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Climate change talks: What to look for at Copenhagen

The Copenhagen climate change talks kicked off on Monday. A Q&A on the key areas that will define success or failure.

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Mexico has promised actions through 2012 that put it on track to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2050, but anything after 2012 is contingent on international aid.

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What is the combined effect of those emissions offers?

Political leaders have agreed to try to hold warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels. If that is to be met, scientists say that developed countries will need to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020 and by 80-95 percent by 2050. Developed countries must substantially reduce the growth rate in their emissions.

But current promises on emissions reductions fall well short of meeting those targets. Rich-countries have currently offered an 8 to 14 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020, according to climateactiontracker.org.

Russia's numbers are interesting: Emissions have been so low following the collapse of the old Soviet Union that the country's emissions could rise from now and still meet the country's 2020 target, some analysts say.

For developing countries, China and India are the heavy hitters. China's target is widely seen as "business as usual," although that interpretation varies. India's numbers also are seen as falling into a business-as-usual category.

In fact, India's number is so "conservative" that India could offer up more-ambitious goals and still fall within business as usual, explains David Pumphrey, an international energy analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

What are the likely sticking points?

As many in the developing world – the countries whose populations are likely to suffer from the effects of climate change the most – see it, rich country targets are not ambitious enough.

And much needs to be done on the financial front for both short-term aid and long term aid. The aid would be used for adaptation efforts, the purchase of green technologies, and efforts to help developing countries build in-house technical expertise. In the short term, countries are talking about $10 billion a year over the next three years. Beyond that, the number rises to $100 billion a year through 2020. But if developed countries are going to put up that much money, they want verification that developing countries are actually reducing the growth of emissions.

How much impact might 'Climategate' have?

This remains to be seen. In the US, Republican members of Congress are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to forestall any effort to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act until a full, transparent investigation has taken place on allegations that fudged data played a role in establishing the link between industrial CO2 emissions and global warming. Internationally, the Saudi Arabian's are using the hacked letters from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit to argue that there's no need for any new climate treaty. The BBC quoted the country's chief negotiator as saying it will have a huge impact on the talks.

The UN negotiating process requires unanimous consent to reach decisions. So the Saudis alone could hold things up. But the Saudis often threaten to block movement as a negotiating position. The oil rich Kingdom's long-time pitch is this: Any new agreement should contain payments to Saudi Arabia to make up for oil revenues it would lose as the world weans itself from oil.

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