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Despite Momentum, No Smooth Path To Climate Deal

Date: 30-Nov-09
Country: PORT OF SPAIN
Author: Pascal Fletcher

Despite Momentum, No Smooth Path To Climate Deal Photo: Chris Wattie
Denmark's Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen walks with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Port-of-Spain November 27, 2009.
Photo: Chris Wattie

PORT OF SPAIN - Commonwealth states representing a third of the world's people said on Sunday momentum was growing toward a global climate deal, but nagging doubts remained over funding levels and degrees of commitment.

Seeking to successfully tip the outcome of U.N. climate talks on December 7-18 in Copenhagen, the group of more than 50 nations from across the world made the climate change issue the centerpiece of a three-day summit in Trinidad and Tobago.

They declared firm support for an "operationally binding" deal to be achieved in Copenhagen that would cover tougher greenhouse gas emissions targets, climate adaptation financing for poorer nations and transfer of clean-energy technology.

The Commonwealth group, which welcomed Rwanda as its 54th member, called for a full legally binding climate treaty to be adopted "no later than 2010" and insisted fast funding be made available to poor states to counter the global warming threat.

Commonwealth leaders hailed the consensus achieved in their Port of Spain Climate Change Declaration as improving the odds for a comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen and as proof that their geographically diverse group was a viable institution.

"There is heavy traffic on the road to Copenhagen. The good news is that it is converging and hopefully moving purposefully into a single lane," Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said in comments closing the Port of Spain summit.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the presidents of Denmark and France, had participated in the Commonwealth summit, adding weight to the group's climate deliberations.

"I have no doubt it will make an impact on Copenhagen," South African President Jacob Zuma told reporters.

But even as the Commonwealth leaders were congratulating themselves on their climate consensus, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was declaring in China that pledges made so far by governments to cut greenhouse gases were not sufficient for an effective pact to fight global warming.

"If you sum up all the commitments made so far, according to our estimates, we are not yet where we should be if we want Copenhagen to succeed," said Barroso, who will attend a European Union-China summit in Nanjing on Monday.

"There is still much work to be done," acknowledged Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Port of Spain.

COSTS OF CLIMATE DEAL

Although prospects for a broad political framework pact on climate change were brightened last week by public promises of greenhouse gas curbs by leading emitters China and the United States, Barroso's blunt comments delivered a reality check on the contentious path to next month's Copenhagen talks.

The world's industrialized powers are under pressure to make substantial cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, developing countries, including tiny island states which risk disappearing if ocean levels continue to rise through global warming, are clamoring for tens of billions of dollars of aid to help them fight climate change.

Developed countries like Britain and France put an offer of a $10-billion-a-year Copenhagen Launch Fund on the table, but while developing countries welcomed what they called this "interim financing" they said much more, perhaps up to $300 billion, might be needed to make a global climate deal work.

Canada, whose conservative government has been accused of dragging its feet on global warming, cautiously announced it would make "minor adjustments" in its existing plan to cut greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020 from 2006 levels.

This responded to a pledge by U.S. President Barack Obama last week to reduce his country's emissions by roughly 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Reflecting the sensitivity of emissions cuts in industrialized economies, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper explained why his country needed to keep its emissions goals in line with its U.S. neighbor.

"If the United States is making the same kinds of reductions that we are, yes, these still have costs, but they don't have costs that cause Canadian industry to relocate south of the border," he told reporters in Port of Spain.

"So I think modest achievable targets, particularly in the short term, will get the planet on the right track," he added -- a position that counters calls from many quarters for much more substantial emissions cuts to make a climate pact viable.

Despite the doubts, small island states that make up nearly half of the Commonwealth said the Port of Spain summit had addressed the risk some of them faced of being swamped by rising sea levels unless global warming was checked.

"We need world attention and this conference made it possible for our voice to be heard," Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Michael Somare said.

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