Leaders are trying to hammer out a last-minute deal, but any agreement on greenhouse gas emissions is likely to miss targets set by scientists
By Jim Efstathiou Jr.
(Bloomberg) — World leaders taking control of stalled climate talks today in Copenhagen may find the measures acceptable to 193 nations fall short of what scientists demand to slow global warming.
Developed nations such as the U.S. and Japan may agree by tomorrow to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by about half what United Nations scientists said are needed to keep the planet from overheating. That's a view shared by representatives of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Merrill Lynch & Co. (MER) and the European Commission, which represents 27 European nations.
"We'll only have the minimum level of commitments coming out of Copenhagen," Abyd Karmali, London-based global head of carbon emissions for BofA Merrill Lynch, said in an interview. "There's a scaling back of expectations" on bigger measures.
World leaders from China, the U.S., the European Union and India, the top polluters, are taking charge of the talks from envoys who have bickered over key provisions since Dec. 7. The talks are scheduled to finish tomorrow.
By 2020, developed nations must cut emissions 25 percent to 40 percent from 1990 to "stand a chance" of keeping the global temperature within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial times, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said. While a 2-degree pledge is possible, nations don't seem to be putting the targets in place.
"Everybody has to show a higher level of ambition," U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown told reporters yesterday. "We're looking to every part of the world to look again at numbers and see how ambitious they can be."
For 20 years, scientists working for the United Nations have provided guidance for global climate talks. The only achievement with teeth is the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 accord that limits greenhouse-gas emissions among 37 industrialized nations. Those targets are set to expire in 2012, leaving the world without binding goals if Copenhagen doesn't renew them.
"Whatever we are going to achieve here, I would think that there's something better," European Union Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in an interview. "Already, science is telling us that climate change is accelerating and the impacts are more ominous than previously thought."
Developing nations such as China and India have called on the U.S. to reduce emissions 40 percent by in the period. The European Union has offered 20 percent. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to pledge a cut of around 17 percent from 2005, or about 4 percent from the base year others use.
"There's a realization that with the United States not being able to move past the 17 percent based on 2005, everyone is going to have to scale back in the short term," Karmali said.
Steeper Cuts Later?
The final accord may include the aggregate cut already pledged by rich nations, said Elliot Diringer, who oversees international strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, in Arlington, Virginia. That amounts to about 18 percent over the three decades. That pledge will require steeper, costlier reductions later in order to meet the 2-degree Celsius target, he said.
"It is very likely going to fall short of what the science suggests is needed but this is just another step on the path" to stronger measures, Diringer said.
Dimas said he expects an agreement on a 2-degree target, a commitment from rich nations to cut emissions by about 18 percent by 2020, commitments by developing nations to reduce the growth of their emissions and a pledge to revisit the targets in two to four years.
The latest negotiating draft released today reflects the level of discord. Temperature limits of 1 degree, 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees all remain options.
"Unfortunately there's nothing to report," Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister, said today in an interview. "It's been a day of complete stalemate."
Connie Hedegaard, chairwoman of the meeting, stepped down today, allowing Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen to take over. The Danes said they would offer a new proposal for a Copenhagen agreement.
Any accord is likely to come in the form of a consensus by the negotiating parties, something in between a legally binding treaty and a political agreement, said Ruben Kraiem, co-chair of the climate practice for attorneys Covington & Burling LLP in New York.
"It'll be a consensus political agreement," Kraiem said in an interview in Copenhagen. "It's not just a handshake and it's also not a treaty. It's a decision by a corporate body."
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To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in Copenhagen at firstname.lastname@example.org.