Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Battle Between U.S. and China Threatens Climate Conference

Ronald Bailey's second dispatch from the Copenhagen climate conference

Copenhagen, Dec. 15— “We can fail,” warned Danish Minister of the Environment Connie Hedegaard, president of the COP-15 climate change conference now happening in Copenhagen. Her warning was echoed by Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, who added, “There has been some progress, but not nearly enough to present to the world as a success in Copenhagen.” These dour assessments were made at the end of the 9th day of the conference at the ceremonial session welcoming the arrival of environment ministers from around the world. Both nevertheless gamely suggested that “success”—by which they mean significant commitments to establishing some kind of global scheme to handle man-made climate change—could still be had.

More than 100 heads of state are planning to show up at the end of the week to endorse whatever agreement their environment ministers manage to hammer out over the next two days. So there’s a lot of pressure on the negotiators to come up with something that will make their bosses look good on Friday.

However, failure is a real option. Deep divisions between the rich and poor nations—and especially between the world’s two biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, the United States and China—are threatening to derail the conference. It’s interesting to see how the two countries portray their disagreements. China’s Ambassador Yu Qingtai characterizes his country’s stance as defending the terms that the whole world has already agreed to in earlier climate covenants. U.S. Ambassador Todd Stern argues that the United States is not bound by the Kyoto Protocol, for the simple reason that it never signed that treaty. The Kyoto Protocol imposed greenhouse gas reduction goals on those developed countries that ratified it. Reductions averaged about 5 percent below 1990 levels.
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