'You Need Two to Tango' Pessimism Abounds as Copenhagen Climate Talks Near

The Copenhagen climate talks, to be held in December, were originally conceived as the final milestone on the road to a global emissions reduction agreement. Now, though, few expect the summit to produce a pact. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with Sweden's climate change envoy about the remaining hurdles.

Time is running out before the global climate change summit scheduled for December in Copenhagen. Here, protesters unfurl a flag on Big Ben in London.
AP

Time is running out before the global climate change summit scheduled for December in Copenhagen. Here, protesters unfurl a flag on Big Ben in London.


These days, when it comes to the climate talks set for Copenhagen in December, optimism is in short supply. Far from resulting in a deal to succeed the expiring Kyoto Protocols, many now fear that the outcome of Copenhagen talks will be meager indeed.

"A fully fledged new international treaty under the (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- UNFCCC) -- I don't think that is going to happen," Yvo de Boer, head of the UNFCC told the Financial Times on Tuesday. "If you look at the limited amount of time remaining to Copenhagen, it's clear."

The problems facing the global community when it comes to efforts at shaping an agreement to combat climate change are myriad. Two issues, however, have emerged as the greatest stumbling blocks. Firstly, despite President Barack Obama's commitments to make CO2 emissions reductions a priority of his presidency, the US has yet to pass binding legislation. A bill continues to languish in the Senate and is unlikely to be passed before the end of the year. And without clarity from the US, many other countries are wary of accepting binding reduction targets.

Secondly, developing nations are going to need a huge amount of financial assistance in order to both adapt to climate change and cut their own emissions. As yet, where that financial aid is going to come from remains unclear. But it is highly likely the European Union will be asked to contribute -- and there is little consensus on how to divide the bill for the up to €15 billion the member states might owe. On Tuesday, a meeting of European Union finance ministers made little progress on the issue with many poorer EU countries expressing unwillingness to pay into such a pot.

SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with Lars-Erik Liljelund, 62, Sweden's special envoy for climate change issues, about the prospects for success in Copenhagen. His country currently holds the rotating EU presidency and will represent the EU during the talks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Things are not looking good at the moment for the December climate change summit in Copenhage. What do you think will be the outcome of the talks?

Liljelund: I don't think that we will end up with a legally binding treaty. But we will have a political agreement with substantial content. For sure, Copenhagen will not be the end of the road.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The 2007 climate change summit in Bali already resulted in one roadmap. Why do we need another?

Liljelund: The Bali roadmap was a declaration on how to negotiate. But for different reasons, these talks have gone too slow. Copenhagen must now deliver more than a declaration, something that can guide the further negotiations. Some of the main issues have to be solved.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Given the magnitude of the problem presented by global warming, it seems quite irresponsible to take such a somnulent approach.

Liljelund: It is indeed irresponsible from an EU point of view. But you need at least two to tango. The global community must come together to agree on something. The EU has put down some numbers on the table and currently we are discussing our financial contribution. But the others haven't, and that is a problem.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The US climate bill has been bogged down in Congress for months. Will we see movement before the Copenhagen summit starts?

Liljelund: The US is so careful because they had a bad experience last time, when they committed to numbers in Kyoto only to get home and see there was no possibility to get it through Congress. Now, according to our understanding, the Senate needs to take action on the climate bill currently before it. Only then can the US come to a type of agreement that we are talking about.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So far, China and India haven't shown much willingness to move either.

Liljelund: China has been fairly constructive. And India is about to move. I would not be surprised if they came up with numbers before Copenhagen.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Even if they do, will we see actual CO2 emissions reductions in these countries?

Liljelund: First of all, these countries need to show that they intend to deviate from a business-as-usual scenario. To reach the target of limiting global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius, China's emissions have to peak in 2020. That is necessary.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can the EU take a leading role in the negotiations?

Liljelund: Leadership is something that you are given. You cannot say 'I am a leader.' And concerning the financing, we are already in a leading role. We know from bilateral discussions with emerging economies that this is acknowledged. Hopefully, the European Council at the end of this month will actually agree on concrete figures for the financing.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Any financial commitment by the EU seems to be jeopardized by burden sharing issues.

Liljelund: We must remember that we have 12 new member states in the European Union. There is a huge difference in the economic strength between some of these new member states and the old ones. We have to acknowledge that and handle it ably. Countries like Latvia are under extremely high economic pressure. We cannot demand that they contribute to the same degree as the old member states.

Interview conducted by Christoph Seidler

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