SPIEGEL ONLINE's Climate Countdown: Progress in Copenhagen Despite No New Offers from Obama

Some had hoped that US President Barack Obama would bring new emissions cut pledges with him to the climate summit. He didn't, but the US and China could be approaching an agreement. Read SPIEGEL ONLINE's Climate Countdown to keep up to date as the Copenhagen conference moves forward.

US President Barack Obama brought no new offers with him to Copenhagen on Friday, but he has made progress in talks with China. Zoom
AFP

US President Barack Obama brought no new offers with him to Copenhagen on Friday, but he has made progress in talks with China.

Obama Brings Movement but No New Offers to Copenhagen

President Barack Obama told the UN climate summit on Friday that he had come to "not to talk but to act." And while his lacklustre speech disappointed many who had hoped he could inject some fresh impetus into the fraught climate talks, he then proceeded to get to work behind the scenes, holding an hour of talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

China and the US, the world's two largest polluters have been at loggerheads during much of the conference but the two sides seemed to be moving ever-so-slightly together on Friday.

Before meeting with the Chinese leader, the US president told assembled leaders that the summit "was running short of time" and urged "movement on all sides." But his failure to bring anything new to the conference disappointed many observers. Some had hoped for an increase in Washington's emissions-cut pledge or that Obama might put an exact figure on the amount the US would contribute to the $100 billion fund to help poor nations to deal with the effects on climate change. But Obama merely repeating the target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 relative to 2005.

Wen, for his part, told the conference that Beijing would "honor our word with real action." "Whatever outcome this conference may produce, we will be fully committed to achieving and even exceeding the target."

The two leaders then met for an hour and after the talks an official said that they were a "step forward." The leaders then instructed their negotiators to work on a bilateral basis as well as with other countries to try to secure a deal by the close of the summit.

One of the biggest sticking points has been the developing world's insistence that the Kyoto Protocol be continued. That agreement requires only industrialized countries to make legally binding commitments to CO2 reduction. The US never ratified Kyoto, which runs out in 2012.

Another sticking point is the issue of monitoring, with China opposed to international measuring and verification of its efforts to cut emissions.

It seems that now the two sides are moving closer on the verification issue. Wen said that China would "increase transparency and actively engage in international exchange, dialogue and cooperation." Obama said in his speech, that any global climate in which "we all are not sharing information and ensuring we are meeting our commitments doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory." But he added: "These measures need not be intrusive or infringe upon sovereignty."

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters that he thought Obama's speech had been "calibrated not to put things on the table at this point because of the hard-ball negotiations going on." He said that he was hopeful that the subsequent bilateral meeting cleared the air. "If China and the United States see more eye to eye on some of the flashpoint issue that has to be helpful."

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IEA Chief Says Failure to Move Would Cost $500 Billion Per Year

Thousands of doctors have gathered in Copenhagen to provide treatment for a sick planet Earth. Most are concerned about its fever, but Nobuo Tanaka is more worried about the planet's pulse. Tanaka, from Japan, is the head of the International Energy Agency, and it's his job to make sure that there is enough energy to power globalization.

Tanaka's organization, headquartered in Paris, has long been considered the unofficial mouthpiece of the world's energy companies. But since the release of its 2009 World Energy Outlook, the organization has had a strong climate protection message. And in Copenhagen, Tanaka wants to have nothing to do with that old label.

The IEA, too, supports efforts to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius. The organization is also calling for the CO2 concentration in the Earth's atmosphere to be limited to 450 parts per million. Tanaka's mathematicians have also developed a scenario that would enable the world to actually achieve that. "I am very optimistic," he said this week in Copenhagen.

Tanaka also agrees that the gigatons of carbon dioxide that are produced and the damage done by them must stop. His primary concern, though, isn't the climate crisis -- he's worried about "creeping" energy crisis. "They are two sides of the same coin," he told attendees of the Copenhagen summit.

He then peppered his listeners with some dizzying figures, but he also had a message for the world leaders negotiating an agreement just a few rooms away: "It would be best if you made the choice now," said Tanaka. "Every year that we lose will cost the countries of the world $500 billion more for the restructuring of our energy systems."

A Surge in Fossil Fuel Demand

But then Tanaka listed the threat of shortages mankind faces between now and 2030 if things continue as they are now. He said emerging economies would develop an insatiable hunger for resources, creating demand for the consumption of 40 percent more oil, coal and natural gas than today. This would require massive supplies of fossil fuels. The demand for natural gas alone will be around four times the amount that is stored in Russia's reserves. IEA estimates that by 2030, the price for a barrel of oil will be at least $115 and that industrial nations will have to spend as much as 2 percent of their gross domestic product for it -- a serious imbalance Tanaka believes.

That alone is reason enough to abandon our addiction to fossil fuels, he argues. In order to prevent a global increase in temperatures greater than 2 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide emissions need to be radically reduced. Tanaka said to meet that goal, 20 percent of the total energy supply must come from renewable energies by 2030 and that nuclear power would also be required.

But he argued that two-thirds of carbon emissions reductions should come through more efficient use of energy. Taking those steps could lead to $8.6 trillion in savings over the next 20 years. "I can only hope that the leaders have taken note of these figures for their negotiations," he said.

He said the sum was proof that the global economy wouldn't collapse if the countries agree, as he hoped they would, to drastic emissions curbs. "This is actually an economic summit dealing with a long overdue restructuring of our energy systems."

Tanaka also came with his own medication for anxiety-riddled energy producers, including the oil-producing OPEC states, who stand to lose the most if a deal is struck in Copenhagen. Even under his organization's greener energy scenario, he said, oil companies would still quadruple their profits by 2030.

Gerald Traufetter

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