The clock has run out, says UN climate chief, as negotiators settle in for watershed – or dam

Publish date: December 6, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

COPENHAGEN - Yvo de Boer, Secretary General of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) opened the Copenhagen climate talks today with a strong warning to negotiatiors as they begin their work – the clock has ticked down to zero, and time for action is now.

It has taken the worlds some 20 years to reach this watershed moment in climate change politics. The road of expectations has risen and plunged numerous times, sometimes in the course of only hours.

But one thing about this particular summit that has many speaking optimistically today is that this is the first time all major players have come to the negotiating table with already stated national emissions cuts goals – no matter how dissonant those goals may be and the measures that nations put forth as a yardstick .

The Bella Center in Copenhagen began to fill early for the first day of negotiations, which will be representing 192 nations worldwide.

The summit was arranged by the UNFCC, and it is the 15th such so-called conference of parties, known as COP 15, which has annually gathered international climate negotiators and heads of state.

This year’s meeting holds a special place in the hearts of its participants: After years of deliberate blindness, the United States –the world’s number two emitter – is has taken a place at the table under the administration of Barack Obama.

His very presidency, indeed, has infused the talks with a unique meaning, even though most delegates are disappointed by the current US proposal to cut 17 percent of its emissions under  2005 levels, as well as the admission by world leader – led by Obama – that Copenhagen will not shoot for a legally binding agreement, but rather a political framework to facilitate a true agreement in one or two years.

But, aside from being the first time the United States has ever committed to the international community to reduce emissions – let alone send its President for an appearance, as Obama will do on December 18th – American participation has facilitated the participation of other enormous emitters, namely China, who have arrived her with their own emissions targets.

Beijing announced that it would cut 45 percent of its so-called carbon density in proportion to its industrial growth. This odd measure, which really means business as usual for China, the world’s biggest emitter, has also left negotiators grumbling, but the announcement its grounds for optimism as China has at least pledged something that can perhaps be negotiated up.

“Negotiators now have the clearest signal ever from world leaders to craft solid proposals to implement rapid actions,” said de Boer in a statement before the talks.

“Never in 17 years of climate negotiations have so many different nations made so many firm pledges together,” he said. “Copenhagen is already a turning point in the international response to climate change.”

Time for cooperation

Secretary General De Boer gained world wide fame when, out of frustration, he burst into tears at  COP13 in Bali in 2007 over the grinding disagreement among nations. By contrast, he was very clear during the opening of COP15 today.

“This is not the time to repeat well-known positions,” he told the assembly. “This is the time for cooperation and to deliver a good deal.”

Bellona is well represented at the negotiations in Copenhagen with its own pavilion at both Copenhagen’s central square Rådhusplassen and at the summit’s Bella Center. Bellona President Frederic Hauge is on hand to follow the negotiations and says he is ready for two tough week.

“We are facing two critical weeks. The seriousness of climate change is dramatic,” Hauge said.

Bellona’s programme for the climate meeting is available here.

Ambitious agreement

The first speech delivered today at the summit’s opening was given by Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. He encouraged the delegates to channel all of their political energy into a strong and ambitious agreement.

“You must be constructive, flexible and realistic,” he told the delegates. “A deal is within our reach,” he said, stressing that the talks will have to overcome dep distrust between rich and poor nations on how to share the burden of curbing emissions.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and head of the UNFCC’s  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) Rajender Pachauri, also addressed the assembly, and gave it a reminder about the climate panel’s findings on the need for renewable energy, and pointed out the summit’s host country Denmark as an example.

“Danish wind power is 100 times more efficient today than it wwas in 1980. Over the last decade, Danish wind power exports have increased from 200 to 3600 megawatts,” said Pachauri.

Connie Hedegård Danish Minister for The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009 was chosen to preside over the summit. Before the formalities began, she came forth with a appeal.

“Copenhagen had for a long time been a deadline. But now it is ‘now.’ There will never be found more political will than now. Much political will,” she said