UN says agreement in Copenhagen unlikely

Situation ‘worse than we thought’?

Only weeks to go before Copenhagen is due to reshape the political world as we know it, and now more signals that it will fail.

Although heads of government met in New York recently, we have been getting mixed signals on the likelihood of them reaching a meaningful agreement. As early as June this year, the UN’s top climate official, Mr Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said global emissions reduction targets are unlikely to be reached in Copenhagen. That was quite a pessimistic outlook from the man who’s supposed to be organising it.

In early September UN Development Chief, Miss Helen Clark (remember her?), was toning down expectations for Copenhagen, even suggesting there might be no deal at all. “I think the conference will be positive but it won’t dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’.”

Less than six weeks ago, the UK Foreign Secretary, Mr David Miliband, said that the Copenhagen conference would fail to produce an effective treaty on cutting greenhouse gases. We were daring to hope we could forget about Copenhagen committing us to any serious reduction in our energy use.

The news is still good, for the Associated Press reports that the United Nations announced it was scaling back expectations of reaching agreement on a new treaty to slow global warming.

Janos Pasztor, director of the secretary-general’s Climate Change Support Team, said on Monday: “It’s hard to say how far the conference will be able to go,” because the US Congress has not agreed on a climate bill, and industrialised nations have not agreed on targets to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions or funding to help developing countries limit their discharges.

Fortunately, failure is expected

Pasztor told a news conference “there is tremendous activity by governments in capitals and internationally to shape the outcome” of the climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in early December, which “is a good development” because political leadership is essential to make a deal.

But he indicated that Copenhagen most likely won’t produce a treaty, instead pushing governments as far as they can go on the content of an agreement.

All this, in spite of the fact that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made a new climate treaty his top priority. He hosted a September 22 summit on climate change to rally political support and is travelling extensively to build momentum for a global agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. That agreement only requires 37 industrialized nations to cut emissions.

Most, if not all, of the more than 190 countries involved in the climate change talks must sign up to some agreement to call it a success. Anything less would be counted a failure.

Fortunately, a failure is what many people, even top IPCC officials, now confidently expect.

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