The much-hyped climate talks scheduled for Copenhagen in December may be a failure before they’ve even started, according to United Nations climate change guru, Janos Pasztor. The goal of the 11-day global conference is to produce a new climate treaty requiring all signing nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by a set amount — much like the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997. But if political infighting continues in both the United States and European Union, and they show up unable to commit to a deal, the whole event could be moot.
If the most developed countries in the world can’t settle on carbon emissions targets and can’t bring any leadership or ideas along these lines to the table, then chances are slim that 101 heads of state will be able to reach consensus. Compounding the situation, if these countries fail to allocate financial aid for reducing emissions at home and abroad, then developing countries — already frustrated that they have to green their industrial revolutions — will have no incentive to sacrifice in the name of conservation. They are already reluctant to agree to anything, as is. It could be a real mess.
And it’s not looking good.
Today, VentureBeat reported on the Obama administration’s doubled efforts to pass climate legislation that would establish a carbon cap-and-trade system and ambitious quotas for renewable energy generation. But the issue is becoming increasingly divisive, with the opposition digging in its heals and even threatening to undermine the president’s position at the Copenhagen talks. Republicans are across-the-board against the proposed Kerry-Boxer bill, currently pending in the Senate, and democrats from industrial, emissions-heavy states are bolting across the aisle. As it’s shaping up right now, it’s unlikely the climate legislation will pass before the end of year, tying the U.S.’s hands on the global stage.
The European Union is facing hurdles of its own. Last week, the finance ministers from across the union met to agree on an amount of aid to offer developing nations to convince them to sign onto a potential Copenhagen treaty. But representatives from the 27 countries left the talks even more polarized than before. While the older, core members of the union like France and Germany advocated for a higher amount of aid, they met strong opposition from the newer Eastern European states hesitant to give away more money when their belts are already tight.
The ministers met again in Brussels today, finally producing a workable number: $148 billion annually — the amount that wealthier nations should hand over to countries like India and Thailand by 2020 to defray some of their costs of reducing emissions. Spearheaded by British prime minister Gordon Brown, this success is promising, but has still left some European states rankled. To quiet concerns, the deal will include a ramp-up period during which the amount given annually will be between $32.5 billion and $74 billion. But will this be enough of a compromise?
E.U. leaders had promised to come up with a set amount of aid before Copenhagen in order to take carbon reduction negotiations with developing countries to the next level. The idea is that foreign incentives will soothe the minds of poorer countries concerned that emissions regulations will stem their growth. Considering the amount of pushback from these countries, including China and India, at climate talks in Bangkok last week, these financial programs will have to be pretty convincing.
Even more contentious, the European proposal assumes aid contributions from the U.S. In order for Europe to supply the amount designated, it will need to derive $7.4 to $11 billion more from taxes a year. In the U.S., this increase could be in the tens of billions — not something that will be swallowed easily in an already hostile political environment. This gives the U.S. yet another chance to kill climate change progress in its tracks.
It’s not the first time it’s been in this role. Twelve years ago, the U.S. failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, drawing the world community’s scorn and taking a black eye on the climate change issue that has yet to wear off. Copenhagen’s big unspoken question is whether the U.S. will give a repeat performance, despite its shiny new Democratic leader. The difference is, in 1997 there was a sense that there was still time to figure things out. Today, post-“Inconvenient Truth” and with worldwide concern over global warming, it’s not as certain that there’s time to get it wrong again.
VentureBeat is hosting GreenBeat, the seminal executive conference on the Smart Grid, on Nov. 18-19, featuring keynotes from Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr. Get your discounted early-bird tickets before Oct. 31 at GreenBeat2009.com.