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China and the US go solo in Copenhagen

19.12.2009

19 December

At his inaugural remarks in January 2009, president Obama proclaimed: 'our time of standing pat, of protecting national interest and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed.' The meagre result in Copenhagen unfortunately confirms that unpleasant decisions are indeed still being put off. World leaders continued talking in Copenhagen rather than acting. 

"The conference decides to take note of the Copenhagen Accord of December 18, 2009”. That was all that the 15th Conference of the Parties attending the Copenhagen Summit on climate change was able to reach agreement on – nothing more, nothing less. It leaves it up to the nations to sign up to the Accord. It was the last option available to avoid a full-scale breakdown in negotiations. Its only uplifting feature is that it ensures that negotiations can continue.

The Copenhagen Accord that the Summit took note of boils down to a non-binding political agreement based on the lowest common denominator, brokered between the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gasses. China and the United States went solo in Copenhagen, agreed to continue business as usual, leaving everybody else out, while discrediting the entire UN process.

The G2 managed to get India, Brazil and South Africa on board, before hasting out of Denmark on Friday night, leaving it to the remaining 188 countries to work through to Saturday morning on accepting or rejecting the empty Accord without changes.

While the Summit did nothing to fight global warming, it established the new world order. The unilateral approach to climate change of the United States has been replaced by a situation in which China and the United States make bilateral decisions on issues of global interest. And the world’s two biggest polluters decided that it is not in their interest to agree internationally on greenhouse gas reductions.

The EU’s strategy of leading by example failed and left them without influence. That, however, should not discourage Europe from continuing the strategy. The world will need global climate leadership from the EU in 2010 more than ever, now that the super-powers have shown their true colour.

The European Wind Energy Association urges world leaders to work tirelessly on reaching a legally binding international treaty as soon as possible next year, to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 30% by 2020. The clock is ticking, immediate action is required, and we are running out of time.

In the end, after two years of negotiations, the Copenhagen Accord is a disappointing failure. It does not produce a legally binding treaty or deliver a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It does not contain one word on 2020 or 2050 emission reduction targets or any reference to how or when a legally binding agreement can be reached. The only thing it achieved was a non-committing text “to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees.”

The world has increasingly been warned about the consequences of unchecked climate change. Scientists have repeatedly said that global greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fossil fuels have to peak by 2015 and then rapidly and sharply decrease if humankind is to have a 50% chance of avoiding a temperature increase greater than 2°C, which is considered a somewhat manageable level, although the most exposed countries and many scientists believe the limit is 1.5°C.

A three- to four-degree temperature increase, which the failure at the UN conference could be taking us towards, would have catastrophic results for humankind and many of the species that inhabit Earth. The fall-out would include loss of sea ice, melting glaciers, species extinction, drought and famine, a sharp increase in tropical diseases, mass migration, more wars and civil unrest.

One can only hope that world leaders will come to understand the depth of the angry reaction to their lack of collective political will and courage, and spend the next few months working together. The worst thing that could happen is that they entirely abandon the process of reaching a new treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

When global leaders fail, local leaders must step in. Impatient with the lack of progress on the climate change front, many local politicians with increasingly larger urban populations are implementing plans to increase energy efficiencies, shift dependence on coal, gas and oil to cleaner fuels, and work with their electorates on reducing CO₂ levels that are suffocating our warming atmosphere.

Just like those forward-looking local leaders, wind power and the many other renewable energy sources are also way ahead of many national politicians when it comes to climate change mitigation. Emissions-free wind power is already providing one rapidly-deployable solution to the carbon monster we have created since the Industrial Revolution. Technology is available and the European wind energy industry stands ready to deliver, but global leaders need to provide a much stronger signal of commitment to reducing carbon reductions in the power sector.   It is not too late for the politicians who were in Copenhagen to provide that signal to investors and manufacturers, but the clock is ticking.

President Obama: I hope that the difficulties you admittedly face in the US Congress have not made you forget the responsibility you so eloquently expressed at your inauguration less than a year ago:

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

By Christian Kjaer

Chief Executive

European Wind Energy Association 

 

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