Copenhagen Climate Conference

Copenhagen Endgame

In two months, just before Christmas, three years of cumbersome climate negotiations will have come to an end. Nobody expects a turning point, reversing the inexorable accumulation of green house gases in the atmosphere. Barring miracles, there is no hope for green house gas emissions to stabilise, let alone to decline in the coming 20 years.

In view of preventing Copenhagen from turning into a debacle environment ministers must not content themselves with fixing emission reduction targets for 2020, 2030 etc. for different groups of countries. Targets that are not accompanied by concrete actions plans and strict international monitoring are ineffective as the sad experience with the Kyoto Protocol has demonstrated (e.g. Canada!)

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Before the end of 2010, governments must submit their action programmes to a UN climate panel, which must approve them and permanently monitor their implementation. To that end, the panel will need to dispose of sanction powers.

The following actions should normally figure high on the list of priorities:

Stepping up investments in renewable and nuclear energy;

Phasing out subsidies on fossil energies and taxing them at progressively rising rates;

Phasing out coal-fired power plants and replacing them by a combination of wind, solar, biomass and nuclear power plants;

Fixing very strict thermal insulation standards for new and existing buildings;

Fixing progressively stricter emission standards for automobiles;

Phasing out incandescent lamps;

Enacting programmes for the conservation of tropical forests.

Governments should remain free to fix priorities according to their preferences, provided their action programme leads to the targeted results.

The end game should leave aside adaptation measures, including their potential financing by a global fund for assisting poor countries against the potential damage from worsening climate conditions. Adaptation measures are ineffective to cope with rising temperatures, droughts or floods. They are a waste of scarce resources. OECD countries would do better to offer generous financial support to climate action programmes in developing countries, e.g. accelerating the introduction of renewable energies and energy efficient technologies.

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It will be impossible to settle all outstanding issues in Copenhagen. The international community will have to defer some issues for resolution in the course of 2010. Among these should figure the treatment of air transport and shipping, the preservation of tropical forests and, possibly, the financing of actions in favour of developing countries.

It is essential that the final Copenhagen text reflects the profound concern of all the parties about the future of the planet and a firm consensus to tackle climate change in a cooperative spirit.

Humanity expects credible political commitments rather than formal legal ones. In view of underlining their personal commitment heads of government rather than foreign or environment ministers should appose their signature to the final document, in a solemn ceremony to be celebrated in the course of 2010, ideally in New York or Washington.

Brussels, 20.10.09 Eberhard Rhein

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