Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Copenhagen summit: Europe turns on US and China over weak emission targets

Ben Webster, Environment Editor, in Copenhagen

The European Union has rejected the new carbon emission targets tabled by the United States and China and said they were much too weak to prevent catastrophic climate change.
The dispute between the three main players at the Copenhagen climate change summit overshadowed the first day of negotiations and dashed hopes that a deal on emissions was imminent.
The EU called on President Obama to announce a more ambitious target next week, when he arrives in Copenhagen for the last day of the conference on December 18.
But the US insisted that the provisional offer made 10 days ago by Mr Obama was “remarkable” and in line with what scientists had recommended.

Mr Obama has proposed to cut its emissions by 4 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020, although he has said this is subject to getting the approval of Congress. The EU has made a legally binding commitment to cut its emissions by 20 per cent over the same period. It has also said it would increase the cut to 30 per cent if other countries committed to “comparable action”.
Washington tonight attempted to demonstrate that it was serious about fighting climate change by formally announcing that green house gases were a danger to American health and paving the way for new regulations to control them. This would technically allow Mr Obama to override Congress and impose carbon cuts but, in practice, he is more likely to use the prospect of regulations as a bargaining chip to persuade enough senators to pass a Bill enforcing the 4 per cent target.
Andreas Carlgren, Sweden’s environment minister and the EU’s main negotiator under the rotating presidency, said the targets proposed by the US and China were too low to qualify as comparable action and therefore the EU would not strengthen its 20 per cent target.
“If you analyse the bids they are not going to deliver the emissions reductions that would be keeping the Earth’s temperature [increase] below 2C. The US and China cover half the world’s emissions so it will be absolutely decisive what they deliver.
“It would be astonishing if President Obama arrived here next week and just delivered what was in last week’s press release. I would rather expect the US President will deliver something further.”
Mr Carlgren also dismissed China’s offer to reduce its emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 per cent by 2020. He said the target would result in a huge increase in emissions because of China’s predicted 8 per cent annual economic growth.
Mr Carlgren dismissed the recommendation from Lord Stern of Brentford that the EU should take the lead at the summit by making an unconditional commitment to cut its emissions by 30 per cent by 2020.
“The EU wants to go to 30 per cent but other parties must also deliver and it mostly depends on the US and China.
“We must keep the pressure until the end . We have said 30 per cent as a lever to put pressure on other parties.
“If we were to weaken that pressure by already delivering we would lose that endgame and we would risk having an agreement of too low an ambition level."
Jonathan Pershing, the US chief negotiator at Copenhagen, tried to downplay America’s contribution to climate change.
He said: “The US is responsible for one fifth of emissions which means four fifths come from the rest of the world.” He suggested that the US was making up for its weak short term target by offering an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. Most other countries argue that promising reductions in 40 years time is a political fudge and no substitute for firm action in the next decade.
But Mr Pershing hinted that Mr Obama might be willing to offer more short-term action, possibly in the form of a substantial contribution to a global fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change.
“The president has put a remarkable number on the table. What we need to now do is see how these negotiations proceed and we look forward to his coming and engaging in the discussion.”