Mark Lynas: 'At this rate, Copenhagen will be a disaster'

A A A

The battle lines are drawn. The armies are lined up. The guns are loaded. But here in Copenhagen, a phony war is underway.

For the past two days, negotiators have been bogged down in minor technical details and endless delays. For hours plenary meetings have been taken up by countries complaining about the process. Then finally solutions are agreed, and everyone files out to the relevant gatherings – only to find them cancelled on arrival. All of Monday disappeared down that hole.

Today, it looked like some real work was getting done. But with just hours left before the ‘high-level’ segment (with ministers, and – increasingly – heads of state themselves) begins, several different texts were in circulation, all laden with square brackets (indicating disagreement) around even minor issues of contention that should have been resolved last week.

At this rate, Copenhagen will not only fail, it will be a disaster.

Of course, these conferences – especially high-stakes ones like this – never end that way. Some face-saving arrangement is always cobbled together. But the question now is when the phony war will erupt into open hostilities – and whether heads of state will be able to resolve them in the time they have left.

The biggest question, one which has bedevilled climate negotiations for more than a decade, is finally reaching crunch point – about whether developing countries, which were exempted from taking on carbon emissions targets by Kyoto, will finally agree on binding measures to rein in their future emissions.

Everyone agrees that industrialised countries should act first; that much was agreed as far back as 1995. And some can claim to have done so, in Europe at least. But the Bush Administration lost us a decade, and time has now run out: science demands that for temperature rises to be limited to 1.5 degrees, and carbon concentrations eventually returned to 350 parts per million, global emissions must peak by 2015.

It is no accident that both India and China oppose any mention in the negotiating text of this global peaking year, or of an eventual target for atmospheric carbon levels of 350ppm. They know that accepting these limits necessarily implies that their era of high-carbon growth is over. For these science-based targets to be met, India cannot burn all its coal. Nor can China. Nor can South Africa. They must shift to low-carbon growth, and they must start that shift now.

In fairness, no-one is arguing that developing countries should take on mandatory Kyoto-style reductions right now. Instead the debate is around how far their future emissions must depart from the ‘business-as-usual’ baseline. The small island states – who stand to lose most as sea levels rise – now argue that developing countries should aim for 15-30% below baseline by 2020. China and India say they will never accept this.

The United States is also central here. America will never ratify Kyoto – everyone knows this. But the Obama administration has come here offering serious targets, of initial 17 per cent cuts below 2005 levels by 2020. It could deepen this ambition, but Obama faces a tough (if not impossible) battle to get any climate plan through the Senate, and the administration also knows that it is politically toxic domestically to take on any improved target unless China does likewise.

These are the two main belligerents facing each other over the trenches here at Copenhagen. In the next day or two the cannons will open fire. When the dust dies down, we will see whether we still have a habitable climate left.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine