Coverage on Copenhagen climate conference: Exactly what is COP15?

By Gary Vasey
Managing Director, Europe and Asia
CommodityPoint, A division of UtiliPoint International

Copenhagen, Denmark, December 8, 2009 — For the next two weeks, the global media will undoubtedly spotlight the United Nations Climate Change Conference being held here in Copenhagen, Denmark. Without a doubt, the eventual outcome of COP15 is likely to have a significant impact on both you as an individual and your company.

Indeed, if the kind of agreement envisaged by, for example, the European Union (EU) is reached, it is likely to have huge global economic, political and social ramifications and it will dramatically change our world and the way we live.

However, while some form of agreement is virtually certain to emerge from Copenhagen, the actual shape and nature of the agreement has yet to be determined. So what exactly is at stake this next two weeks in Copenhagen and how did we arrive at this point?

Read more about the Copenhagen climate change conference here

Understanding COP15—The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol agreement was made between the 182 Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and agreed upon at the third Conference of the Parties (COP3) in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, coming into force on February 16th, 2005.

Its first commitment period ends in 2012 and COP15 is hoped to result in new agreements that will come into force when the current Kyoto Protocol agreement ends.

The major point of Kyoto was that it set binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as the signatories agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5 percent compared to the 1990 level.

However, several of the world’s largest CO2 emitters, such as the United States and key developing countries including Brazil, India and China, did not sign up and have not yet officially committed themselves to any fixed targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol offered three market-based mechanisms through which the committed countries could reach their reduction goals:

Emissions trading—countries could trade the quotas they had been allocated,

Joint Implementation (JI)—a developed country could receive “emissions reduction units” when it helped to finance emission reducing projects in another developed country.

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)—developed countries could finance their emission reduction or removal projects in developing countries and receive credits for doing so which could then be applied to meeting mandatory limits in their own emissions.

For both JI and CDM projects, independent bodies must verify that the projects do in fact lead to actual emission reductions prior to them being incorporated in the emissions account. The aim of the mechanisms was to encourage green investment and help the parties meet their emission targets in a cost-effective way.

What Are the Objectives of COP15?

The goal of COP15 is to enter into a further binding global climate agreement which will apply to the period after 2012. The Danish government’s ambition is for the agreement to include as many countries as possible and it has presented the following objectives as the hosting nation for COP15:

To get all the world’s countries to agree on a global target for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,

To get the world’s industrialized countries to take the lead and reduce their CO2 emissions significantly, while the world’s newly industrialized countries and developing countries contribute to a collective solution,

To agree on a global climate regime that does not restrain economic growth and does not distort competition in world markets.

In reality, this can be summarized as follows:

Carbon emissions—The objective is to reduce carbon emissions from 390 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million meaning that an agreement must be reached to reduce CO2 by 20 to 30 percent of the 1990 levels by 2020 and by 75 to 80 percent by 2050.

COP15 is looking to obtain a binding multilateral agreement on the size of these CO2 reductions.

Global warming limit—It is hoped that the countries will agree to limit the warming of the earth to no more than two degrees Celsius by 2099. CO2 reductions, reforestation and a switch to green energy and green technologies are seen as vital components in any strategy to fight global warming.

Creation of a fund for developing countries—The fund would help to support developing countries support CO2 reduction initiatives. While the EU has suggested that this fund needs to be at least $100 billion each year for the foreseeable future, some are suggesting that this amount is insufficient and needs to be considerably higher.

Technology transfer—A transfer of technologies and expertise freely around the world that will help accelerate the adoption of clean energy and sustainable technologies.

International governing body—The establishment of an international governing body to monitor compliance and intervene where necessary directly.

The consensus of opinion is that an agreement will be difficult but that COP15 will eventually result in an agreement of some kind is virtually certain. Some of the challenges in reaching an agreement are likely to include:

Despite President Obama’s administration’s statements on COP15 and his presence there, the US is not yet able to make any firm commitments,

There remains an impasse between the developed nations and the developing nations about both the impact of CO2 reductions on economic growth and on the need for these economies to develop,

The role of the multilateral agency in monitoring and enforcing the treaty to be agreed in Copenhagen will be an especially sensitive issue.

UtiliPoint will be at COP15 in Copenhagen this week and we will report in some special IssueAlert articles over the next few days on both the conference and some of the side events and exhibitions there.

Editor’s Note: This article is republished by permission from CommodityPoint, a division of UtilityPoint, and its authors.




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