The road to (and from) Copenhagen

OPEC Bulletin Commentary October-November 2009

In December the world will meet in Copenhagen for the latest round of climate change negotiations. It is an event that has already been discussed and debated in great detail. Not a day goes by without some reference to it in the international media. It is that important. And thus it is essential that we remind ourselves of the core issues; those that need to remain the basis of any outcome from the meeting.

Firstly, there is the need to reduce overall global greenhouse gas emissions.

Secondly, we need to deliver a sustainable energy future that enables both developed and developing countries to reap the benefits of economic development and social progress.

And thirdly, we must ensure mitigation response measures and emission reduction commitments are fair and just, taking into account the historical responsibility of Annex I countries, the huge developmental needs of developing countries, as well as the adverse impacts of climate change and of response measures, including the adverse impacts on fossil fuel exporting countries.

The goal is to effectively marry these issues to facilitate the full and sustained implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and to enable the post-2012 Annex I commitment period to be a success.

From the perspective of reducing emissions, it is crucial to be comprehensive and take into account all greenhouse gases. It should be remembered that 43 per cent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions stem from gases other than carbon dioxide (CO2). And the world should draw on a variety of cost-effective abatement options, including reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, utilizing carbon sinks, and taking advantage of the full range of technologies available.

From the technology standpoint, it is evident, given that fossil fuels are expected to remain the mainstay of the global energy mix for the foreseeable future, that any serious effort to achieve low net emission paths must include the use of cleaner fossil fuel technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS). A number of issues related to CCS are discussed on page 20 of this issue.

It should also be remembered that the development and deployment of these types of technologies requires the coordinated support of governments, and given that Annex I countries have the financial and technological capabilities, there is a need for them to assume leadership.

This is nothing new. Indeed, the Kyoto Protocol states that “developed countries should take the lead in international action to combat climate change by fully implementing their obligations of reducing emissions and of providing additional financing and the transfer of cleaner, low-emission and cost-effective technologies to developing countries.” The Bali Action Plan of December 2007 also calls for enhanced action on technology transfer.

The crucial issue of “obligations” also brings to mind the importance of looking at cumulative CO2 emissions from a historical perspective. In 2006 Annex I countries accounted for almost 80 per cent of cumulative CO2 emissions since 1900, and by 2030 they will still have contributed two-thirds.

Bringing this together, it is essential that these core issues are taken into account and that the future focuses on the overall goal of sustainable development, recognizing that priorities might vary for different people.

For developing countries, poverty alleviation, economic development and social progress are the overriding priorities and it is clear that people in such nations will need more energy, not less, to meet these needs. Climate change is providing these countries with yet more challenges and additional vulnerabilities, although they have contributed little to the current situation.

As we approach Copenhagen, we must remember the spirit that brought together the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. We reached agreement after years of negotiation because everyone had a stake, but perhaps more importantly, everyone perceived that their issues were recognized and taken on board.

This must be brought to the fore in Copenhagen. Agreements reached should be comprehensive and balanced, taking into account the past, present and the future; the fulfilling of current commitments; and the needs of those least able to help themselves.

This Commentary is taken from the October-November 2009 edition of the OPEC Bulletin, which can be downloaded free of charge in PDF format from the OPEC website.

OPEC Bulletin (October-November 2009)

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