Taking a hard line on climate change

By Eloise Gibson

Riding the train home from the Bella Centre, sandwiched between placard-carrying polar bears and businessmen in suits and ties, you can overhear several different conversations on the same topic.

Whether the bare bones of two climate agreements pulled together last week in a bid to kick-start negotiations are a step in the right direction or a hopelessly ineffective cop-out depends on who in the carriage you heed.

New Zealand's negotiating minister, Tim Groser, made his position clear as he prepared for the crucial second week of the UN climate change conference - there is little point in agreeing to something that leaves China legally free to carry on its break-neck pace of emissions growth.

In that he is joined by a chorus of other developed countries.

Yet some groups say that with a bit of tidying up, the two texts could make a workable basis for an agreement, and almost all nations are willing to work with them.

One exception is tiny Tuvalu, which wants to begin the week working with a much tougher draft treaty based on its belief that anything more than a maximum allowable increase of 1.5C in global warming will result in the country disappearing under the sea.

Its negotiator was left in tears on Saturday after most nations failed to see the merits of binding all nations to a limit of 1.5C, as proposed by Tuvalu and the island states.

Ian Fry believes his homeland will be swamped if the limit is set at the widely favoured 2C, and wants countries to stabilise carbon dioxide at levels lower than they are today.

Even before the documents were released, whirring photocopiers and an efficient network of leaks had distributed them to the media, and lobby groups were in a flurry of back-room analysis.

And although the drafts leave aside the thorny questions of how much each country will reduce emissions and how much each developed country will pay, there has been plenty to disagree over.

The two official UN drafts set out vastly different suggestions for rich and poor countries based on an overall goal of keeping warming within 2C.

One proposes non-binding cuts for developing countries of 15 to 30 per cent below normal growth by 2020; the other, complementary text suggests binding cuts for developed countries to about 30 to 45 per cent below 1990 in the next decade.

Many developed countries will enter the final week flatly refusing to accept targets unless China is also bound to raise emissions by less than it otherwise would have.

And while Tuvalu can cite considerable backing from the scientific reports for its target, most developed nations think they will be lucky to keep the world within an average of 2C.

Tim Groser acknowledged that even within the New Zealand delegation, there were "wildly conflicting views" on what the country should do.

It is understood the delegation told other nations on Saturday that it was "discussing" targets but not negotiating them.

Asked how things would proceed today, Mr Groser likened the climate talks to a relay race in which officials ran the first lap, before passing the baton to ministers who would then pass it to world leaders for a final sprint towards the finish.

As the leaders prepare for their sprint, the status of talks is probably best summed up by the second paragraph of the UN draft for developed countries. It says: "The Chair would like to stress that nothing will be agreed until everything else is agreed."

* Eloise Gibson travelled to Copenhagen with the assistance of the Science Media Centre and Science New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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