Politicians charged with negotiating binding climate change agreements to cut carbon emissions are warning that the best that can hoped for from the Copenhagen summit is a framework on which to build future greenhouse cuts. And this is concerning the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) which fears that, in an attempt to get other countries to sign up to swingeing emission cuts, the EU might enact further greenhouse gas targets. Peter Botschek, director of energy and climate policy at Cefic, warns that further unilateral emissions cuts by the EU would seriously disadvantage European businesses and could lead to companies leaving for regions with slacker emissions controls.
Chris Smith, head of the UK’s Environment Agency, told delegates at the Environment 09 conference in London, UK, that the Copenhagen climate change summit, due to start on 7 December 2009, should be seen as a ‘starting point’. ‘In an ideal world we would have dearly wanted to see a signed, sealed and delivered Copenhagen agreement to cut emissions and meet specific targets,’ Smith adds. But he concedes this is unlikely to happen.
US president Barack Obama also acknowledged in Singapore that a breakthrough deal with legally binding targets was unlikely, although he and Chinese president Hu Jintao agreed that they would press for a comprehensive deal at Copenhagen. In an attempt to salvage something from the meeting the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, floated a plan to defer emissions target setting until mid-2010.
Botschek says that in 2008 European politicians were sounding a very different note, stating that Copenhagen would be the ‘big summit’ where the EU had to lead. ‘I have to say that it was a bit of hype being intentionally created to rush Europe into legislation and this is what happened,’ he says. Botschek points to EU climate legislation to cut emissions by 20% by 2020, which it was hoped other countries would sign up to at Copenhagen.
He adds that businesses in the EU will soon face auctioning of all carbon permits in phase 3 of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, due to begin in 2013. Botschek says that, ahead of phase 3, it is vital to improve the scheme’s handling of emissions reduction credits from outside Europe, which he claims is still too bureaucratic. ‘A lot of the low cost emission reductions do not lie in Europe anymore, but lie very much in the emerging economies where you can achieve enormous efficiency gains and emission reductions at relatively low investment.’
However, Adair Turner, chair of the UK’s climate change committee, warns that while offsetting remains very important for the present, it would be unwise to expect it to be available in 2050. ‘In 2050 we will still be trading [emissions] across the world but we can have no a priori belief which countries these will be, with the exception of countries with programmes of reforestation.’