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Copenhagen countdown: 38 days

Richard Black | 20:56 UK time, Friday, 30 October 2009

This post - my second weekly round-up of political moves as we approach December's UN climate summit - is a little delayed, partly because the week's most important event took place on Thursday and Friday.

"File on final whistle," as editors say to football correspondents - most of whom are much better at it than I am.

So let's look first at the EU summit in Brussels from which environment groups hoped for so much.

Did they get what they were looking for - namely, a big fat firm wad of money to help developing countries curb their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate impacts?

Flooding_in_The_Philippines

Not really. Broadly endorsing proposals that emerged last month from the European Commission, EU leaders agreed on the size of the pot that will be needed - 100bn euros per year around 2020 - and on roughly what proportion of it should come from public coffers - between a quarter and a half.

(It's envisaged that the rest would come from a global carbon market.)

But the EU is hedging what slice of that public pot it is prepared to stump up, only saying it would shoulder its "fair share" of the burden.

In the international context, there are two issues with this.

One is that if the EU can't put firm numbers on the table, no-one can. The US is hamstrung by domestic political concerns (more of that in a moment), and Japan's new government is not yet in a position to make any pledge.

The more developed developing countries (I trust you know what I mean - there's a case for sorting this nomenclature out once and for all) won't promise a bean until the richer governments have.

And yet most analysts say a Copenhagen deal isn't possible without some firm pledges on finance - so who's going to provide them?

The second issue is the size of the pot. The EU reckons about 100bn euros per year for mitigation and adaptation combined, and that's to be achieved around 2020.

A World Bank report issued last month calculates a need for $75-100bn annually for adaptation alone in the developing world from 2010.

An excerpt from the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook released this month estimates $110bn per year for clean energy measures that would put developing countries on the road to emission levels likely to avoid "dangerous" climate change; and that's from 2010 as well.

Put these two estimates together and you get an annual pricetag of about $200bn from next year. The EU's proposing that the developed world provides about 7bn euros next year.

In sporting terminology, that's a mismatch. That's Roger Federer against my cat.

President_Sarkozy_joggingOn the surface, the week's most ambitious numbers came from the Brazilian government, which announced a target of cutting deforestation in the Amazon by 80% by 2020.

As deforestation accounts for about half of the country's greenhouse gas emissions, that equates to an emissions cut of 40% between now and 2020 - which looks big, given that it's a developing country with relatively high population and economic growth, and that the target is twice as ambitious as the US Boxer-Kerry bill aims to achieve.

President Lula is due to announce a final target next week, and may confirm the 40% figure.

However, there is a couple of caveats.

First, the 80% figure is only a slight advance on the 70% target announced last year - and the timescale for achieving it is a couple of years longer.

More importantly, estimates of Brazil's deforestation rate have dipped and soared as regularly as a volatile stock over the last few years.

In the year from mid-2006, the monthly rate slowed by 20%. Over the next six months, it apparently rose by a factor of four - a trend attributed to rising commodity prices encouraging farmers to clear land for soya and cattle.

This is clearly something that the government will have to address in order to give its pledge real credibility.

Copenhagen has already hosted a significant climate science meeting this year; and last weekend saw a gathering of 100 legislators drawn from across the major economies.

Brought together under the auspices of Globe - Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment - the idea was to build avenues of discussion between parliaments other than the ones facilitated by the UN negotiations.

The meeting agreed a set of "key guiding principles" that they said all countries should adopt - setting emissions targets, improving energy efficiency, protecting forests, and so on.

When it comes to influencing the formal UN negotiations, the hand of Globe tends to act very much behind the scenes, so the importance of this agreement is a little hard to assess; but the fact that the principles were originally set out by a member of the Chinese congress and a member of the US Senate working together might be interpreted as significant.

Following on from the discussion in last week's Copenhagen Countdown post about the slim chances of agreeing a comprehensive, detailed treaty this year, there's been some discussion this week about whether anything binding might be possible.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested that a legally binding agreement might be a step too far. But:

"If we can agree on four political elements, then that could be a hallmark of success on climate change."

UN officials (and reportedly, Danish ministers) have been speaking of a "politically binding" agreement... but some observers have been asking "what is that?"

Archbishop_of_CanterburyOutside the strictly political arena, religious leaders emerged to take up the climate cudgels this week - at least in the UK.

On Thursday, the Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a multi-faith (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Baha'i, Jain and Zoroastrian) seminar that concluded with a declaration:

"As leaders and representatives of faith communities and faith-based organisations in the UK we wish to highlight the very real threat to the world's poor, and to our fragile creation, from the threat of catastrophic climate change.
 
"We recognise unequivocally that there is a moral imperative to tackle the causes of global warming."

And on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will speak to what looks like a bigger faith leaders' gathering at Windsor Castle.

How much effect do religious groups have on climate politics? Hard to say, but according to Olav Kjorven of the UN Development Programme:

"The world's faiths joined together in this cause - if viewed in terms of sheer numbers of people - could become the planet's largest civil society movement for change... the decisive force that helps top the scales in favour of a world of climate safety and justice for future generations."

Next week, the US Boxer-Kerry bill is supposed to come before the crucial - and divided - Senate Environment and Public Works committee. Republican members are planning a boycott.

It's one of the key spaces to watch next week.

Another is the meeting of G20 finance ministers in St Andrews, Scotland, at the very end of the week that might produce something more concrete in terms of pledges on money.

But most climate-oriented eyes will be on the UN session in Barcelona, the final week of formal negotiations before the Copenhagen meeting opens.

I'll be there from Wednesday and will be endeavouring to keep you hooked up.

As before, if you think I've left anything significant off this tour d'horizon, please post a comment.

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