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Global Climate Treaty Requires Huge Commitments

August 7, 2009

The new global climate treaty, set to be agreed upon by the end of the year, needs strong commitments from wealthier nations to making drastic cuts in CO2 emissions by 2020.

Without these , it “would defeat the whole purpose of the Copenhagen agreement,” Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) told AFP in an phone interview.

There has been a number of differing opinions on how deep the cuts should be, and the longer the topic is churned in the discussion, the greater the divide between the developed and developing nations.

The poorer nations insist that highly industrialized countries such as the U.S., Japan and the European Union carry the historic burden of responsibility for global warming, and are morally obligated to make a substantial brake in climate change.

The wealthier countries do not disagree with this stance, but they also want emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil to make firm commitments as well.

However, this stand-off has caused some delegates to refer to it as the “chicken-and-egg problem”.

De Boer’s comments were made at the end of the Pacific Islands Forum in Australia, where a group of low-lying small island nations in danger of disappearing into the sea are requesting an even higher number of 45 percent.

The offers given by developed economies is no where near their request. Even the European Union, which has been foremost among the wealthier nations in terms of drastic emissions cuts, comes nowhere close.

The European Union has vowed to cut its emissions by 20 percent by the end of the next decade, and by 30 percent if other members of the club of rich nations would do the same.

Chief climate negotiator for China Yu Qingtai said Wednesday that Beijing would not settle for less than 40 percent cuts from wealthy nations by 2020.

The United States has had a major change of heart regarding climate policy after an eight year resistance from the Bush administration, but even so, its 2020 targets are comparatively modest.

The Obama administration has proposed a 14 percent reduction of their greenhouse gas output compared to 2005 levels, which is basically three percent less than the 1990 benchmark.

Climate legislation working its way through Congress seems to be slightly more ambitious, but still does not come close to touching the demands of the developing countries.

Even though the requests from the island states are not likely to be answered satisfactorily, most climate negotiators believe, “this is not the moment to let go of ambition,” said de Boer.

“We are not even at the stage yet where we have all the initial emissions reduction offers from all industrialized countries,” he said, using New Zealand as an example.

Next week, Climate negotiators are expected to duke it out in Bonn, with this issue high on the agenda, he added.

De Boer’s primary role is as a facilitator for the largely complex climate discussions and would not say what number he would consider as a strong enough commitment for the 2020 emissions reductions for wealthy countries.

He has, however, mentioned a figure between 25 and 40 percent as it is written in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that serves as a scientific point of reference for negotiators.

Scientists warn that if such cuts are not made, it will become difficult to keep global temperatures from rising less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which G8 leaders all agree is a line that must not be crossed.

Emission reduction targets marks only one of several huge obstacles that have to be cleared before the big December conference in Copenhagen.

“The thing that I find most worrying today is that there is little or no clarity on how financial resources are going to be mobilized to allow developing countries to engage,” de Boer said.

“Financial support is an imperative.”

The UNFCCC has figured that, by 2020, the cost of mitigating and adapting to climate change will hit 200 billion dollars and 100 billion dollars every year thereafter.

De Boer has requested an initial pledge in Copenhagen of $10 billion to assist the poorer nations determined “solid strategies to limit the growth of their emissions and move toward sustainable growth.”

But that number has caused even the wealthiest nations, in light of their floundering economies and fear of money mismanagement, to flinch.

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