All on board for Copenhagen

26 November 2009

The roster of global leaders at the Copenhagen climate talks seems complete now that US and Chinese leaders have announced emissions targets and pledged to attend.


Both nations have confirmed the meeting on the agenda of their premiers, at the same time reiterating targets for emissions which they will bring to the negotiating table.


The White House said yesterday: "In the context of an overall deal in Copenhagen that includes robust mitigation contributions from China and the other emerging economies, the President is prepared to put on the table a US emissions reduction target in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020." This is in line with final US energy and climate legislation, the administration noted, adding that President Barack Obama's ultimate goal is an 83% reduction by 2050.


However, Obama is due to attend Copenhagen on 9 December, near the start of the twelve-day conference, whereas other world leaders are expected to attend in the second week when the final high level negotiations will take place.


Today came a Chinese response in the form of a foreign ministry confirmation that Premier Wen Jiabao will attend the negotiations and a pledge from the State Council to reduce the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions by 40-45% from 2005 levels by 2020.


The two biggest emitters are united in using 2005 as their baseline year, despite the majority of countries using the much lower 1990 benchmark. Also, China's choice of carbon intensity per unit of GDP and the expected doubling of its economy by 2020 mean that overall carbon emissions would stay roughly the same as now.


The apparent synchronicity of the announcements bodes well for the conference, which will see the 15th meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as the fifth meeting of signatories of the Kyoto Protocol. The final meeting in Kyoto's first phase, it must decide a negotiation path for the next phase that follows after 2012.


The tension over the very major conference is palpable, with the heads of state of over 60 countries now set to attend. It takes place from 7-18 December in the Danish capital.


Main negotiating points will include not only targets for emissions cuts, but financial measures for achieving them without stifling development goals such as reliable access to electricity for the bulk of the world's population.


A deal must be struck for richer countries to help poorer countries make efficiency gains and install low-carbon infrastructure using knowledge transfer as well as money. In the past, nuclear power has been explicitly excluded from support in this context, but belief in nuclear's value is growing and it is now recognised as indispensable in avoiding carbon dioxide emissions by every leading country as well as by many former opponents.


Although the latest announcements by the USA and China have been welcomed, it is still expected that Copenhagen will only see agreement being reached on a high-level a political declaration, whereas it was originally intended that the Copenhagen meeting would result in a more detailed legally-binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol.