Following the leads of the EU, US, Australia and Japan, New Zealand this week became the latest developed nation to announce a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
It will fall between 10% and 20% from 1990 levels – if the UN climate negotiations which are this week going through a relatively informal set of talks in Bonn result in a global deal.
As my colleague David Shukman reported from that meeting, significant differences remain between developed and developing worlds over who should shoulder how much of the pain of carbon cuts, and who should pay how much to the poorest countries projected to feel the impacts of climate change first.
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Outside the confines of the UN process, other evidence is gathering that an ambitious deal looks unlikely when the final scheduled meeting of that process wraps up in Copenhagen in the middle of December.
New Zealand, although a modest emitter of greenhouse gases in global terms (it has but a modest human population, after all) is a prime exemplar of three reasons why.
Firstly, its emissions are significantly above the level pledged when it adopted the Kyoto Protocol. Its target was a zero increase; instead, emissions are 33% above 1990 levels, and it clearly isn’t going to make it.
That’s one factor behind its reluctance, just like Australia, the US and Japan, to make any big promises now – and that reluctance is the second reason why the prospect of large cuts in Copenhagen is receding.
The third reason is that in one sense all these pledges should logically stem from the UN process; they should all be honed in the negotiations that allow governments to judge what is in their best interests depending on what others are offering and demanding.
Instead they are being made unilaterally before the hard talk begins.
If all the developed countries draw their own lines in the sand, what prospect does that leave for meaningful negotiations?
Meanwhile in the US itself, signs are emerging that the bill projected to cut emissions back just beyond 1990 levels by 2020 may not sail through the Senate as its proponents had hoped.
Last week, 10 Democrat senators wrote to President Barack Obama [pdf link] indicating they would find it “extremely difficult” to support the bill unless it contained measures that would “maintain a level playing field for American manufacturers”.
Interpretations of what the letter means vary between the New York Times, whose headline judged the senators as “threatening” the bill’s passage, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a prominent US campaign group that found it “constructive”.
Whichever of those is correct in the context of US legislation, it’s hard to see how the senators’ move is constructive in any way at all for an international deal in Copenhagen.
It’s basically putting yet more lines in the sand. They derive from US domestic concerns; and the US, whoever currently speaks for it, does not have a deep well of goodwill on which to draw within the UN process.
Then there’s the timescale issue. The senators are demanding that US legislation contains measures that other countries might not find acceptable, and therefore that the US administration might have to concede.
So how sure do they need to be before supporting the bill? Will they need to see some wording agreed in the international talks before deciding?
Yet if there is no US legislation in place by Copenhagen, the prospects for an international deal recede.
It is a complex picture; and as we saw during the long years of turning the Kyoto Protocol into a practical set of rules and procedures, the more complex something becomes, the more likely it is that governments will insist on their own narrow demands being met.
Kyoto gained in little but modesty during that process; which surely makes speed a priority for anyone looking for something meaningful in Copenhagen.
Source: BBC world news