Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Hopes of a deal remain high as climate talks open in Copenhagen

UN and rich nations express confidence that a political deal is possible but the summit remains overshadowed by questions over climate aid and the science of global warming

John Vidal, environment editor
guardian.co.uk, Monday 7 December 2009 18.14 GMT
The Copenhagen climate change summit opened today with the United Nations and rich countries expressing confidence that a political deal can be reached. But the summit remains overshadowed by major disagreements over climate aid and questions over the science of global warming.
Lars L√łkke Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark, appealed to the 192 countries present to be prepared to compromise to achieve one of the most important agreements that the world would ever make. "The political resolve to forge a global deal is manifest. Differences can be overcome if the political will is present. I believe it is," he said.
"The clock has ticked down to zero. The time has come to deliver. The time has come to reach out to each other," said Yvo de Boer, the head of the UN's climate body.
Diplomats in the vast Bella conference centre on the edge of the city were warned strongly by Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the UN's Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that unless a way was found to limit greenhouse gas emissions that sea ice would entirely disappear, cyclones and hurricanes would become more powerful and many of the world's cities would be drowned by sea level rise by the end of the century.
"The evidence is overwhelming that the world will benefit from early action and that delay would only lead to costs that will become progressively higher," he said.
Pachauri defended climate science against its critics. "Given the wide-ranging nature of [climate] change that is likely to be taken in hand, some naturally find it inconvenient to accept its inevitability," he told the conference. "The recent incident of stealing the emails of scientists at the University of East Anglia shows that some would go to the extent of carrying out illegal acts, perhaps in an attempt to discredit the IPCC. But the panel has a record of objective assessment performed by tens of thousands of dedicated scientists from all over the globe".
Nonetheless, the chief negotiator for Saudi Arabia, one of the world's biggest oil exporters, told the conference that the emails would have an impact. "The level of trust is definitely shaken, especially now that we are about to conclude an agreement that ... is going to mean sacrifices for our economies," said Mohammed al-Sabban.
A British initiative to fast-track $10bn a year from rich to poor countries to enable them to adapt to climate change was yesterday gaining ground with the US, Japan and other developed countries publicly supporting it.
The money would be available by 2012 and sources close to the talks said that Britain intended to pledge a total of £800m over a number of years. This evening, it was not clear how much of this money was new and how much, if any, would be as loans.
But the tentative offer of $10bn was dismissed as "peanuts" by the G77 group of 132 developing countries.
Development groups expressed deep unease over advanced plans by the EU and the US to expand carbon trading to provide much of the money needed to compensate poor countries and prepare them for the worst of climate change.
Analysis released by Friends of the Earth international and the Third World Network said that carbon trading "threatened to be ineffective and might only result in enriching banks while posing new [financial] risks."
Environmental and development groups also warned that in the rush to get an agreement at Copenhagen, loopholes could emerge which would compromise efforts to cut deforestation. Razing forests causes almost 20% of all carbon emissions but finding a watertight way to pay countries to halt deforestation is complex.
"The talks are on a knife edge. If the wrong deal is signed up, then some of the most corrupt countries on earth could get their hands on billions of dollars without any checks and the forests could continue to be felled," said a spokeswoman for Global Witness.
"The conference must not end only with political statements. There must be concrete commitments from the developed countries on their emission reduction figures and commitments on finance", said Martin Khor, director of the South Centre, an intergovernmental thinktank of developing countries.
"The pledges are so far depressingly low, adding up to only 12-19% by 2020. This is still far below the 40% cut that developing countries say is needed and below the 25-40% figures quoted by the IPCC," he said.