The row centres on the draft treaty texts the Danish presidency of the summit must produce for leaders to finalise and whether they end the existing Kyoto protocol, signed in 1997. Rich nations want a new treaty to reflect a much-changed world economic order, while poorer nations insist the legal demands Kyoto makes on industrialised polluters must be preserved.
Yesterday began badly, with Connie Hedegaard, Danish environment minister and chair of the summit, resigning to allow her prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen to take over. She called the move “appropriate” with so many heads of state and government attending, though it had not been signalled in advance. Some delegates speculated it was to smooth the way for the introduction of a draft treaty by the Danish presidency that would sideline Kyoto.
But if, as Miliband believes, it will be possible to reassure developing countries over Kyoto, there were some positive steps to build on in other areas.
The most significant of these was progress between the US and China, the world’s biggest polluters and whose actions will determine the fate of summit.
US senator John Kerry gave a packed conference hall a “100%” guarantee to get climate change laws passed through Congress if the countries at the summit managed an overall deal.
“With a successful deal, next year, the US Congress – house and Senate – will pass legislation,” Kerry said to applause. “I will tell you right now, 100%, we are going to pass major climate and energy legislation that is going to have an impact on emissions.”
A critical part of the Copenhagen deal the US wants is “transparency” from China on the curbs on carbon emissions Beijing has promised – an inspection regime. “To pass a bill, we must be able to assure a senator from Ohio that steelworkers in his state won’t lose their jobs to India and China because those countries are not participating in a way that is measurable, reportable and verifiable,” said Kerry, who heads the Senate foreign relations committee and is guiding climate laws through the Senate.
After talks with Kerry, the chief Chinese negotiator, Su Wei, held out an olive branch. He said China would be more open and improve the quality of information about its measures to improve energy efficiency and curb emissions.
“I believe through these measures, we can see that China will only do better in terms of effectiveness, openness and transparency in implementing the goals we set,” Su said.
While stopping short of American demands for independent verification, Su said more data would be made available through existing mechanisms. He was confident this would be enough to end one of the disputes. “I don’t see any further necessity to worry about this,” he said. It is uncertain if other countries will be willing to accept China’s offer, but Su’s comments show China’s efforts to help the Obama administration pass a climate bill through the senate.
Such a bill is crucial if the US is to join a global treaty, while a global treaty would be crippled by the absence of the US. The uncertainty about whether America is prepared to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, and by how much, has dogged the negotiations. It has allowed developing countries, such as China and India, to stall on committing to action and has bred resentment from African and poor countries that will suffer the most from climate change.
India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, was unimpressed by Kerry’s rhetoric. He said India was already prepared to introduce some of the reporting mechanisms America was demanding. A strong offer on climate change finance would help ease the resentment of developing countries, he added.
“If the US comes up with a generous financial offer, the chemistry of Copenhagen would entirely change,” Ramesh told the Guardian. “But they can’t do it on Friday morning when Obama gets here. They must change the atmosphere now.”
Tackling deforestation, which contributes up to 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, took a step forward, with the UK, along with Japan, Norway, America, France and Australia, agreeing that by 2010 a total of $3.5bn would be spent on saving trees. The money comes from the so-called “fast start” fund worth $30bn to poorer countries over three years.
On the vexed issue of longer term finance, the Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi presented an offer to reduce developing country demands by 75% to $100bn a year from 2020, in return for guarantees of how the money would be distributed. But his offer was derided as a sellout by some nations.