A matter of weeks remain until the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change. What can we expect to happen?
In an article published in the New York Times on 19 Nov. 2009, Elisabeth Rosenthal and Neil MacFarqhhar state that: “if neither China nor the United States made a commitment, the national plans of lesser emitters would have little practical effect”. I disagree with this analysis.
First, the USA might be the highest greenhouse gas emitter per capita, and China might be the highest emitter over all, but that does not make action by other states without effect. So far, the EU has committed itself to cutting emissions by 20% by 2020 (the ‘202020’ plan as it is known); Russia has set a target of 20%; Brazil – 40%; and, most notably, South Korea declared their target at 30% stating that they will do this with or without a global agreement. India has not set a target yet, but they recently announced an estimated $20 billion investment in solar energy up to 2022. It seems to me that the South Koreans are the ones on the right track though – they are prepared to act without waiting for other nations to lead them.
Nevertheless, China announced it’s intentions of not committing to any binding agreement when President Obama was visiting the region on 14 Nov, although it holds the status of a developing country, meaning that it is required to reduce emission in accordance with the treaty in force at the moment. It seems that the world is waiting for the USA and China to agree with everyone else and support a legally binding agreement. Will that happen? Probably not.
Even so, Copenhagen can still become a story of success, maybe not in its immediate results, but in the long-term policy it can initiate. If the USA and China want to stand in the path of the negotiation, then they have to be aware that the rest of the world will not sit and wait for them. A recent statement by a member of the European Commission made it clear that for Europe to achieve its 2050 target it has to start now by achieving its 2020 target. In this sense, the Europeans have no time to waste and waiting for the so-called G2 to coordinate a policy they are not really committed to is what I would definitely call a waste of time.
On the other hand, the recent European Council of 29-30 Oct. made it clear that the EU is not only committed to cutting emissions, but supporting the developing countries financially until 2020 by providing large sums of aid for investment in low-GHG economies. Seeing as Brazil and China are both considered as ‘developing’, they should both agree that to receive the money, they have to make an effort and cooperate in Copenhagen and not to play the waiting game. It is obvious that if China is promised to receive financial development aid, it will quickly commit to the agreement.
Where does that leave the USA? Standing alone in a world where all the other nations, big and small, agree on the issue and on action. This can definitely create a spillover from the environmental issue to other, already doubtful questions on the power of the USA to lead the world. Mr. Obama may be undermining the process, but he just might be the one who leaves Copenhagen as the uncooperative outcast.
With the leadership of the EU, the commitments by Brazil, Russia and India, we have the ‘BRI’ on-board. All that is missing is the ‘C’, and it might prove to be the key to success at Copenhagen and beyond. Otherwise, the one letter missing from the acronym should not stop the others from acting, and the dedication shown by the EU and South Korea should serve as an example for all.