Reporting from Barcelona, Spain
A new global warming pact coming out of Copenhagen in December must be a legally enforceable treaty, not just promises from politicians, developing nations said at the Barcelona talks on Wednesday.
The statement was in response to rich nations’ newest push for a "politically binding" deal, the idea being it’s way too late to get a legal one on the books by December.
Political agreements "are worth very little," said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping (above), the Sudanese chair of the Group of 77 and China.
"Tell me of any politician who delivered on his political manifesto?"
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen started the firestorm on Monday when he said, "We are working very strongly to reach a politically binding agreement in Copenhagen." Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt added to that on Wednesday, stating on Swedish Radio that a legal treaty is "simply not possible to deliver."
Although no one has officially defined "politically binding," the concern is that it will result in political promises for cutting emissions without accountability.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN climate chief Yvo de Boer each said this week that a legal treaty in Copenhagen will be too heavy a lift.
Anders Turesson, chief negotiator for Sweden in Barcelona, said the European Union "wants" a "legally binding" treaty "in all aspects of that word." But for now it’s "extremely important" to get a framework that leads to an eventual legal agreement after Copenhagen.
These are not happy times for green groups, who have been fighting for two years to get a new treaty in place by year’s end.
"We are not in Barcelona to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a political binding agreement," said Tove Ryding of Greenpeace International. Copenhagen is about getting a legal treaty "that prevents climate chaos."
40% Cut or Nothing
Adding more pressure on Wednesday, Di-Aping said that poor nations will not accept from the rich anything south of a 40 percent carbon emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2020.
Without it, "there will be no solution," he said.
Quoting UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Di-Aping said that "damage posed by inaction will not be reparable." In contrast to the rich nations of the world, it is the poor who "will feel the damage," he said.
Research affirms this. According to a major study by the World Bank in September, nations in Africa and Asia will bear nearly 80 percent of the damage from floods, increased desertification and other climate-related disasters, while contributing a third of world emissions. If temperatures rise just 2 degrees Celsius, these countries will lose as much as 5 percent of their GDP, compared to 1 percent for the globe on average.
Commitments on the table at Barcelona are nowhere near the 40 percent mark. The numbers by rich nations add up to an average cut of between 11 and 15 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.
The EU is already bound to a 20 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020. It says it will shoot for 30 percent — if others rich nations sign up for the same.
Sweden’s Turesson admitted the G77 request of a 40 percent cut "was not unreasonable," given the scale of the climate change problem.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that a mid-term reduction of at least 25 percent to 40 percent by developed countries would be necessary to stave off catastrophic global warming.
The U.S., the world’s second largest carbon polluter, has yet to utter a peep on specific carbon cuts. The country’s delegation in Barcelona said it is waiting on the U.S. Congress.
That could be a long wait. On Wednesday, news broke that the U.S. Senate’s current climate bill will likely be delayed at least five more weeks while a cost analysis is completed, killing hopes that concrete U.S. figures would be on the table by Copenhagen. That bill would require roughly a 7 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2020 — if it becomes law. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) threw a new wrench in the gears, announcing that they would be working with businesses to write a compromise bill that could win Republican support.
Africa Returns to Talks
The statements by the G-77 and China came after the African Group returned to negotiations, following a one-day walk out on Tuesday triggered by a lack of detail from wealthy nations on binding carbon cuts.
On Tuesday, Di-Aping called the Barcelona discussions "a wasteful exercise."
But the African nations were lured back to the talks with pledges by rich countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol (not the U.S.) to get more specific.
Di-Aping said he’s "guardedly optimistic" for progress. As of late Wednesday, however, "there has been no momentum," he said.
Scaling back expectations, Turesson said cuts are the "hardest part of the deal" and could end up being the final piece of the puzzle.
"We may not have a full picture until the last night in Copenhagen," added Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission’s chief climate negotiator.