Copenhagen Leak: Summit in Disarray

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Several media outlets are reporting a donneybrook in Denmark as the Copenhagen climate summit attendees grapple with a leaked document.

Copenhagen delegate expresses concern

The UK’s Guardian reports:

The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

. . .

“It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get [Barack] Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week. It effectively is the end of the UN process,” said one diplomat, who asked to remain nameless.

Australia’s News.com.au expands on the controversy:

The agreement, leaked to the paper, is a departure from the Kyoto protocol’s principle that rich nations, which have emitted the bulk of the CO2, should take on firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, while poorer nations were not compelled to act.

The draft hands effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank; would abandon the Kyoto protocol – the only legally binding treaty that the world has on emissions reductions; and would make any money to help poor countries adapt to climate change dependent on them taking a range of actions.

The document was described last night by one senior diplomat as “a very dangerous document for developing countries. It is a fundamental reworking of the UN balance of obligations. It is to be superimposed without discussion on the talks”, the paper reports.

President Obama is expected to commit the US to a “politically binding” goal of reduction of our emissions of carbon dioxide to 17% of 2005 levels by 2050. If this goal is a total reduction, rather than a per-capita reduction, it means the average American in 2050 will be “allowed the carbon dioxide emission of the average citizen in 1867” according to the Cato Institute.

Can you cut your CO2 emissions by 82 points? Just over a quarter of America’s CO2 emissions are from automobiles; driving a Prius or similar car can help reduce your CO2 emissions from driving by half, so you are 12 points along the way already. Reduction in energy use from other sources, including electricity … remember it has to be generated somewhere … can help you gain a few extra points. Forgoing the expensive big screen TV in favor of a used tube set will save another point or two, and turning off appliances when not in use can shave a fraction of a point.

Today’s technology can’t get us there without large disruptions. We can wait to see if technology will help empower our efforts, but those individual efforts, while noble, are probably not a practical way to reach the goals.

Replacing coal as an energy source would provide the most bang for the buck, with wind, solar and nuclear as the most viable of the clean alternatives. But the time-line on those efforts is measured in decades rather than months.

From a political standpoint, being able to pollute more than the developing nations will be popular (here, at least). One of the most potent objections to the Koyoto Protocol was the feeling that developed nations would have to sacrifice while developing nations could continue to pollute. That was the primary reason the Bush Administration refused to consider it. President Obama seems to have a better idea: change the game to allow the rich countries more leeway.

Of course, the poor countries might not see it our way.

Cross posted to FrankHagan.com