Swiss hopeful of climate result at Copenhagen

Another planet: climate change protestors were out in force in Barcelona Keystone

Less than one month from the start of the crucial climate talks in Copenhagen, Switzerland's chief negotiator still believes that some kind of deal can be done.

This content was published on November 12, 2009 minutes

Thomas Kolly tells that efforts to thrash out a new global climate agreement are progressing. But he says that most work will actually be done after any pact is reached.

Kolly was in Barcelona last week for the final preparatory session for the Copenhagen talks which take place on December 7-18.

Many negotiators say that time has run out to craft a legally binding text to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 - especially since the United States Senate has not passed a supporting law. Delegates in Barcelona said they were now aiming for a "political deal" in December, with a pact to follow six to 12 months later.

They blamed a long-running rift between rich and poor nations and the financial crisis, but especially rued how the US had failed to table a formal carbon-cutting target. How do you feel after taking part in the Barcelona talks?

Thomas Kolly: Some technical progress was achieved. But Copenhagen is getting closer and people are getting more nervous. The atmosphere in Barcelona was much tenser than up to now. This is a reflection of the situation: we are in full negotiations, not discussions. But basically I remain optimistic and I still believe we will get a result in Copenhagen. But isn't there a danger that any agreement reached in Copenhagen will be unsatisfactory?

T.K.: We will finalise an agreement in Copenhagen, that's for sure. The question is over which parts will left open for later.

Some delegations starting to talk about a political pact rather than a legally binding one. The reality is that some elements will be legally binding and others will remain open. This is especially the case for the implementation of any agreement, as was the case in Kyoto, when a large part of the work was actually carried out after the Kyoto Protocol was signed [in December 1997]. How does the current situation compare with the one before Kyoto?

T.K.: Let's say that the package is more important in Copenhagen. We are trying to include all countries, regions and kinds of nations. People are therefore more ambitious than they were a few years ago. Were there any definite breakthroughs in Barcelona?

T.K.: The idea wasn't to finalise anything. We talked about everything, especially the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the financial aspect [mitigation and adaptation measures] and technology transfers. There was progress, which varied according to the topic, but we carried out important work. Developing countries are not happy, accusing developed countries of not being ambitious enough with their reduction targets and the financing. What is your opinion?

T.K.: It's true. The African group blocked negotiations for one day to show their frustration. They are irritated with the slow pace of the whole process and with industrialised countries, who do not commit to do what scientists asks of us, that is aim to reduce emissions by 25-40 per cent [by 2020 compared with 1990 levels].

Switzerland, the European Union and Norway are among those countries willing to move ahead. But we are a minority. The block by African countries was mainly intended to encourage countries like the US, but also Russia, Canada, New Zealand and others, to accelerate the process. Where are the main stumbling blocks to an ambitious accord in Copenhagen?

T.K.: There's the question of emission targets and commitment by states to imposing legally binding obligations. The other major issue is the question of financing. Looking at the amount of money needed to help resolve climate problems, whether they be emission reductions or adaptation, this factor is crucial. What's the minimum that needs to be done to prevent disappointment in Copenhagen?

T.K.: Industrial and emerging countries need to show strong commitment as regards emission reductions. Also, there must be binding commitments by industrial nations towards financing. What is Switzerland's position?

T.K.: It's position is that every country must assume their responsibilities and contribute towards resolving the climate change problem. This is the crucial point. Switzerland has proposed a global carbon dioxide tax to finance adaptation measures. Is this idea being discussed and does it have any supporters?

T.K.: Absolutely. It is very visible but there are other proposals, of course. Barcelona was not about eliminating any ideas. We re-explained the Swiss proposal and principles behind it. We will see what happens in Copenhagen.

I would like to make clear that two elements were well received: the principle of "polluter-payer" as well as the way tax money might be used towards disaster prevention work and the creation of a disaster insurance system.

Pierre-François Besson, (translated from French by Simon Bradley)

UN climate talks

The first UN climate conference, popularly known as the Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It produced an international environmental treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

A follow-up conference in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 produced the Kyoto Protocol, with binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. The 178-nation accord is a 1997 annexe to the 1992 treaty that requires 37 industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5% below 1990 levels by 2010.

The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen from December 7-18, 2009 is expected to lead to a post-Kyoto climate agreement. Negotiations will focus on reducing human causes of climate change (mitigation) and adaptation as well as the needs of developing countries (financial, technological, institutional).

The Kyoto Protocol's targets for reducing emissions apply only to a small set of countries and expire in 2012. Governments want a new treaty that is bigger, bolder, wider-ranging and more sophisticated than the Kyoto agreement.

In June, the G8 and a number of large developing countries agreed that the average temperature rise since pre-industrial times should be limited to 2 degrees Celsius.

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IPCC figures

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) figures suggest that to have a reasonable chance of avoiding 2 degrees Celsius, global emissions would need to peak and start to decline within about 15-20 years.

The IPCC says industrialised countries should reduce their emissions by 25-40 per cent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. It urges rich nations to reduce greenhouse gases by 80-95 per cent by 2050 and for developing countries to reduce their emissions by 50 per cent.

The Swiss government proposes a 20 per cent reduction by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. It says it is ready to raise the objective to 30 per cent, depending on the outcome of the Copenhagen talks.

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