China said it would curb pollution by 2020 – but it did not say by how much. Japan reaffirmed an ambitious new target for cutting emissions and offered cash to developing nations to adopt new green technology and for small-island and low-lying states, to escape the worst ravages of climate change. It did not say how much.
America committed itself to finding a solution – and for the first time accepted its share of the blame for climate change. France threw out an idea for an entirely new leaders’ summit in November.
Even the Maldives, which is generally included at such gatherings as a prime casualty of climate change, offered to do its share. It would be carbon neutral by 2020, its president, Mohamed Nasheed, said.
An outpouring of pledges of action from the world leaders was precisely what Ban intended when he said the summit was the first time such a sizeable group of world leaders had gathered to devote a full day to global warming.
Last night he said the gathering had saved the Copenhagen negotiations from outright collapse. “I am convinced that something missing from the last few months has returned,” he said. “This summit has put wind in our sails.”
The Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will be the official host of the Copenhagen meeting, said the deadlock had been broken. In a further sign of confidence, he said he was now inclined to invite heads of state and government to the talks, picking up the challenge by Gordon Brown last week.
UN officials said in advance they hoped new commitments from the big industrialised states, such as Japan and China, would prod other countries into action so that they not be seen as the spoilers of a potential deal at Copenhagen.
Last night, they said that the offers from China and Japan, and recent shifts in position, had changed the dynamics of the negotiations. The industrialised and developing world now appeared to share a sense of common cause on climate change – rather than recrimination about who was to blame, they said.
They also agreed it was crucial to keep heads of state and government involved because of the complexity of negotiations. The negotiation documents have on their own become a source of conflict, at 200 pages with hundreds of footnotes.
In his most direct foray into the debate, China’s president, Hu Jintao, said climate change would be an essential factor in its economic planning. “We should make our endeavour on climate change a win-win for both developed and developing countries,” he said, adding that China would cut carbon emissions by a “notable margin”, which he did not specify.
Hu also said China would step up use of renewable energy to 15% by 2020, and increase its forests.
Environmentalists saw the pledge – though lacking in specifics – as an important move. “These announcements should sweep away the canard that China is not willing to reduce emissions,” said Dan Dudek, the director of the China programme for the Environment Defence Fund. “Is it enough to make Copenhagen a success? That will depend upon whether Hu’s new climate initiatives propel Obama and the Senate into action on controlling greenhouse gases.” Obama offered no promises on pushing through legislation before Copenhagen. The Senate has been preoccupied with healthcare reform, though Democratic leaders said this week they hope to get to energy in early October. Instead, Obama made an overture to the developing countries, acknowledging the US and other industrialised states had failed for too long to acknowledge their responsibility. “It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond to or even recognise the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country as well. We recognise that,” he said. “But this is a new day.”
Though it was largely overlooked, he also showed he was committed to trying to green the US economy, announcing a project to track greenhouse gas emissions. The president promised further small-bore action at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh where he said America will propose phasing out subsidies for fossil fuel.
Environmentalists almost uniformly agreed that the US president had missed an opportunity to commit to working with the Senate on ways to get a bill that caps America’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Even so, the emerging focus on climate finance, with the US and Japan yesterday ready to commit funds, could help ease a contentious issue: how to help the developing world prepare for climate change.
There are still details to be ironed out. China is pushing for the developed world to spend 1% of GDP. The state department climate change envoy, Todd Stern, called that sum “untethered to reality”. But at least, said UN officials and environmentalists, it looks as if there is a renewed willingness to engage.