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Copenhagen: the background, the aims and the difficulties explained

Why is Copenhagen happening?

Most of the world’s governments believe climate change threatens human society and the natural world. Successive scientific reports, especially those issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have come to increasingly firm conclusions about humanity’s effect on the climate and the threat of rising temperatures. At Bali’s UN climate talks two years ago, governments agreed to start work on a new climate change agreement and the Copenhagen talks mark the end of that two-year deadline. The plan is to leave the Danish capital with a political agreement on the outlines of a new deal.

Why is a new treaty needed?

These talks sit within the framework of the UNFCCC, established at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and this spawned the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was rejected by the US. Neither agreement can curb the growth in greenhouse emissions enough to avoid the climate impacts forecast by the IPCC. In June, the G8 and a number of large developing countries agreed that average temperature rise from pre-industrial times needs to be limited to 2C and are looking to the Copenhagen talks to come up with a treaty that will curb emissions enough to keep within that limit.

What is needed?

Industrialised nations will be setting targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in order to mitigate climate change, with a key date of 2020, although some are looking beyond to 2050. Australia, the EU, Japan and New Zealand have already announced what they are prepared to do by 2020. Richer developing countries will probably be asked to constrain their emissions and industrialised nations have agreed in principle to help them in areas such as renewable energy. Some countries are thinking about adaptation to cope with the effects of climate change — measures such as building sea defences, securing fresh water supplies and developing new crop varieties. Developing counties are seeking substantial finance to help them adapt, reasoning that if industrialised world caused the problem, it should pay to sort it out.

What are the sticking points?

So far, cuts in greenhouse gas emissions pledged by rich countries fall short of what scientists say are needed. The EU will only go beyond a 20% cut in emissions by 2020 with comparable efforts from other rich nations. Any US commitments could depend on the ratification of the US Senate. So far, only the EU has specified how much money should flow from richer to poorer countries to help them adapt to climate impacts and to develop low carbon economies. It supports an annual €100 billion global fund of which €25-50bn would be public money, but Ban Ki Moon and Professor Stern say this is not enough. Meanwhile, China and India want to build on the existing legal framework set down at Kyoto, but the EU thinks there should be a new legal protocol but with similar international rules. The United States wants a new treaty but argues that each country should set its own rules.

What’s happening |at the talks?

Yesterday’s talks kicked off with a welcoming ceremony followed by an evening reception. Throughout the first week negotiators will be locked into closed sessions finalising the complex text on everything from carbon budgets to money for adaptation. The aim is to have an agreement that world leaders can sign off on by the time they arrive midway through the second week. Tomorrow, US President Barack Obama addresses the main conference before flying to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Belfast Telegraph


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