Pre-Copenhagen Posturing

Posted on September 22, 2009 at 11:28 pm,

There seems to be a lot of pro-environment posturing going on in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate congress. Hopefully this increases the chance of the summit coming up with a deal that will actually reduce carbon emissions by a substantial amount. However, the cynic in me thinks that a lot of this is going to prove to be greenwash – there may be tough talk, but Copenhagen may produce the same kind of token deal we saw at Kyoto.

In the last few days we’ve had the following:

Gordon Brown saying that he might personally attend, instead of just sending the Environment minister. If other world leaders follow suit, there’s a chance that there will be a bit more political will there. Or at least that they think that the deal that’s being brokered will make them look good, even if they don’t intend to follow through.

Hu Jintau is committing China to a carbon-cutting deal. Given that one of the big stumbling blocks in negotiations from Western countries (particularly the US) has been the insistence that China and India make emissions cuts – or at least stop emissions growth, this is a very positive sign. If China is willing to make big cuts, then the US has no excuse left.

The UN is planning what the Guardian describes as “shock therapy” in order to help motivate the leaders to make a deal. Whether the changes to the set-up that usually accompanies such conferences will make a difference or not is anybody’s guess. But it does show that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is determined to get some kind of deal hammered out.

Meanwhile, the aviation industry is claiming that it will cut emissions by half by the year 2050. Given that they seem to envisage the continuing expansion of airports and number of flights, that seems somewhat over-ambitious – to say the least. There isn’t a viable clean technology for powering aircraft – which remain the most polluting form of transport by a very very long way. Unless the scientists and engineers come up with something very good very quickly, they’ll be using the cheat of funding everybody else’s carbon cuts. It’s better than nothing, but nowhere near good enough.

And a couple of weeks ago, the new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to cut emissions by 25% by 2020. That’s a substantial cut, but far below what is needed to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

We can but hope that world leaders hammer out a deal to deliver massive cuts in carbon emissions before we all pay the price. Based on the signals that are being sent out, it looks likely that there will be something stronger than Kyoto. And it’s possible that there will be a commitment to the 80-90% reduction that is needed by 2050.

And it’s then that the real work begins. We will need to hold all the governments involved to account so that they actually deliver those reductions. Targets are not enough – we need policies that will actually deliver them, and whatever Copenhagen delivers in commitments and targets, it’s not going produce a series of policies to be followed in order to achieve them.

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