Britain: Leaders must broker climate deal in person

Britain: Leaders must broker climate deal in person

British PM Gordon Brown

October 20, 2009, Tuesday/ 16:53:00/ REUTERS
World leaders must intervene to rescue flagging climate talks by brokering in person a deal to combat global warming in Copenhagen in December, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said yesterday.

Brown is one of the few leaders of the major economies who has announced plans to go to the UN-led Dec. 7-18 conference, which is supposed agree curbs on greenhouse gas emissions and how to help poor countries cope with climate change.

"Success at Copenhagen is still within reach. But if we falter, the earth itself will be at risk," Brown told representatives of 17 of the world's main polluting nations, gathered in London. Environment ministers aim to sign a global pact to extend or replace the existing Kyoto Protocol. But talks preparing for Copenhagen are bogged down in complex drafts and mutual suspicion between industrialized and developing nations.

"Over the remaining weeks to Copenhagen and in the two weeks of the conference itself I will work tirelessly with fellow leaders to negotiate a deal," said Brown. "I've said I'll go to Copenhagen, and I'm encouraging them to make the same commitment." The London meeting is the latest in a US-instigated major economies forum (MEF) series meant to bolster momentum in the UN process. Many analysts and politicians doubt the world can agree a deal in December, arguing for example that domestic US legislation won't be in place in time to form a firm US offer.

The two-year UN talks launched in Bali, Indonesia in 2007 are particularly stuck on how big carbon cuts rich nations should make by 2020, and how much they should pay developing countries to prepare for and slow global warming. "Leaders must engage directly to break the impasse," said Brown. "I believe agreement at Copenhagen is possible. But we must frankly face the plain fact that our negotiators are not getting to agreement quickly enough."

The London talks focused on how to turn a patchwork of national policy plans into an international deal, as well as on climate finance and technology cooperation, Todd Stern, Washington's top climate envoy, said on Sunday.  Stern could not confirm that the United States itself would bring either a concrete emissions reduction target or a funding offer to Copenhagen.

Scientists have issued increasingly stark warnings of the possible climate threats facing the planet, for example from melting Arctic ice sheets which could stoke further warming. "An agreement can, must put the world on a trajectory to a maximum average temperature increase of 2 degrees," said Brown.

At the most significant MEF meeting in July leaders of the most polluting nations acknowledged the scientific view that 2 degrees Celsius was a safety limit. The world warmed 0.74 degrees last century alone, according to the UN climate panel.

Unsure progress

Representatives from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, the EU, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Britain and the United States are attending the London talks. Pressure has been mounting for the US to finalize its position before the December conference in Denmark. The Obama administration says it is tied to action by the US Congress, where climate bills are slowing moving toward legislation.

Other nations including India, China, Brazil and Mexico have agreed to draw up national programs to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, but have so far resisted making those limits binding and subject to international monitoring in a treaty. Worries over the US and China have led to mounting pessimism that a deal can be struck in Copenhagen without major policy changes. “The prospects that states will actually agree to anything in Copenhagen are starting to look worse and worse,” Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN scientific panel studying climate change, wrote in a Friday post on the Newsweek Web site.

“Everyone realizes this is a crucial problem that we need to tackle, and everyone realizes that the deadline is a real deadline,” British Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said, following initial talks on Sunday. “I think progress is being made.” He said there was “a lot of convergence, a lot of agreement on some of the key questions” between delegates. President Barack Obama initiated the Major Economies Forum earlier this year as an informal grouping to privately discuss key international problems. The London meeting is seeking agreement on funding from the developed world for poorer countries.

‘World needs low carbon revolution by 2014' 

The world has five years to start a "low carbon industrial revolution" before runaway climate change becomes almost inevitable, a new report commissioned by global conservation group WWF said yesterday.

Beyond 2014, the upper limits of industrial growth rates will make it impossible for market economies to meet the lower carbon targets required to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, said the report by Climate Risk Ltd, which provides assessments on climate change risk, opportunities and adaptation. A global temperature rise from carbon emissions of two degrees Celsius has been identified by scientists as presenting unacceptable risks of runaway climate change.

"In highlighting the critical nature of the time constraint, the report also shows that the current emphasis on carbon price as the key element of the climate change solution is dangerously misleading," said co-author Karl Mallon.

The "Climate Solutions 2" report found market measures, such as emissions-trading schemes like the one in operation in Europe and planned by Australia, will not by themselves deliver a sufficient reduction in emissions in time. Beyond 2014, "war-footing paced interventions" could be introduced to bring about rapid transition, but the report warns against relying on such action. (The report is on Sydney Reuters 

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