UN Climate Change Conference at cross-roads

By Luis Merino, our special correspondent in Copenhagen. Two different opinion groups have formed in Copenhagen which are complicating negotiations. On the one hand, there is the camp who insist the Kyoto Protocol should be extended while no firm and binding commitments are established. After all, Kyoto is the only agreement to go beyond a mere gesture in the fight against climate change because it does fix objectives. Nevertheless, in Kyoto, governments failed to include several important objectives. The other camp in Copenhagen is fighting for binding agreements for all (there are 192 countries attending COP15) and over the long term. It sounds promising, but it is still only a dream.

The chaos described yesterday by the media attending the COP15 talks in Copenhagen appears to have suddenly been resolved. The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer, has recognised that there was a severe lack of planning. “I am to blame. Part of the problem is that you can't fit size 12 feet into size 6 shoes...that is physically impossible and unsafe,” he said. The solution has been to drastically reduce the number of participants from the group known as “civil society”, which includes NGOs and business associations.

Today, only around 30% of the 20,000 registered observers will be able to enter the Bella Center and the plan is to gradually reduce this still further day-by-day until there is only a minimum presence on Friday when world leaders will meant to agree a new UN pact. Pablo Cotarelo, representative of the environmental group Ecologistas en Acción, is one of the “fortunate few” who was able to gain access to the convention centre yesterday. He argues that it is essential that NGOs are involved in the negotiations to apply pressure and remind governments that they must commit, "although the event organisers are more concerned about journalists talking about the chaos of the last few days and have taken extreme measures to avoid the bad press”.

It is likely that scenes of people amassing outside the Bella Center will be repeated today because several NGOs forming the Peoples' Assembly for Climate Justice have announced that they will be holding a demonstration at midday to gain access to the building and call for action. The organisers of the demonstration have insisted that they hope the act will be peaceful.

Doubts about financing

Climate change experts from the different delegations have spent the last few days working to ensure the draft discussion papers contain more clear points than doubts in between the crossings out and amendments. The Copenhagen conference formally enters its high-level stage today with the arrival of ministers and work needs to step up a gear, although the truth is things have slowed down. The COP15 President, Connie Hedegaard, has even proposed moving many of the discussions into reduced format groups of around 30 representatives to make better headway.

Whatever happens, the hot potato will fall into the hands of the ministers over the coming days. The groups working on the two lines of negotiation – a new “Kyoto” or long-term cooperation – will pass them reports full of questions which they will have to resolve in just three days. Teresa Ribera, Spain’s Secretary of State for Climate Change, who is leading the discussion group on long-term objectives, remains optimistic. In between a barrage of telephone calls and sprints up and down corridors, she assured Renewable Energy Magazine that “differences exist but everyone is also willing to negotiate and reach an agreement. Nobody is trying to stall the talks”. However, Ribera also mentioned there is a shadow on the horizon. “The lack of agreement about financing could damage trust. While the EU has been transparent to date, the US delegation has not given any clear messages about long-term financing structures”.

Emissions left till last

The COP15 talks covering all aspects of an agreement on climate change from mitigation, to adaptation, technological issues and financial structures involve a huge amount of numbers, but the best are being left till last. “Everyone is providing figures and saying: ‘this is what I’m prepared to do, but it depends on what everyone else does’,” explains Ribera. “As a result, a final figure on emission reductions will not be disclosed until the last moment.” In theory, cards will be shown on Friday when the presidents and other heads of state sign off the new UN climate change pact.

Financing the fight against climate change is attracting those looking to make a buck and there is talk of establishing global carbon dioxide emission charges for airlines or even for all forms of transport. The possibility of designating part of the emissions rights of each nation to a fund that is then auctioned off at a global level has also been discussed. In any event, the issue of emissions rights will be critical during the closing days of the summit.

Renewables gain support

There isn’t a corner of the Bella Center free of images of renewable energies. Renewables are everywhere, both inside the convention centre and out, where a Vestas wind turbine turns slowly in the cold wind. Yesterday, several organisations held a number of presentations in the sidelines of the talks to analyse the different renewable energy scenarios. IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, was present with its Director-General, Helene Pelosse; as was Sven Teske, Renewable Energies Director of Greenpeace International.

All involved in the presentations emphasised the growing importance of renewables, irrespective of which organisation commissioned the study. Ryan Katofsky, representing the Renewable Energy Technology Deployment Implementing Agreement (RETD) developed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) believes that “greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 85% by 2050 thanks to renewables, which could be generating over 70% of all electricity by then”. He provided a clear message: “Fight climate change and save money. If it has appeared until now that renewables are expensive, it is only because the global energy models need to include all economic costs and benefits, which they haven’t to date”.

For Paolo Frankl, head of the Renewable Energies Division of the IEA, there are three issues that should be considered to ensure the rate at which renewables are being rolled out does not slow: “Look long term to improve the efficiency of the support frameworks, invest constantly in R&D, and work to improve the flexibility of the electricity system by developing smart grids for example”. All those attending the presentations applauded feed-in tariffs as the best way of promoting renewables development, although Frankl did warn that “the feed-in tariff is good in the beginning, but when technologies mature and reach a certain degree of penetration, they should be left to compete for themselves on the market”. He was probably thinking about the Vestas wind turbine spinning outside the Bella Center.p>

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