A global deal to tackle climate change
is all but impossible in 2010, leaving the scale and pace of action to
slow global warming in coming decades uncertain, according to senior
figures across the world involved in the negotiations.
forces trying to tackle climate change are in disarray, wandering in
small groups around the battlefield like a beaten army," said a senior
An important factor cited is an impasse within
the UN organization charged with delivering a global deal, which today
will start assessing the pledges made by individual countries by a
deadline that passed last night.
Many of those contacted say only
a legally binding deal setting "top-down" global limits on emissions
can ultimately avoid the worst impacts of rising temperatures. But a
global deal at the next major climate summit in Mexico is impossible,
says the former deputy prime minister John Prescott,
now the Council of Europe's rapporteur on climate change. "I don't care
if it's government ministers or NGOs, if they think you can get a legal
agreement all signed up by November in Mexico, I don't believe it."
opinions are being expressed worldwide. "In 2010 perhaps we'll manage
some success, but I think a definitive deal is very difficult," said
Suzana Kahn, a key negotiator in Copenhagen and Brazil's national
secretary for climate change.
The change in rhetoric compared with just weeks ago is stark. On the eve of the Copenhagen summit last year, Gordon Brown
wrote in the Guardian: "Our aim is a comprehensive and global agreement
which is then converted to an internationally legally binding treaty in
no more than six months."
The British government says the
12-paragraph Copenhagen accord "noted" by the UN summit last month
provides the basis for significant country-by-country carbon cuts. But
even the climate secretary, Ed Miliband,
acknowledges this "bottom-up" approach is unlikely to be sufficient.
"Will they on their own be enough? Perhaps not, which is why we need to
ratchet those targets up," he said.
One of the most senior
British climate officials told the Guardian that a legally binding
deal, while desirable, was now no longer the critical thing: "What
people seem to forget is that an agreement does not reduce one molecule
of carbon dioxide - it's national policies that do that."
shift of emphasis from a global deal to national action stems directly
from the problem that wrecked the Copenhagen summit, and which remains
unresolved. The UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC), the
secretariat for climate treaties, makes decisions by unanimous
agreement of all 192 member countries, and was described as "fatally
cumbersome" by one close observer.
The small group of countries that devised the Copenhagen accord, led by the US, China and India and including the UK, want 20-30 representative nations to be able to make decisions and other organizations such as the G20
and the Major Economies Forum to take a role. But this will be fiercely
resisted by countries such as Bolivia and Sudan, which blocked
agreement in Copenhagen, and Tuvalu and other threatened states which
want to retain a veto on deals they see as weak.
nations, including the UK and Spain, acknowledge the UN cannot be
sidelined. Last night, Brown said the UNFCCC was the only body to
deliver a treaty, whilst acknowledging its difficulties. "The process
up to and at Copenhagen was clearly flawed. We all need to work to
ensure that the UNFCCC is an institution that can bear the huge
expectations we are putting on it. It remains the vehicle for an
The current UNFCCC impasse was described to the
Guardian as "paralysis" and even its head, Yvo de Boer, has talked of a
"cooling off period" after Copenhagen. Last night's deadline for
nations to submit their domestic targets is expected to have attracted
about 25-30 responses, though De Boer had already fudged it. "You can
describe it as a soft deadline," he said.
Those pledges that have
been made public reconfirm the Copenhagen offers, for example, a 17%
cut from 2005 levels for the US, 20% from 1990 levels for the EU and
25% from the same base for Japan. A senior British official said: "For
the first time we have all the major economies agreed to action
covering over 80% of the world's emissions. That has never happened
But analysis from PricewaterhouseCoopers and others
indicates the existing offers fall far short of that goal. "Unless
there is a wave of commitments over the next 24 hours, the accord is a
long way off achieving the low carbon pathway needed."
The UN is
known to be pushing for a meeting in late February or early March to
try to solve the problem of the UNFCCC negotiating structure. Getting
that process started was crucial, said Jonathan Pershing, deputy US
climate envoy. "Twelve paragraphs [in the Copenhagen accord] do not
make for an adequate or comprehensive agreement. There is more work to
be done ... for a global agreement to be reached."
insist that the world's biggest cumulative polluter must enact real
emissions cuts. "We need a legally binding commitment from the US. I
think this is fundamental," said Suzana Kahn of Brazil. But even after
a defiant state of the union speech from Barack Obama last week, most
experts think economic fears and the shadow of mid-term elections will
scare enough Capitol Hill politicians to make passing a strong - and
therefore unpopular - bill near-impossible.
Engaging the world's
current biggest polluter, China, is just as crucial. "Without the
participation of the two biggest emitters a deal makes no sense and one
will not make a deal without the other," said Kahn. But if the US
difficulties are at least clear, China's position is not even that.
"There is great deal of uncertainty," said David Kennedy, chief
executive of the UK's committee on climate change.
traumas suffered by China in Copenhagen, where Beijing took much of the
blame for the summit's failure, has hardened opinions, said Li Yan,
Greenpeace China's climate campaigner: "Now there are stronger
conservative voices and more concerns about the changed diplomatic
circumstances and the economic downturn."
In the nervy run-up to
Copenhagen, a senior British diplomat warned: "We can go into extra
time, but we can't afford a replay." At the end of the chaotic summit,
that replay, set for Mexico in November, was seen as a good result,
given how close the entire show came to collapsing.
But six weeks
since the summit reached its conclusion, senior figures around the
world do not believe the rematch is even likely to be played.