Opening the conference, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen declared a successful deal was “within reach” and the executive secretary of the UN climate change convention, Yvo de Boer, said negotiations were in “excellent shape”.
And international negotiators argued that the conditions placed by the Rudd government on making the deeper cuts had already been met. “It is pretty clear Australia will have to move well beyond 5 per cent,” one developed-nation negotiator said.
The conference began last night with an announcement by the World Meteorological Organisation that this decade has likely been the warmest on record, and this year the fifth-warmest.
An almost carnival-like atmosphere marked the opening of the two-week summit, as tens of thousands of non-government participants descended for hundreds of side events, in the conference centre and across Copenhagen.
Behind the scenes, negotiators conceded a deal was by no means assured, with divisions remaining on national targets, but consensus emerging around a $10 billion-a-year “first step” fund to help developing countries cope with climate change that was already unavoidable.
“Other countries in these negotiations are assuming Australia will cut by at least 15 per cent, that the 5 per cent unilateral target is not really on the table any more,” said Bill Hare, director of Climate Analytics and 20-year veteran of international climate negotiations.
“That’s the basis on which they are making calculations about what they might be prepared to do,” he said.
“The thresholds Australia set for action by other developed countries have certainly been met. The developing-country positions are more difficult . . . but the domestic policies announced by China and India would certainly more than meet Australia’s conditions.”
But an international deal that includes a 15 per cent domestic target will cause problems for Tony Abbott, who has offered bipartisan support for Australia’s target range but has also conceded that his direct-action climate change policy will struggle to achieve cuts above the unilateral 5 per cent cut that Australia has promised even if the Copenhagen summit fails to reach agreement.
A 15 per cent target would mean Australia would need to find an extra 50 million tonnes of CO2 abatement or more a year by 2020. The government and the Coalition have committed to a 15 per cent target under specific conditions, including aggregate emissions-reduction targets by developed countries of between
15 and 25 per cent and strong measurable actions by developing countries.
The offers on the table from developed countries add up to between 14 and 22 per cent cuts and developing countries have collectively pledged to cutting their emissions from business-as-usual levels by between 5 and 20 per cent. But whether these cuts will be internationally verified and
accounted remains one of the most contentious issues at the negotiation.
Negotiators have been trying to ratchet up one another’s emission reduction commitments in the final deal to be struck by the 110 global leaders, who will arrive in the Danish capital next week, so that it comes at least close to what scientists say is needed to limit global warming to 2C.
“Old” Europe leaders are pushing hard for the EU to commit to its upper-end target of 30 per cent cuts by 2020 based on 1990 levels, a reduction that would still equate to more than 20 per cent when measured against Australia’s 2000 baseline, although this is being resisted by some Eastern European nations.
“I want to create a situation in which the European Union is persuaded to go to 30 per cent,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Andreas Carlgren, Sweden’s Environment Minister and the EU’s chief negotiator under the rotating presidency, said the EU would hold out on announcing a higher target until the “end game” negotiation by leaders, and expected China and the US to increase their offers..
But he said the targets proposed by the US (17 per cent cuts by 2020 based on 2005 levels, equivalent to 14 per cent measured against Australia’s baseline) and China (cuts in its emissions intensity of up to 45 per cent) — which between them represent half the world’s emissions — were too low.
“I would rather expect the US President will deliver something further,” he said. And he warned that based on China’s growth rates, its offer would still result in large emission increases.
US negotiators insist Mr Obama has no room to move beyond the 17 per cent cut, which is in line with the Waxman Markey legislation that has passed the House of Representatives but is slightly less than the Kerry Boxer bill before the Senate.
But negotiators believe the US could offer a higher target based on actions taken in addition to what is achieved under the cap-and-trade scheme.
And the decision by the US Environmental Protection Agency to declare it would start regulating six greenhouse gases as “dangerous pollutants” gives Mr Obama powerful leverage in the talks as it opens a way for him to meet emissions-reduction pledges, even if congress does not ultimately pass his scheme in its current form.