Edge back from the abyss: It’s time
to deliver on climate change

Article on Climate Change by the President of
the European Commission, José Manuel Barrosso

Climate change is happening faster than we believed only two years ago. Continuing with business as usual almost certainly means dangerous, perhaps catastrophic, climate change during the course of this century. This is the most important challenge for this generation of politicians.

I am now very concerned about the prospects for Copenhagen. The negotiations are dangerously close to deadlock at the moment – and such a deadlock may go far beyond a simple negotiating stand-off that we can fix next year. It risks being an acrimonious collapse, perhaps on the basis of a deep split between the developed and developing countries. The world right now cannot afford such a disastrous outcome.

So I hope that as world leaders peer over the edge of the abyss in New York and Pittsburgh this week, we will collectively conclude that we have to play an active part in driving the negotiations forward.

Now is not the time for poker playing. Now is the time for putting offers on the table, offers at the outer limits of our political constraints. That is exactly what Europe has done, and will continue to do.

Part of the answer lies in identifying the heart of the potential bargain that might yet bring us to a successful result, and here I think that the world leaders gathering here in New York can make a real difference.

The first part of the bargain is that all developed countries need to clarify their plans on mid term emissions reductions, and show the necessary leadership, not least in line with our responsibilities for past emissions. If we want to achieve at least an 80% reduction by 2050, developed countries must strive to achieve the necessary collective 25-40% reductions by 2020. The EU is ready to go from 20% to 30% if others make comparable efforts. Second, developed countries must now explicitly recognise that we will all have to play a significant part in helping to finance mitigation action by developing countries. Our estimate is that by 2020, developing countries will need roughly an additional €100 bns ($150 bns) a year to tackle climate change. Part of it will be financed from economically advanced developing countries themselves. The biggest share should come from the carbon market, if we have the courage to set up an ambitious global scheme.

But some will need to come in flows of public finance from developed to developing countries, perhaps from €22 bn to €50 bn ($30 - $70 bn) a year by 2020. Depending on the outcome of international burden sharing discussions, the EU’s share of that could be anything from 10% to 30%, i.e., up to €15 bns ($22bns) a year. We will need to be ready, in other words, to make a significant contribution in the medium term, and also to look at short term "start up funding" for developing countries in the next year or so. I look forward to discussing this with EU leaders when we meet at the end of October.

So we need to signal our readiness to talk finance this week. The counterpart is that developing countries, at least the economically advanced amongst them, have to be much clearer on what they are ready to do to mitigate carbon emissions as part of an international agreement. They are already putting in place domestic measures to limit carbon emissions but they clearly need to step up such efforts – particularly the most advanced developing countries. They understandably stress that the availability of carbon finance from the rich world is a pre-requisite to mitigation action on their part, as indeed agreed in Bali. But the developed world will have nothing to finance if there is no commitment to such action.

We have less than 80 calendar days to go till Copenhagen. As of the Bonn meeting last month, the draft text contains some 250 pages: a feast of alternative options, a forest of square brackets. If we don’t sort this out, it risks becoming the longest and most global suicide note in history.

This week in New York and Pittsburgh promises to be a pivotal one, if only as it will reveal how much global leaders are ready to invest in these negotiations, to push for a successful outcome. The choice is simple: no money, no deal. But no actions, no money!

Copenhagen is a critical occasion to shift, collectively, onto an emissions trajectory that keeps global warming below 2 degrees C (35.6 fahrenheit]. So the fightback has to begin this week in New York.

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