Newsletters from No 10: 23 November 2009
With two weeks to go before the start of the UN climate conference in Copenhagen I thought it might be useful to report on where things stand, including developments over the last month since I last covered this subject. There has been some very misleading commentary on this recently and I felt it might be worth explaining exactly what we - and the Danish Government, who chair the conference - are aiming for.
In fact Gordon Brown did this only yesterday, in an open letter to the Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen ([web ref]). The letter was a response to Rasmussen's invitation to leaders to attend the final segment of the Copenhagen conference. You may recall that the PM was the first major leader to announce, in September, that he would go to Copenhagen. He argued - before the Danish government had proposed that heads of government attend - that only leaders could make the major decisions required to bring about a deal, both domestically (to put their countries on a low carbon growth path) and internationally. Over the last two months he has spoken to a large number of other leaders seeking to persuade them of the importance of making the Copenhagen conference into a Summit.
Last week the Danish Government formally issued invitations to heads of government and state. And yesterday they announced that 65 had confirmed that they would attend the conference. They include Chancellor Merkel (Germany); Presidents Sarkozy (France), Hatoyama (Japan), Lula (Brazil), Yudhoyono (Indonesia); and Prime Ministers Rudd (Australia), Reinfeldt (Sweden, as Presidency of the EU), Zapatero (Spain) and Stoltenberg (Norway). No leader has rejected the invitation, and the Danes are confident that many others will confirm shortly.
And President Obama has not ruled out coming either. On 9 November he said publicly that he would go if it could help to clinch the deal.
The significance of this shouldn’t be underestimated. Having leaders attend the conclusion of Copenhagen does not guarantee success. But it makes it much harder to fail. Leaders will not want to go to a Summit and come back with just an empty declaration. This was why Gordon Brown took the decision to go out on this - at some risk to himself, it has to be said, had others not followed. We are very pleased at the result.
What can and can’t be achieved in Copenhagen
The PM’s open letter sets out unambiguously what the UK Government wants at Copenhagen, and in doing so makes clear that there has been absolutely no lessening of ambition over recent weeks, as some have claimed.
The confusion has arisen I think because of the acknowledgement by the Danish Government a few weeks ago that it would now no longer be possible to achieve a legally binding treaty in Copenhagen. It was understandable that this should have been reported as a huge revelation, but to anyone observing the negotiations it really wasn’t. It has been clear since the summer that the negotiations had simply run out of time to achieve a complete legally ratifiable instrument. The Executive Secretary of UNFCCC, Yvo de Boer, had already admitted this himself in public. But the fact that the final details of the legal instrument will have to be completed next year does not mean that therefore Copenhagen can only be a failure. On the contrary: what the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen has very clearly set out (see [webref]) is that at Copenhagen countries should and must agree the full set of commitments which will subsequently be embodied in the legal treaty. Copenhagen must still be ‘the deal’ in all but its final legal form.
As the Prime Minister says in his open letter yesterday, backing the Danish plan, Copenhagen must result in a comprehensive agreement with the authority of leaders’ signatures on it. It should take the form of a decision under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It should ensure immediate implementation of its provisions – without waiting years for legal ratification. And it should include a clear commitment and timetable to convert the agreement into an internationally legally binding treaty as soon as possible.
The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s insistence that to avoid dangerous climate change the Copenhagen agreement must put the world on a trajectory towards a maximum global average temperature increase of 2C. And for this to happen, it must contain all the key commitments agreed at the UN conference in Bali two years ago and which will be needed for a new treaty:
- economy-wide emissions reduction targets for developed countries
- ‘nationally appropriate mitigation actions’ (policies and measures of various kinds) by developing countries to slow the growth of their emissions and contribute to global emissions reduction
- a substantial climate finance package to assist developing countries both adapt to and mitigate climate change
- a strong set of arrangements for measurement, reporting and verification
- and a clear commitment to review progress and if necessary adjust it around 2015
In no sense can this be described as a lessening of ambition. On the contrary, in comparison with what we faced just a few weeks ago – with time having run out for the negotiations to complete a new treaty, Copenhagen looked like agreeing just an empty political declaration at best – it is a very ambitious prospect indeed. The emphasis on immediate implementation is particularly important. What the Danes propose, and we support, is that countries commit to reducing their emissions, allocating finance and building the institutional arrangements immediately, without waiting for the legal treaty and its subsequent ratification, a process which we know from Kyoto can take several years. Given the urgency of action, getting such a commitment would be a very significant step.
