Clock ticking as Copenhagen global climate change summit begins
The Copenhagen global climate change summit began Monday with new urgency for a deal, and eyes on China and the US.
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When the US was engaged in the Kyoto process, it and countries such as Japan, Canada, and Australia tended to line up against Europe as negotiators tried to hammer out rules for implementing the agreement. Since the Bush administration pulled the US out of the Kyoto process in 2001, Europe has been the driving force among industrial countries in efforts to move beyond Kyoto.
Global warming "has been their number-one priority," Ms. Conley says. The Europeans were the first to set out 2020 emissions targets, then added the proviso that if other industrial countries followed suit with aggressive targets for 2020, they'd tighten their emissions reductions further. They offered up the first outlines of a financial-aid package for developing countries. And in early visits with President Obama, European leaders jawboned the president on the need for aggressive US emissions reductions.
"They really thought the process would achieve a legally binding treaty in Copenhagen," she says. Instead, officials now talk of reaching a political agreement here regarding efforts by the US and developing countries, and leaving negotiators to work out language and operations details for a legally binding agreement next year.
Eyes on US and China
All eyes are now on China and the US, which combine for 50 percent of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions.
During a briefing Monday Andreas Carlgren, who heads the European Union's delegation, said the EU hasn't seen offers from other countries sufficient to trigger the additional cuts Europe has pledged. The endgame, he said, "will be mostly about what will be delivered form the United States and from China."
Their bids to date are historic, he says. But they fail to reduce emissions enough to put the planet on a path to holding global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a goal that has broad agreement among international negotiators.
For its part, the US is taking a significant step, counters Dr. Pershing. Obama offered reductions for 2020, subject to congressional action on energy and climate bills. Obama's offer also outlines additional cuts and deadlines through 2050. At that time US emissions reductions would be in line with what scientists say is needed to close in on the 2-degree goal.
Still, Mr. de Boer says that China's offer accounts for some 25 percent of the emissions reductions needed to avoid a 2-degree temperature increases.
Given the political strictures on Obama – he can't promise anything beyond what he might reasonably expect Congress to support – these talks may turn out to be an exercise in managing disappointment for the EU, Conley says.