Results of Barcelona leave opinion divided about what to expect at Copenhagen

Tone Foss Aspevoll

Publish date: November 8, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

BARCELONA – The last round of climate meetings before Copenhagen closed in Barcelona Friday with ambivalence over whether an international legally binding climate agreement will be reached at the big show, and a consensus that any kind of agreement now depends on individual nations’ own sense of restraint.

Yet, despite the differences revealed in Barcelona, many are still urging nations to shoot for a legally binding agreement – even if that agreement has to be postponed.

Progress in Barcelona was less than desired, concluded John Ashe, who chaired the closing negotiation at the Barelona meetings.

Ashe made a special point of urging richer nations to make commitments on greenhouse gas reductions – and he also said that Copenhagen could reach a successful outcome, despite the current weariness of negotiators.

Even Yvo de Boer, the chief UN negotiator on climate change warned  last Thursday not to expect a legally binging agreement, but rather a set of decisions.

Two years ago, the world’s governments gathered in Bali, Indonesia and vowed to finalise a new treaty at next month’s climate summit in Copenhagen. But Britain’s climate secretary, Ed Miliband, has said that Copenhagen is likely to produce only a political deal in a statement that echoes other figures who attended Barcelona.

But, for the grumbling among negotiators that came of last week’s meetings, other observers are urging leaders not to give up hope on the legally binding agreement that the worlds nations have invested a great deal of hope and effort in.

“Whether we get a legally binding treaty will only become clear in Copenhagen,” said Bellona international advisor Svend Søyland who was at the Barcelona meeting.

“It is the politicians who ultimately would decide this, not the negotiators,” he said.

Norway’s negotiator will be pushing full bore for a legally binding agreement.

Russian environmentalists call for agreement
Meanwhile a group of powerful Russian environmental organisations has forwarded a formal statemen to Copenhagen negotiators outlines their dissatisfaction that a worldwide deal now seems out of reach, yet are nonetheless calling for a legally binding agreement.

“A political declaration means nothing as such. It is merely good intention. If the work here results on in a declaration, then it’s total failure, however good (the declaration may seem,” said Russia’s Ecodefence, Greenpeace Russia and Russia’s chapter of the World Wildlife fund in their statement.

Their statement went on to say that the Copenhagen decision must include the “basic elements of a new agreement until 2020,” including “emissions reductions of 35 to 40 percent by all developed countries (below) 1990 (emissions) levels.

They also urged the implementation of plans of action to limit the growth of emissions in developing nations, taking urgent measures to help areas where climate change is already apparent and a $160 billion annual allocation for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

The groups noted in their statement from Copenhagen that Russia is in a unique position to take a leadership role in, as its emissions are already 30 percent less than 1990 levels.

Time running out – but can a deal be reached anyway?
Barcelona marked the last gathering of world leaders for negotiation before the UN’s climate talks begin in less than a month in Copenhagen, where the hope had been to develop an agreement that would be legally binding on all participants in an effort to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Many in Barcelona underscored that time has run out for a legally binding agreement in Copenhagen. The negotiating text is, in some areas, more manageable, allowing politicians to make decisions based on them. But much remains to be resolved about who will cut what amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and how the struggle against climate change will be financed.

If the parties representing over 180 nations who gather in Copenhagen cannot agree on a deal, Bellona says it is important that a legally binding contract be put into place as soon as possible after the Copenhagen summit. The world’s emissions and temperature are rising, and many areas are already noting the impact of climate change.

The US and China, two of the worlds three biggest emitters, are reluctant to submit their own national efforts to the oversight of an international framework. But both countries have meanwhile agreed to bind themselves to national legislation on controlling climate gasses. The US Senate on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) just last week pushed through a climate legislation bill that will likely be passed in the coming year.

Bellona would prefer that all nations commit themselves to international and overseeable regulations, but also sees the value of individual nation’s commitments, which, over time, could prove to be trust building measures.

Norway plans to go the mat for a legal agreement
Hanne Bjurstrøm , Norway’s climate negotiator still wants to shoot for a legally binding agreeement.  

“Norway will continue to be clear that we want a legally binding agreement,” Bjurstrøm told Bellona Web.

Bjurstrøm has previously been clear that this is probably not a realistic outcome at Copenhagen, but explained her current tack:

“It then becomes all the more important for us to make the political decision as ambitious and clearly as possible, and show that there is a clear process for transforming the political decision into a legally binding agreement,” she said.

An enormous political investment
“There has been an enormous political investment in this process,” said Harald Dovland, vice chairman of the Kyoto negotiations and Bjurstrøm’s predecessor as Norway’s climate negotiator through the years 1995 to 2007. He said that politicians will not forcefully drive the Copenhagen process into fiasco.

Although a legally binding agreement might not be the outcome at Copenhagen, said Doveland, the next planned climate summits in Mexico and South Africa will be important.

Process already underway
The distance many countries have moved over the last past years toward reaching an agreement has been very significant. In particular, the biggest obstructions – the US an dkey emerging economies such as China and India – have become much more willing to make a deal.

In many ways, noted Ed Crooks, an energy commentator for the Financial Times, world industry is already well on track to slashing emissions with or without an agreement in Copenhagen.

“Many of the technologies that will be required are already in use, or within a decade of commercial deployment,” Crooks wrote after Barcelona.

It is extremely unlikely that a new climate deal will be signed in Copenhaen, wrote Crooks.

“Instead the hope is that there will be high level political agreement, with many of the key details spelled out, that can be codified into a treaty to be signed next year,” wrote Crooks.