The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, raises the bar for climate change negotiations today (Dec. 7), urging world leaders to give their promises at Copenhagen the full weight of international law within six months.
In an article in the London-based Guardian newspaper, the Prime Minister underlines the historic nature of the summit, which has been described as the most important international gathering since the end of the second world war. “Sometimes history comes to turning points,” he writes. “For all our sakes the turning point of 2009 must be real.” He calls on the 100 heads of government and state expected in Copenhagen on the final day of the talks to move quickly to reinforce an anticipated political deal with a full-fledged, legally binding treaty. “Our aim is a comprehensive and global agreement which is then converted to an internationally legally binding treaty in no more than six months,” he writes.
The appeal comes amid fresh signs of momentum — in Copenhagen and Washington — in advance of the two-week meeting. In Washington, the Obama administration is poised to declare carbon dioxide a public danger, sending a powerful signal that America will act on global warming — with or without a law in Congress — by 2010.
The official declaration would allow Obama to use the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions. That would avoid waiting for action from Congress, where a proposed climate change law has stalled in the Senate.
The announcement of EPA action could also push Democrats from coal and manufacturing states to swing behind a proposed climate change law to avoid ceding such sweeping authority to the regulating agency. Administration officials and environmentalists said the announcement could come as early as today.
The reports bolstered a surge of last-minute optimism that the Copenhagen summit could deliver clear outlines for a climate change deal.
“Negotiators now have the clearest signal ever from world leaders to craft solid proposals to implement rapid action,” Yvo de Boer, the UN’s top climate change official told reporters in Copenhagen. “So whilst there will be more steps on the road to a safe climate future, Copenhagen is already a turning point in the international response to climate change.” A report by the United Nations environment programme yesterday suggested the action pledged by industrialised countries would fall just short of what is required to keep warming below the extremely dangerous 2C level. The report said commitments offered so far would put global emissions at 46bn tonnes a year by 2020. Scientists say emissions should be below 44bn tonnes to avoid the most severe sea level rises and temperature extremes of climate change.
“For those who claim a deal in Copenhagen is impossible, they are simply wrong,” said UNEP director Achim Steiner, releasing the report compiled by Lord Stern. Even so, there are fears that the controversy over hacked emails from the East Anglia climate research centre could throw Copenhagen off track.
“I think a lot of people are sceptical about this issue in any case,” de Boer told the Associated Press. “And then when they have the feeling ... that scientists are manipulating information in a certain direction then of course it causes concern in a number of people to say, ‘you see I told you so, this is not a real issue’” Brown, in his article, said leaders must deliver bigger cuts in emissions as well as funds to help poor countries adapt to climate change. “All countries need to reach for high level ambition in their commitments to reduce their emissions and their emissions growth,” he writes. “So in Copenhagen we need to ensure that all countries move to the top of the range of their ambition, thereby enabling others to do so in a process of mutual reinforcement.” With stragglers Obama and India’s Manmohan Singh confirming their attendance over the weekend, some 100 world leaders are now expected to be in Copenhagen, bolstering chances of emerging with an agreement by 18 December.
“They will only show up in Copenhagen because they think it is going to be a political success,” Friis Petersen, the Danish ambassador to Washington, said. “They don’t want to come to Copenhagen to be part of a failure.”