The Copenhagen climate change summit kicks off today in what will be a two-week marathon set of negotiations involving 15,000 delegates from 192 nations. The run-up to the talks saw a series of announcements by several of the world’s largest polluters pledging all sorts of commitments to reducing carbon emissions, but it has been China and the US who have, for the most part, attracted the most amount of attention.
US President Barack Obama, who will arrive in the Danish capital towards the end of the talks, has already stated that the US will commit to a 17% reduction in emissions on 2005 levels by 2020. China, signaling it’s sincerity in reducing pollution, announced that Premier Wen Jiabao himself will attend the talks and that it is willing to cut carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP by 40-50% by 2020 against 2005 levels.
But these positive moves did not come without any political sniping beforehand. China’s chief climate envoy Yu Qingtai earlier had a go at Europe for reneging on its emission cuts and made it clear that Beijing was sticking to its guns when it comes to being pushed around by developed nations demanding greater effort from developing nations to fulfill emissions targets.
China, India, Brazil and South Africa appeared to be manning a united front, according to a top Indian delegate. He said the four countries were against international targets for limiting climate change – bar the target of keeping global warming to a maximum 2C above pre-industrial levels – and they would only agree to supervision of green policy implementation if donated funds or technology was involved. This is a key sticking point for developing nations, including China, to hammer down emission peaks and targets.
Beijing has already said that emissions will peak around 2050, and now the science and technology minister Wan Gang has narrowed that down to between 2030 and 2040 – the closest China has come to setting any emissions target.
While it is easy to be cynical about empty gestures, hot wind, and any other euphemism that goes along with all words and no action, the Copenhagen talks will most likely just be the beginning of the next round of negotiations between developed and lesser developed economies on climate change.
Pressuring countries like China, an economy that has for long proven pivotal when it comes to the health of the global economy, on energy intensity and carbon emissions is a risky business, but the rewards of setting out and abiding by standards and targets are far greater than any short-term political gain.
In the long run, we are all dead, but hopefully the outcome of these talks will prove the stepping stone toward postponing that day.