Big step forward for Copenhagen conference | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, October 20, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, October 20, 2009

Big step forward for Copenhagen conference

THE summit on climate change at the UN in New York on September 22 has given a strong boost to negotiations over an important international treaty on global warming in Copenhagen in December. This treaty will replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 that expires in 2012.
China, India and Japan, along with the private sector, made positive contributions at the summit to combat climate change. Chinese President Hu Jintao emerged from the UN meeting looking like the climate change "good guy." He promised that China would take on an ambitious economy-wide emission-reduction target, increase its renewable energy use by 15% by 2020, and plant trees in an area the size of Norway.
He pledged to curb carbon emissions per unit of GDP between 2010 and 2020 by a "notable margin" -- this might be unveiled at the Copenhagen conference. He also said that China would reduce its projected annual emissions by 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2010 -- a reduction equivalent to Russia's annual emissions and well over Australia's annual carbon dioxide output of 550 million tonnes. The International Energy Agency says that, on its current policies, China would have saved more carbon emissions by 2020 than any other country.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said that Japan would move towards an emissions trading scheme and has a target to cut carbon emissions by 25%. This is considered a significant statement from a country that is the second-largest economy in the world.
India also pledged that it would adopt domestic legislation to reduce carbon emission. The Indian environment minister said that legislation was being drafted in Delhi to limit India's carbon footprint and, in the process, repair his country's reputation for intransigence on climate change before the crucial December UN conference in Copenhagen. India took its first step toward more cooperation on carbon emissions two months ago at the Major Economies Forum in Italy when it signed a declaration to cap the average global temperature at two degrees above pre-industrialisation levels.
The announcement marks a breakthough in international talks, which have stalled over whether emissions curbs in a new UN climate treaty should apply to developing nations as well as to the developed countries covered by the Kyoto Protocol.
The move reflects Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's desire to project a more positive international image for India as it emerges as an important player on the world stage through G-20. His aides say he wants India to engage with the world in a way that befits its aspiration to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council and have greater say in the running of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
President Obama has already committed to a cut of 80% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared with 1999. The American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House of Representatives sets an interim target for 2020 but it is not clear when the Senate will pass it.
It is these interim targets that should be addressed now by all countries during the coming weeks, if the goal is reducing emissions to 20 gigatonnes by 2050. That means global emissions have to peak within the next 5 years and be steadily falling by 2020.
While commitments by the largest emitters, already on the table for 2020, offer significant cuts, experts say that they fall four or five gigatonnes short of what is necessary. However, the commitments are good signs for the Copenhagen conference.
It is encouraging that 181 investors, collectively responsible for the management of $13 trillion in assets, launched a statement in New York in September to support a global agreement on climate change. The Leadership Forum for business leaders, which ran alongside the UN Summit, highlighted a variety of ideas from the private sector for low-carbon emission.
Policies must benefit the most vulnerable communities (such as Bangladesh and Maldives) and not compromise their economic development. Financial mechanisms must be put in place to provide positive incentives for developing countries to reduce their emissions through mitigation and adaptation.
Unless poverty is reduced in Bangladesh, it will be difficult to halt environmental degradation in a major way. Bangladeshis will have to confront the dilemma of how to reduce poverty without degradation of the environment in these days of soaring food prices, global financial crisis and climate change.
Two factors are important for environmental challenges in the country -- education and publicity. The government may help create public motivation through mass media -- TV, radio, mass rallies, advertisement, meetings and festivals on environmental issues. Environmental issues may be incorporated into the curriculum of school and college students.
Political leaders must devise and implement the right policies to guide national and global emissions trajectories and there must be real vision, leadership and creativity, as well as mutual understanding of the difficulties of making and implementing domestic policies. The leaders can muster the effort and forge a path towards a more prosperous and sustainable future for generations to come.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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