Reporting from Barcelona, Spain
The United States must deliver concrete mid-term greenhouse gas reduction targets by next month or it will destroy efforts to achieve a framework for a global climate change deal in Copenhagen, United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer said Monday as a week of international talks on global warming began in Barcelona.
"I do not think the international community will accept an agreement that lacks clarity from the U.S. on targets," de Boer said.
The Barcelona talks are the final five days of two years of global negotiations leading up to the crucial UN Climate Change Conference, from Dec. 7-18, in Copenhagen. De Boer's worst fear now is that the Copenhagen conference will end with a lack of clarity on key issues and lead to a protracted political standoff.
"Negotiations must stop at Copenhagen. Otherwise negotiations will drag on when only the technical work should be going on," he said.
A decision by the Obama administration to put a concrete 2020 target on the table could be the game changer for the world, he suggested.
According to de Boer, this could be possible. For one, there is an emerging consensus from Congress, big business, the U.S. energy industry and the public on the value of climate change change action for the first time, he said.
This stands in stark contrast to 1997, the year the Kyoto Protocol was secured, when Congress perceived climate laws as damaging to the economy and the Kyoto Protocol as letting developing nations off scot free.
But the fact remains: There are still no specific commitments from the U.S., or any sign that they are coming.
In contrast, de Boer praised developing nations, including China, India, Mexico and Brazil, for already coming to the table with ambitious goals, leaving the U.S. looking like a laggard.
Jonathon Pershing, deputy special envoy for climate change, who is representing the U.S at the Barcelona talks, said America's development of a domestic target for greenhouse gas cuts is currently underway in Congress. Blaming the U.S. at this stage is not constructive for international negotiations, he stated.
The U.S. climate legislation wending its way through the Senate this week would commit the U.S. to a roughly 7 percent cut below 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2020. The U.S. House signed off on an even weaker commitment. Both are substantially lower than the EU target of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, which could jump to 30 percent if other rich nations sign on. Japan recently pledged a 25 percent cut in its emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels.
On top of that, the passage of climate reduction targets remains uncertain — and unlikely before December.
According to Angela Anderson, director of the Climate Change Program at the U.S. Climate Action Network, the U.S. is not likely to put a specific level of emissions reduction on the table until the bill becomes law. The reason is that "that the Obama administration does not want not go down the same road as Kyoto," and put an international climate treaty before Congress that cannot be ratified, she said.
While de Boer focused on America's obligation to cut its emissions, he also drove home this vital point: It is "absolutely feasible" to arrive at specific figures for all of the four "political essentials" — ambitious mid-term targets for developed nations; nationally appropriate mitigation targets for developing nations; financing to unleash urgent action in developing countries; and a governance structure to implement the mandate.
"I see no need for an extension in the deadline of Copenhagen," he said.
The key for success, he said, is "absolute clarity" in commitments in a way that all nations can be subsequently held accountable after the Copenhagen summit closes.
De Boer was working to downplay comments he made last week that a final deal in Copenhagen would be "physically impossible" to achieve. Certain nations were said to be spreading the pessimism deliberately as a means to lower ambitions for success in Copenhagen.
Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for climate and energy, who will chair the Copenhagen talks, agreed with de Boer that while all of the details will not be solved in Denmark, it crucial that the deal "have a binding form" with clear targets so that when the delegations leave Copenhagen they will be forced to deliver on the promises they made.
In regard to the U.S. commitment on carbon dioxide emissions cuts, she said,
"It's hard to imagine how the American president can be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10 in Oslo, 100 kilometers from Copenhagen, and at the same time send an empty-handed delegation to Copenhagen."
Both Hedegaard and de Boer praised developing nations for presenting goals for tackling climate change.
"Today, already China is the world leader in terms of reducing emissions," de Boer said. "The world is lacking similar clarity from industrial nations."