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Environmental Values

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Environmental Values

Editorial, Vol.18 No.4

A New Deal on Climate Change in Copenhagen?

Environmental Values 18 (2009): 393-396.
doi: 10.3197/096327109X12532653285650

This issue of Environmental Values marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, with articles by Ted Benton and Alan Holland focusing on Darwin's work. This issue also has an article by Hale and Grundy examining how environmental remediation technologies relate to responsibility, and one by Bhagwat examining the role of sacred sites in the provision of ecosystem services. In their article, Hunka and co-authors analyse perceptions of nature in Poland and compare them to those in the Netherlands. Finally, Callicott and his co-authors discuss Aldo Leopold's philosophical influences and Bryan Norton's interpretations of them.

In this editorial I want to address another timely issue: that of prospects for an agreement on ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets in Copenhagen in December 2009. Such an agreement would be needed to protect the stability of our climate system from abrupt and dangerous change.

A scientific consensus has emerged that global warming should be kept under about 2 degrees Celsius to avoid unacceptably large risk of dangerous climate change. This would require stabilisation of atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases below 450-550 ppm and 50-80 per cent cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to year 1990. In light of the needed reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the collective 5 per cent greenhouse gas reduction commitment agreed in Kyoto in 1997 is clearly insufficient.

Preparations for a new agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for the post-2012 period have been underway since the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bali in 2007. Under the UNFCCC process, these preparations have been spearheaded by the so called Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperation under the Convention (AWG-LCA) and the Ad-Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP). To date, the efforts of AWG-LCA and AWG-KP have focused on extending the use of solutions that underpinned the Kyoto Protocol, such as emissions trading and other market mechanisms, but they are also discussing new mitigation tools such as the reduction of deforestation in developing countries and carbon capture and storage.

There is some agreement on the key design principles of the architecture of climate change governance for the post-2012 period, as well as other reasons for optimism. The United States and Australia have taken a more active stance towards international climate change negotiations lately and they have started building their domestic policy frameworks for carbon management. Several non-trivial unilateral pledges of GHG emission reductions have also been presented, most notably by the European Union, which has pledged a unilateral 20 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

In the Group of 77 and China, several internally more homogeneous groupings are emerging, which may play different roles in international negotiations and in climate change mitigation. Involvement of large developing countries such as Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Mexico in mitigation is not anymore as foreign a notion as it was some years ago, particularly under what is called 'Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions' or NAMAs. Greater attention to solutions such as carbon capture and storage may also alter the position of oil producing and energy exporting countries towards climate change mitigation.

Several concurrent processes seek to facilitate the reaching of an agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009. These include the remaining meetings of the AWG-LCA and AWG-FC as well as various other formal and informal bilateral and multi-lateral meetings such as those of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate launched by President Obama earlier this year. Therefore, areas of agreement and issues of contention have been and will be discussed in various arenas in the run-up to Copenhagen negotiations. However, they are likely to surround the following issues:

There are also several obstacles to an agreement on climate change in Copenhagen. Firstly, the global economic downturn may juxtapose efforts to mitigate climate change and to secure employment and economic stability. There is no necessary conflict between the two, as arguments for and decisions on green economic stimulus demonstrate: renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable energy and transport infrastructure are carbon-friendly forms of public spending that can bolster economic activity and employment. Furthermore, the economic downturn itself will reduce global GHG emissions, improve energy efficiency and give an initial boost for mitigation efforts.

Further obstacles to an agreement in Copenhagen include domestic opposition to a more active stance to climate change in the United States, which could compromise the current Administration's ability to adopt effective domestic policies and to make international commitments. The willingness of energy exporters such as Australia and OPEC countries to accept GHG reduction targets will in turn depend partly on technological progress with Carbon Capture and Storage and on their ability to get it among the measures to be accounted for in an agreement.

Finally, climate change negotiations in Copenhagen do not cover all issues that have implications for climate change and mitigation efforts. For example, significant variations in the level of mitigation commitments will create incentives to relocate carbon intensive production to countries that have low mitigation commitments. Carbon intensive industries in these countries would also grow on their own without relocation because of altered relative costs. This is already an issue for some export-oriented economies such as China: it has called for the attribution of some of its greenhouse gas emissions to consumers of its export products. These and many other issues related to climate change will require attention in negotiations on world trade, so that arrangements governing trade and investment will support efforts to mitigate climate change, not undermine them.

Sustainability Research Institute
School of Earth and Environment
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

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