15 Reasons to be (Mildly) Optimistic about COP15

As the Copenhagen conference progresses, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a brief look what’s the various different countries have offered, and reasons why there is some room for optimism about a decent deal being done…

1. The US seems prepared to act, if necessary by bypassing Congress and the Senate. The formal declaration by the US EPA that CO2 (along with other greenhouse gases) is an ‘endangering pollutant‘ means that the EPA can now use it’s powers under the existing Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 as failure to act would “threaten the public health and welfare of the American people”.  It appears that if the Senate doesn’t pass the legislation currently before it the EPA will simply regulate greenhouse gases under existing laws instead. The current proposed cut from the US is approximately 17% by 2020 on 2005 levels. Although not ideal, this proposed cut is a dramatic improvement on earlier obstructionism from the US.

2. China has agreed to a possible 40% cut in carbon intensity by 2020. While still leading to increased emissions of approx. 40%, China has also indicated that it may be prepared to name a date for peak carbon emissions sometime between 2030-2040. Although China is currently the world’s largest emitter of CO2, it’s historic and per capita emissions are, and will continue to be, well below those of Western countries. China’s offer, and those of other developing countries, should be seen in that context.

3. The EU has agreed to a 20% cut by 2020 on 1990 levels. This will rise to 30% if the EU feels the deal on offer from the rest of the world merits it.

4. Brazil is prepared to raise its target of a 50% reduction in deforestation by 2020 to 80%, and is offering a 30-39% cut in emissions in 2020 emissions from a business-as-usual (BAU) path. Interestingly, deforestation in Brazil fell by 45% from August ’08 to July ’09, so it would seem that an 80% reduction by 2020 is quite realistic.

5. Japan has agreed to cuts of sign up to a deal.

6. Russia has agreed to cuts of 25% on 1990 levels by 2020 if others do the same. Incidentally, Russia’s emissions in 2007 were 33% below 1990 levels.

7. Norway has promised a 30% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020. However, a significant proportion of this is planned to be from offsets purchased abroad. It also might be prepared to match Germany’s offer of 40% by 2020 in the context of a global deal.

8. India has offered to reduce it’s carbon intensity 20-25% by 2020.

9. Indonesia has offered a cut in emissions from BAU scenarios of 26% by 2020 – rising to 41% if it receives ‘international support’.

10. Ireland is a member of a group of 9 EU countries committing to a large increase in off-shore windfarms -and perhaps more importantly, the associated interconnectors to make it viable.

11. Germany this year set the record for most solar installed in one country in one year, approximately 3GW. Also, Ireland passed the 1GW mark for wind power for the first time, and the world’s first commercial tidal turbine has been deployed – by an Irish company. News like this, along with the increased scale of plans for a transition to a low carbon economy (for instance, the €400 billion Desertec scheme), is certainly encouraging.

13. Obama’s visit has been rescheduled from the start to the end of the talks, hopefully a sign that a worthwhile political deal (and decent photo-op, he is a politician after all) is a real possibility.

14. The UN Environment Programme says that to prevent a rise of greater than 2 degrees celsius global CO2 emissions must be in the region of 44 billion tonnes by 2020. The upper end of the offers currently on the table would lead to global emissions of 46 billion tonnes by 2020 – certainly close to what is required.

15. The noughties are likely to have been the warmest decade on record, and it also looks likely that 2009 will be the fifth warmest year ever. If this does not provide a good reason to reach agreement, I don’t know what will.

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  • Richard Tol

    1. You misinterpret US decision making. The EPA is indeed moving towards regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Because of the restrictions on the EPA, such regulation is likely to be expensive but ineffective. This may strengthen the lobby for proper regulation by the Hill, but it may also lead to a turf battle between the executive and the legislative.

    The Senate, rather than the EPA, will still need to ratify any international treaty.

  • Paddy Morris

    @ Richard
    The Senate will need to raify any treaty, but is moving from an obstructionist position re: cap and trade legislation etc to one where they are under pressure from their various large corporate donors, as well as the executive, to pass the legislation before them, as large corporations would prefer the current senate bill to direct EPA regulation.
    To quote from http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-12-07-epa-greenhouse-dangers_N.htm
    “Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power in Columbus, Ohio, a $14.4 billion power company, said the announcement signals the need for energy legislation, “rather than the clumsy tool of regulation,” to address greenhouse gas emissions. “We’ve expected this announcement for months.”

    The cynic in me would sugest that this is because they feel they can influence the senate with political donations easier than they can corrupt/game the EPAs regulatory process. However the idea of the above piece was to give a rough idea of why there was some hope for progress, and pressure on the American Senate, whether from the executive, the public, or large corporate donors, for whatever reason, gives me hope that a deal may be struck, and eventually ratified by the senate.

  • Richard Tol

    @Paddy
    The word “obstructionist” is inappropriate to describe the behaviour of an elected body of a foreign country.

    The EPA’s endangerment finding has changed the dynamics of US climate policy. As a result, there is more support for cap-and-trade in the middle, but less on the left.

    Climate legislation does not imply ratification of an international treaty.

  • denis

    One
    Reason to be [ Mildly] Pessimistic about COP 15 Agreeing to wonderful
    cuts in CO2 output by specific dates, without any radical, practical
    plan to do so ,other than trying to out-promise the other fellow, can
    not lead to any meaningful reduction in said gas levels If new
    technologies are brought in such as wind turbines [ which incidently,
    only have an overall efficiency of 30% in Ireland, and much less in
    other countries, and have to be constantly backed up by fossil fuel] or
    electric cars, solar devices, and all the rest, these have to be tooled
    up and manufactured using the high quality energy provided by fossil
    fuel. This energy input, is not insubstantial, and may well mean that
    trying to achieve an “alternative” to what we now have in energy
    production, transport or whatever, could well cost

  • denis

    more in energy terms than we now spend on these items.
    Changes in our consumption habits, would be a far more sensible way to avoid increasing CO2 levels.
    If we are not prepared to do this ourselves, all the promises by various august bodies, are not worth the paper they are written on, as the human being can be extremely devious in countermanding orders with which they do not agree.
    Unfortunately, all the fossil will probably be used up by somebody ,somewhere, and we should probably use our quota to future proof ourselves,so that we have some sort of chance of survival, in a much changed world.

  • EWI

    The word “obstructionist” is inappropriate to describe the behaviour of an elected body of a foreign country.

    How so?