curbs on carbon emissions; funding for poor countries badly exposed to climate change; and the legal architecture of the planned post-2012 climate pact.

Following is a snapshot of the negotiating landscape:

-- DEVELOPING COUNTRIES are demanding stiff, binding curbs in emissions by rich nations. Their official demand is a cut of at least 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. They want a post-2012 extension of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol which bind rich nations, but not developing ones, to emissions curbs. They are demanding details on plans to set up machinery for long-term finance, potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

-- EMERGING GIANT ECONOMIES, namely China, India and Brazil, will be the problem polluters of tomorrow. They share the positions of other developing countries but are willing to promise voluntary measures that would brake their forecast surges in emissions. These pledges would not be liable to penalties. The giants are being squeezed, by rich countries and increasingly by the poorest and most vulnerable, to make the pledges as ambitious as possible. Industrialised countries also demand their efforts be subject to international scrutiny, a major sticking point.

-- THE UNITED STATES under President Barack Obama is rolling back the climate policies of the George W. Bush era, during which US emissions surged. But domestic resistance, especially in Congress, has made it very hard to offer cuts in carbon pollution of more than a few percent compared with the 1990 benchmark. It is leading the charge to attach "measurable, reportable and verifiable" provisions to developing country pledges. It also remains outside the Kyoto Protocol, which hugely complicates the quest for a simple, one-treaty architecture. To sweeten the deal, it is under pressure to contribute hugely to "fast-track" funding for poor countries from 2010-2012.

-- THE EUROPEAN UNION casts itself as the good guy. The EU saved Kyoto after Bush abandoned it in 2001 and has unilaterally decided to cut its emissions by 20 percent by 2020 over 1990 levels, by 30 percent if others follow suit. Last week, it agreed to provide around a quarter of 10 billion dollars in annual "fast track funds". With this, the EU is looking to the US especially to do more. It is also lukewarm about signing up to a new Kyoto round until China and the United States, the world's No. 1 and 2 polluters, which remain outside that pact, are tied to tougher emissions commitments.