The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference begins next Monday. In terms of a concrete, positive outcome, the conference was being declared dead in the water a couple of weeks ago. The last few days, though, have brought a number of developments which may vitalise the meeting.
Perhaps most significantly, the US and China both announced new emissions targets. The US will offer emissions cuts “in the range of 17%” by 2020, from 2005 levels. China has said that it will reduce CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% in the same time frame.
Reactions to both announcements were mixed. Greenpeace released a statement calling the US target unambitious: “The proposed emissions reductions target […] is less than one-seventh of what the European Union leaders have said they are prepared to commit”. Meanwhile, the FT points out that China’s goal is given in terms of CO2 emissions per unit of GDP – which means that, if China’s economy continues to grow at 7.8%, it will still more than double its 2005 emissions by 2030.
The plans have put pressure on other countries, notably India, to set emissions reduction targets. India is the fourth largest emitter of CO2 from fuel combustion, after China, the US, and Russia. As the Indian Environment Minister said following China’s announcement, “China has given us a wake-up call. We have to think hard about our climate strategy now”.
Is a consensus getting any more likely? Most people still don’t think so. While Obama will now be attending the conference, which officials at the UN have called “critical to a good outcome”, the administration is downplaying the chances of a general, strong agreement. From the New York Times, however, the World Resources Institute sees things as looking up: “”As we head towards Copenhagen, the world’s two largest emitters have stepped up to the plate at the highest political level. This shows that international engagement on climate change can produce real results.”