Over the course of the next two weeks, 20,000 delegates and 105 world leaders will be descending on Copenhagen for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Lord Stern, author of the highly respected Stern Review, wasn’t far off the mark when he called the Copenhagen summit “the most important gathering since the Second World War.” The summit is working towards a legally binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to avert a rise in a temperature of greater than 2°C.
The Summit is the culmination of extensive negotiations throughout 2009. There have been three meetings in Bonn, Germany, one in Bangkok and Barcelona and a Pre-COP in Copenhagen only last month. So is the world going to see a climate deal to follow and improve upon the Kyoto Protocol of 1997?
Aims for COP15
The UN has outlined its aims for the conference as enhanced action to help the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt:
- Ambitious emission reduction targets for industrialised countries
- Nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries
- Significantly scaled-up financial and technological resources
- An equitable governance structure
The conclusions of the Summit will affect different countries to different degrees, both in terms of the commitments to cutting carbon emissions and the response to the physical effects of an increasingly warm planet. Developed countries have been by far the largest contributors to the carbon burden in the atmosphere to date, but paradoxically and tragically, it is the least emitting countries and those that are least able to deal with natural disasters who are predicted to suffer the most – witness the floods in Bangladesh.
The UK is a leading player in climate change policy and carbon regulation so any new emissions targets are unlikely to pinch. Countries like the US, China and India though, have yet to commit to serious mandatory targets. However, both China and India have made significant pledges in the days leading up to COP15. President Obama stated the US would aim for a 17% decrease in emissions by 2020, and China aims to reduce carbon intensity by 40%. Copenhagen will hopefully encourage them to make the difficult but much needed commitments.