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Special> United Nations Climate Change Conference> Opinion
UPDATED: September 28, 2009 NO. 39 OCTOBER 1, 2009
Feeling the Heat
The road to the Copenhagen conference on global climate change appears to be bumpy, as countries face a sharp array of disagreements


TRAPPED: Climate change activists and volunteers gather to form a human sculpture of the shape of the earth trapped inside an hourglass in New York City's Central Park on September 20. The event came before heads of state meet at the UN to discuss climate change (XINHUA/AFP) 

With the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December just around the corner, the world is waiting to see whether a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol can be reached with which to promote global cooperation in dealing with climate change.

At the UN climate change summit on September 22, Chinese President Hu Jintao elaborated China's views on climate change. He called on the international community to strengthen cooperation in dealing with the challenges of climate change and contribute to the success of the Copenhagen conference.

If we look into the standpoints, policies and actions of the principals, it is clear that international climate change negotiations have become increasingly complex—a trend that makes people anxious about their prospects.

Weakening EU influence

The European Union (EU) has played a leading role in international climate change negotiations for years, and is the most active party in prompting the world to reach a new agreement at the Copenhagen conference.

However, its leading position is now severely challenged. For one thing, divergences are increasing among EU member states on key issues, including reduction commitment targets and emissions trading system reform. Although it passed an energy and climate package, vowing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, the EU seems to have difficulty in maintaining a unanimous voice among its member states in the face of the economic downturn.

When it comes to goal setting and delegation of tasks, protectionism rises and divergences increase notably. East and Central European nations such as Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, which are relatively less developed economically, call for full consideration of the differences in the economic conditions of the EU members.

Italy charges that the target of the EU program is set too high and will become a heavy burden on the economic development of the member states. Even Germany, which was the most active EU member in addressing climate change, now holds a conservative attitude. France and Britain, meanwhile, are sticking to the original goals and hoping other member states will adjust their standpoints.

U.S. ambitions for leadership

The United States seems poised to lead global climate negotiations. The Obama administration has clearly expressed that it will take actions to restore leadership in international climate change negotiations.

The White House is trying to urge the Congress to complete federal climate legislation. Its efforts have initially paid off with the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 by the U.S. House of Representatives on June 26.

At the same time, the United States is conducting close contact with developing powers such as China and India at various levels, seeking to establish bilateral cooperation in terms of clean energy and environmental protection.

The EU is unable to play a leading role in climate change negotiations without the support of developing countries. But the negotiation process it promotes has never produced substantive programs sufficient to win their trust.

The international community had expected former U.S. President George W. Bush to change the passive climate policies and negotiation standpoints of the United States to create a favorable atmosphere for the Copenhagen agenda.

Indeed, faced with internal and external pressures, Bush moved in this direction in the later period of his administration, though he refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol. President Barack Obama, however, has clearly expressed determination to reform U.S. climate policies.

The U.S. Congress also made an important breakthrough in legislation on climate change. The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, albeit with the narrow margin of 219-212. This is the first significant achievement the United States has made since Congress launched legislation on climate change.

As the first climate change initiative at the federal level, the act sets the basic tone, framework and principle for climate policies of the Obama administration. Further, it will serve as the legal document for U.S. participation in international negotiations.

Obama has brought forward a brand-new plan on domestic climate policies. He has always supported the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act. The long-term objective of this legislation is to reduce the total greenhouse gas emissions of the United States 80 percent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.

Obama also gives priority to the development of the renewable energy industry in his economic recovery plan, and regards it as an important mechanism with which to address climate change. Obama's plans include raising the electricity generated by renewable energy up to 10 percent of the U.S. total by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.

The United States is embarking on preparations for its future international actions on climate change. Armed with a strong resolve to acquire a leading position in this field, Obama has frequently declared that the United States is going to actively participate in negotiations and lead the world toward "a new era of global cooperation on climate change."

As for practical actions, Obama is pursuing a strategy of aligning domestic and international actions. This means setting limits on emissions and implementing emissions trading inside the United States, while preparing for future participation in global emissions trading markets.

On the other hand, he suggests establishing a Global Energy Forum based on the G8+5 model to discuss, and finally solve, the world's energy and environment problems.

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