UN Climate Summit: Turning the Screw in the Countdown to Copenhagen

Wednesday, 23. September 2009     0 comment(s)
Andrew Jones
Research Assistant
International Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment research programme
Tuesday’s UN summit in New York saw around 100 world leaders assemble in a bid to foster more propitious conditions for reaching a global agreement on reducing carbon emissions. Progress on the climate talks has of late been glacial, with a prevailing sense that the talks – unlike many a glacier – have been going nowhere. This state of affairs prompted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to call for a summit in an attempt to rekindle the flagging negotiations by bringing together leaders to help generate momentum. The one-day talks took place a little over two months before the summit in Copenhagen, where it is hoped negotiators can reach an agreement covering the period after 2012.

The deepening impasses in negotiations boil down to a couple of broad issues in which the North is pitted against South. Firstly there is the matter of emissions cuts, with developing countries wanting to protect their own economic growth whilst demanding that developed ones take the lead and commit to deep emissions cuts. The developed nations on the other hand want to see their counterparts also committing to curbing emissions. Secondly, developing countries want financing and the transfer of low-carbon technology from the richer industrialised nations to cover the costs of adapting to climate change – a complex issue and one which poses a true political challenge to wealthier states.

Given its status as both a major emitter and a developing country, the focus of attention in New York was on China. In the run-up to Tuesday’s addresses, President Hu Jintao was expected by some to present a radical new climate initiative which could galvanise others into action. He failed to live up to the pre-summit hype by not announcing targets beyond those outlined by China’s recent National Climate Change Programme, but his country’s ambitious targets – reducing energy intensity and emissions of major pollutants, while increasing forest coverage and the share of renewable energy – show that, contrary to widespread belief, China is swiftly taking the initiative in committing to combating climate change and will be key to any deal come mid-December.

Other recent developments have also led to a change of mood. Last week in a stunning move India indicated it was ready to set domestic emissions targets, representing a swift and complete reversal of its position. With China’s latest step forward on Tuesday coming on the back of this, a response and leadership is thus needed from the USA. With the ratification of the Waxman-Markey bill however postponed due to the Senate’s obstinate hostility to America’s prospective first climate change legislation, the new administration’s rhetoric of commitment will remain just that.

Things have encouragingly moved forward, albeit slightly. Two major emerging economies representing the developing states are shifting from their previously entrenched positions. This means the pressure is now on Obama. He now needs to be direct this pressure to the US Senate to facilitate a deal favourable to Copenhagen.

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