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?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power