Sunday, November 15, 2009

APEC Declaration is another fatal blow for Copenhagen talks

The two-day APEC economic leaders’ summit in Singapore has ended with a leaders’ declaration that promoted free trade but promised little action on climate change three weeks ahead of Copenhagen. Kevin Rudd joined 20 other Pacific Rim leaders in Singapore including US’s Barack Obama and China’s Hu Jintao. The key output phrase was “a new growth paradigm” and support for the recent Pittsburgh G20 commitments for global recovery. But a proposal to include a 50 percent emissions reduction target by 2050 was scrapped under pressure from China. (photo credit Xinhua/Xu Jinquan)

The proposal was in a draft version of the declaration but was removed in the final version. The declaration did acknowledge anthropogenic climate change as one of the biggest global challenges (a fact someone should tell prominent members of Australia’s main opposition party). The Singapore conference embraced recent world statements on climate change at Pittsburgh and L’Aquila and reaffirmed its intention to work towards an “ambitious outcome” in Copenhagen now just 22 days away.

However that looks completely unrealistic with the “50 by 2050” target kyboshed by China and the declaration was reduced to wishy-washy aspirational (ie non-binding) targets. These were a reiteration of the 2007 Sydney targets of reducing energy intensity by at least 25 percent by 2030 and increasing forest cover in the region by at least 20 million hectares of all types of forests by 2020. The conference also welcomed the May 2009 Manado Declaration on climate impact on ocean health – but again this is so far non binding.

The lack of prescribed targets does not bode well for the Copenhagen The APEC nations are responsible for 60 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. According to the Vancouver Sun, the leaders agreed at a breakfast meeting this morning that agreement on a binding treaty will have to wait at least until next year or beyond. They quoted Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who said there were significant areas of disagreement. "That said, there was a fair consensus…a broader political agreement, is still achievable at Copenhagen and that's what everybody is aiming for,” he said.

But the host of the Copenhagen talks will be bitterly disappointed by the outcome. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen had flown to Singapore specifically to attend "informal breakfast meeting". Once it was clear to him that China was not going to commit to binding targets, he got Obama’s support for a two-stage process. This would involve a face-saving (but mostly meaningless) political accord at Copenhagen next month and the setting of a new deadline in late 2010 (after Congress has approved Obama’s ETS) for global agreement on targets, levels of funding and verification of commitments.

But even then China will continue to be the main stumbling block. China Daily quotes leader Hu Jintao pushing the idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. This is China-speak for ensuring so-called developed countries do more than developing countries to address climate change. Jintao is supporting in this by the Kyoto Protocol and he is right to suggest that the high carbon-usage countries should do their fair share. But this also gives China the excuse to continue its own high-polluting ways well beyond 2012.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd played down the Singapore disagreements in similar fashion to Stephen Harper. But his praise for the “tenor of the contribution” was undermined by a further weakening in his own tepid response to climate change. The federal government announced today it has excluded agriculture from the cap and trade scheme in a bid to win opposition support for the second reading of the ETS bill later this month. However even this latest move is unlikely to win over the divided Coalition over. Its pro-ETS members are still demanding further concessions in the coal and electricity sectors while anti-ETS members would even vote that down. It is likely that any bill that will pass the house this year will be a trading scheme in name only. In Australia, as everywhere else, national interest will trump the planet’s interest every time.

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