Agreement on climate change looks unlikely ahead of Copenhagen
A European Union agreement last week was short on specifics. US commitments on reductions may not be forthcoming, making Chinese commitments also unlikely.
The world is moving toward December climate change talks that have been described in some quarters as "pivotal." But a European Union agreement, signed last week, sheds light on how tenuous the prospects are for a comprehensive deal any time soon.Skip to next paragraph
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UN-sponsored talks are scheduled in Copenhagen, and it was initially hoped they would extend the emissions-cutting targets of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. But Artur Runge-Metzger, head of the European delegation at a preliminary meeting in Barcelona for the Copenhagen negotiations, said Thursday that a deal was unlikely on schedule. "There is a lot of work still to be done," he told reporters.
Last week, European Union officials lauded their internal agreement – which determined that $150 billion would be needed over the next decade to combat climate change – as evidence of a united front heading toward Copenhagen.
These officials claim the agreement will give them leverage in negotiations with China and the United States, both of which have been reluctant to name specific targets for emission reduction. House Democrats – over a threatened Republican boycott – are currently pushing a bill through committee that would cap US emissions.
But the EU agreement is short on specifics, reflecting what critics say are fractures over which countries should shoulder the financial burden for helping poor nations shift to more sustainable energy sources.
These experts also claim that naming extremely ambitious goals, as preferred by European negotiators, is the wrong way to go about effecting climate change.
The agreement failed to specify which countries would contribute to the $150 billion fund, and at what level. This was done to appease central and eastern European countries like Poland and Lithuania, which objected to initial plans to tie funding commitments to carbon-emission levels. In the past two decades, these countries have not had the money to create clean energy technologies or take carbon-emitting power plants offline.
Meanwhile, countries like Germany experienced a steep drop in carbon emissions after reunification in 1990, when Soviet-era heavy industries were shut down in the east and the former West Germany helped soften the blow.
"West Germany footed the bill for East Germany," says Kurt Volker, a scholar at the Center for Transatlantic Relations and a former US ambassador to NATO. "No one has footed the bill for middle and eastern Europe. They don't have the government budgets right now to make drastic changes to their economies."