Frustration reigns at Copenhagen climate talks

December 11, 2009

Heading into the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, Dec. 7 through 18, world leaders knew negotiations would not be easy.

Since the conference began more than a week ago, it has been marred by doubts cast on scientific evidence about the reality of climate change, threats of walk outs from developing countries, and, on Wednesday, violent protests outside the conference building that ended with intervention by riot police.

Delegates and heads of state have expressed dismay over the slow pace of the negotiations, and, barely 48 hours before of the close of the summit, Costa Rica´s team leader appears to be frustrated and disappointed.

Alvaro Umaña, a former environment minister and Costa Rica´s chief negotiator at the conference, issued an e-mailed account on Wednesday from Denmark that conveys deep disappointment with the tempo of the Copenhagen conference.

“Less than 72 hours before the conclusion of this international meeting, it seems incredible that we can´t predict if we are heading toward success or a colossal failure,” he wrote. “This is a testimony to the deep divisions between countries, and it reflects the incapacity of all the political leaders to face the biggest challenge of our era. If we don´t arrive at an agreement, it won´t be for a lack of effort. The pace here has been frantic.” He added that the Costa Rican delegation had been working until the early morning hours and all texts were to be concluded by Wednesday afternoon.

As expected, industrialized countries have struggled to come to terms with developing nations. Neither block has been able to agree either on the scope of emissions reductions or on how much financial aid should be provided to developing countries. Meanwhile, oil-rich countries have fought hard to assure that fossil fuel remains an important source of energy.

“In this United Nations conference we have been negotiating words and not decisions,” Umaña wrote.

Umaña´s four questions

In his latest statement, Costa Rican Chief Negotiator Alvaro Umaña posed four questions that he considers to be “the core aspects of the negotiations” at the Copenhagen climate change summit. And while all the questions seem to have been answered, at least tentatively, in the past few weeks, they have yet to be incorporated in a binding text. Below are the questions that Umaña believes are critical, followed by the preliminary positions of many of the nations involved.

“By how much are industrialized nations, including the United States, going to reduce greenhouse gases?”

The U.S. has announced plans to reduce its emissions by 17 percent by the year 2020, compared to 2005 levels.

“How and when will large emerging economies (Brazil, China, Mexico and India) begin to reduce emissions?”

Before the conference, Brazil and China said they would consider 40 to 45 percent reductions by the year 2020. Mexico has volunteered 30 percent cuts by 2020.

“How many economic and financial resources are industrialized countries going to put on the table?”

Last week, the Danish government announced they would commit €160 million (roughly $233 million) between 2010 and 2012 to help jump-start emissions mitigation projects in developing countries. The U.S. government said it would pony up money to help to boost the developing world´s capacity to combat climate change. The U.S. has already offered one billion dollars for programs to reverse deforestation. But on Wednesday, Japan trumped everyone. Provided the Copenhagen talks yield a “successful political agreement,” the Japanese will donate $15 billion to developing countries for climate change initiatives.

“With which mechanisms are they going to utilize these funds?”

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has proposed a “green fund” that would be financed through a system of quotas, different for each donating country. The quotas would be determined by one of several factors: income per capita, gross domestic product, total carbon emissions or emissions per capita.

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