Two weeks of global climate talks end with few concrete steps
COPENHAGEN, Denmark – A historic U.N. climate conference ended Saturday with only a nonbinding “Copenhagen Accord” to show for two weeks of debate and frustration. It was a deal short on concrete steps against global warming, but signaling a new start for rich-poor cooperation on climate change.
The agreement brokered by President Barack Obama with China and others in fast-paced hours of diplomacy on Friday sets up the first significant program of climate aid to poorer nations. But although it urges deeper cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for global warming, it does nothing to demand them. That will now be subject to continuing talks next year.
As delegates wrapped up an exhausting overnight negotiating marathon Saturday afternoon, to end the 193-nation conference, U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer assessed the results for reporters. It’s “an impressive accord,” he said of the three-page document. “But it’s not an accord that is legally binding, not an accord that pins down industrialized countries to targets.”
A legally binding international agreement – a treaty – requiring further emissions cuts by richer nations was the goal in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007 when the annual U.N. conference set a two-year timetable leading to Copenhagen.
A new pact would succeed the first phase of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose relatively modest emissions cuts by 37 nations expire in 2012. It was hoped a new regime would encompass the U.S., which rejected Kyoto.
But the hopes for Copenhagen faded as 2009 wore on and the first U.S. legislation to cap carbon emissions worked its way only slowly through Congress. Without a U.S. commitment, others were wary of submitting to a new legally binding deal.
Big polluters, nonetheless, submitted plans for reductions ahead of the U.N. talks.
The European Union has committed to cutting emissions by 20 percent by 2020, compared with 1990 levels; Japan to 25 percent, if others take similar steps; and the U.S. provisionally to a weak 3 to 4 percent.
For the first time, China also offered to rein in its greenhouse gas output, pledging to reduce its “carbon intensity” – that is, its use of fossil fuels per unit of economic output – by 40 to 45 percent. India, Brazil and South Africa followed suit with their own voluntary targets.
But scientists say that’s too small a rollback in gases from fossil-fuel burning, emissions that have increased an average of 2 to 3 percent a year in the past decade.