Leading article: A deal on climate change must not be postponed

There needs to be top-level political engagement in Copenhagen

Share
Related Topics

So near and yet – apparently – so far. All governments now accept the science of man-made climate change. They agree too on the urgency of stemming the rise of carbon dioxide emissions. There is also broad consensus on the means of doing that. The need for equitable emission cuts, an international system of carbon trading and aid transfers from the rich world to developing nations to help them bear the cost of greening their economies is widely understood.

And yet we are told that the deal at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen that would set all this in stone might not actually happen. Some British government officials have suggested that Copenhagen might only produce a "political" agreement, rather than a legally binding replacement for the Kyoto protocol. In other words, warm words rather than action.

That would be a disastrous failure. Copenhagen has long been presented as a crucial moment in the battle against runaway climate change. If it is not seized, it would be severely damaging for the credibility of the UN forum. The danger is that a failure to agree in Copenhagen will result in a deal being repeatedly kicked further down the road, or languishing in a state of permanent stasis like global trade liberalisation negotiations.

The situation is too urgent for such prevarication. Kyoto is due to expire in 2012. The world's governments need to be locked into a replacement long before that date comes. The stakes are also too high. Unless global emissions peak by the end of the next decade, the chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change are virtually extinguished.

So what is holding things up? Developing countries feel that too little money has been pledged in technology transfer payments by the rich world. And they complain of too little evidence of serious intent by industrialised states to take measures to reduce their own emissions.

A particular problem is the fact that a US cap-and-trade bill is still stuck in Congress and looking very unlikely to be law by the end of the year. The failure of the EU to put forward a solid figure for aid transfers to developing nations at its summit last week has also undermined the confidence of some poor states. In short, what is blocking agreement is a lack of faith from developing countries in the willingness of industrialised countries to accept the upfront costs that making a transition to a low-carbon global economy will require.

The only thing likely to restore missing confidence at this late hour is top-level political engagement. Global leaders should commit to attending Copenhagen in person to negotiate a deal. President Lula of Brazil, a nation destined to be one of the most significant economies this century, this week urged such a commitment, saying that he is willing to attend if his counterparts from the US, China and India also do so. This is an overture that needs a response. The US delegation in Copenhagen has indicated that Barack Obama will attend if a deal seems likely. That is not good enough. This conference is simply too important for the leader of the last remaining superpower (and the largest per capita carbon emitter) to be absent.

If world leaders start talking up the likelihood of failure at Copenhagen now, it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now is the time for reinforced signals of commitment from all involved, not retreat.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media  

The response to my Pizza Express review has been overwhelming, and taught me a lot about journalism

Holly Aston
3 Donatella Versace and Audrey  

Errors and Omissions: We were having a blond moment – maybe two

John Rentoul
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week