Negotiators working on a new global warming treaty released a draft pact today that would commit the US to significant emissions cuts by 2020 and 2050. And, for the first time, it would draw developing countries into a climate agreement, something many analysts say is crucial in the fight against global warming.
The seven-page draft provides the springboard for talks next week in Copenhagen among government ministers. At the end of the week, some 117 heads of state -- including President Obama -- are coming to Copenhagen to wrap up an agreement. As senior political officials, the ministers will try to resolve as many of the outstanding issues as they can before the heads of state arrive.
Those outstanding issues appear as bracketed text in the draft, and they include the most critical elements of a new agreement: temperature objectives and emissions targets, and long-term financial aid for developing countries to help them adapt to global warming and afford the green technologies thew would need to live up to their part of the agreement.
The new text and a companion document for countries negotiating a new commitment period under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, "really crystallize the key issues," says Alden Meyer, director of policy and planning for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington. Reviewing the talks so far from his vantage point in Copenhagen, Mr. Meyer, a veteran of climate negotiations since 1992, observed: "This is probably the most intense and high level negotiating session we've ever had on the climate issues."
Among the major issues covered in the draft that still must be negotiated:
• Temperature objectives. Much of the focus has been aimed at limiting the rise in global average temperatures above preindustrial levels to 2 degrees C. (3.6 degrees F.). But developing countries in Africa, among others, strenuously argue for 1.5 degrees C. They do so on the basis of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections suggesting that a 2-degree average warming worldwide will still lead to warming in large regions of Africa of up to 3.5 degrees C.
• Mid-term emissions targets for developed countries. The midterm targets are expressed either as 25-40 percent below 1990 levels, or "on the order of" 30, 40, or 45 percent below 1990 levels. For signatories of the Kyoto Protocol, these targets would be embraced in a second commitment period, which begins in 2013. The US would be covered in a new treaty covering it and developing countries.
• Longer-term emission targets. All participants in the UN Framework Convention onn Climate Change (UNFCCC) -- essentially all of the more than 190 countries present at the talks -- "should" reduce their collective emissions by 50, 85, or 95 percent. Within this all-hands reduction, industrial countries would commit to emissions reductions of 75-85 percent, 80-95 percent, or more than 95 percent by 2050.
• Quick-start money for developing countries. Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, has noted that a quick-start fund should be able to deliver $10 billion a year between 2010 and 2012, with money available virtually as soon as negotiators step off the plane at home. In response, the European Union committed today to contribute $3.6 billion a year to the fund. Several analysts expect that this money ultimately will become available. But some small nations have charged that the sum is far from sufficient.
• Long-term financing. After 2012, UN officials estimate that developing countries will need upward of $100 billion a year in adaptation and green-development money. But details over who has a say in how that money is doled out, safeguards to ensure it's being spent the right way, and how contributions to such a large pot would be allocated among industrial countries have yet to been worked out.
The draft political agreement, which Malta's Michael Zammit Cutajar distilled from two years of negotiations, falls short of the full legal agreement many developing countries say they want to see by the end of next week. That in itself is likely to generate some additional heat next week.
Still, the prevailing view is that legalese will be left to negotiators to deal with next year, culminating in a fully articulated treaty no later than the next major climate conference, slated for Mexico City. What's important now, many say, is to have an agreement in hand that prompts countries to take immediate actions once they leave Copenhagen.