Three different kinds of development have helped build momentum for Copenhagen over the last few weeks.
First is the widespread agreement to the Danish plan (for a comprehensive agreement at Copenhagen followed by a legal treaty as soon as possible next year). Contrary to some reporting, this was what was agreed at the Asia Pacific Summit last week. And it was notably also what Presidents Obama and Hu committed to work for at the US-China Summit in Beijing the following day.
Second, at the European Council last month EU leaders agreed a set of conditional offers on climate finance for developing countries. As you may recall, this has been Gordon Brown’s particular focus since the summer, when he set out his proposal for a climate finance agreement in Copenhagen. He argued for a ‘working figure’ of $100bn a year in public and private finance by 2020 for adaptation, forestry and low carbon energy technologies. After a concerted effort of persuasion by the PM and President Barroso, the European Council agreed with the Commission’s proposals based around the same figures:
- that the total incremental costs of tackling climate change will be around 100 billion euro annually by 2020. The financing for this should come from developing countries themselves (for example, almost all of China’s effort will be self-financed); from international public finance; and from the carbon market. Because it includes self-financing, the 100bn euro figure is in practice broadly equivalent to the PM’s $100bn.
- that the international public financial support required is in the range of 22- 50 billion euro per year by 2020;
- that 5-7 billion euro per annum is needed as ‘fast track finance’ to enable immediate action over the next three years after the Copenhagen agreement is signed.
The EU agreed that it would pay its fair share of these sums. The offers are conditional upon other developed countries paying their fair shares, and sufficient ambition in developing countries’ mitigation actions.
The EU decisions mark a major step forward in the negotiations. As Gordon Brown has consistently argued, developing countries need to know that there will be serious money on the table in order to offer ambitious mitigation actions of their own. From Europe they now do. And under our strong pressure (amongst others), other developed countries are now working out their contributions to these sums. We have successfully shifted the debate from the fantasy figures being proposed by some parties to the possibility of a strong, realistic agreement.
Third, the last fortnight has seen major new mitigation commitments by key countries. The Republic of Korea has announced it will cut its emissions by 4 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020, a huge 30% reduction over ‘business as usual’ trends. This was the most ambitious of the emissions reduction scenarios it had been considering and makes Korea the first non-developed country to commit to an absolute reduction. It is an unconditional commitment.
This came just days after the Brazilian Government announced a commitment to cut emissions by 36.1 to 38.9 per cent by 2020 from a ‘business as usual’ trajectory. This will include a remarkable 80% reduction in deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere. The commitment is partially dependent on international finance being forthcoming, but is nevertheless highly ambitious, beyond the range we had expected. It comes on top of Indonesia’s recent announcement that it would reduce emissions by 26% over business as usual by 2020, or 41% with sufficient international support. Since Brazil and Indonesia are the two largest rainforest countries, this signals the potential for a major agreement on deforestation in Copenhagen.
And at the EU-Russia Summit last week President Medvedev announced that Russia would reduce its emissions by 25% on 1990 levels if other countries did the same. This is far from ambitious (after the collapse of the Russian economy emissions are much lower than in 1990) but it is another sign of momentum – Russia had previously only committed to 10-15%. It represents another developed country coming into the 25-40% range, following the EU, Australia and the new Japanese government (which has committed to a 25% cut in emissions on 1990 levels by 2020).
These announcements are a clear sign of growing international momentum towards a deal in Copenhagen. We are not there yet; far from it. There are still major gaps and differences between countries which need to be resolved. There is an awful lot of work to do in a very short space of time. But they reinforce Ed Miliband's statement that an ambitious deal is 'doable'. The PM will now take his personal role in doing it to the Commonwealth
Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad and Tobago at the end of this week. Fortuitously timed, this will bring together a unique grouping of developed and developing country leaders. On the Prime Minister's suggestion, both Rasmussen and Ban Ki-Moon will attend. You can be assured that the PM intends to engage in an intense discussion with fellow heads.
In my last email on this subject I gave an incorrect address for the Government's Act on Copenhagen website. I blame the proof-reader (me). It is ActonCopenhagen@decc.gov.uk. My apology for any misdirected surfing this may have caused at least allows me to remind you of the benefits of signing up. Committing your own support for an ambitious deal guarantees you a stimulating stream of news and views on all things Copenhagen. There is no better way to become ridiculously well informed.
More soon, I am sure.
With best wishes
Special Adviser to the Prime Minister
10 Downing St
London SW1A 2AA