Fever is rising for Copenhagen, as delegates and key global players in the climate field descend on the Danish capital in readiness for the official opening of the 15th Conference of the Parties on Monday. Expectations have rollercoastered in the last few weeks, with negative sentiment peaking when it was plausible Obama would not attend and the key emitters, namely the USA, China and India were yet to stipulate plans regarding emissions reductions.

The recent email scandal from the Climate Research Unit based at the University of East Anglia and James Hansen, NASA’s head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, vehemently stressing the talks ‘must fail’ will add further dent to expectations.  However pledges for emissions cuts, announced by the USA and China and the anticipation that India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh will today announce cuts in carbon intensity by 24 percent in 2020, bring hope. The cumulative result of these pledges is a positive signal that the COP could deliver a tangible structure for an agreement by the closing on December 19th.

One of the most contentious issues likely to dominate the discussions is the standoff between developing and developed countries, referred to as Annex 1 under the existing Kyoto Agreement. The key emerging emitters from the developing world, China, India, Brazil and South Africa have remained firm that developed countries must provide finance and technology to help developing nations fight global warming. This was further reaffirmed this week in Copenhagen, when the key negotiators from these four countries indicated after a preparatory meeting that they would represent a “different position” compared to a separate outline for the global climate talks by Denmark.

After a recent meeting in Beijing it also emerged that this group at Copenhagen will formally ask “developed countries to assume responsibility for emissions reduction targets in the second commitment period (from 2013)”. As Kim Carstensen, head of WWF’s Global Climate Initiative, further advocated “the developed world needs to have deeper emissions cuts, more new money on the table and much more willingness to share the technologies for low carbon development”. Developed nations are however adamant that this group of big emerging economies must also commit to mandatory emissions cuts.

Arguing aside, the fact remains that the world must cut its emissions, by around 80% of 1990 levels by 2050 if any form of climate stabilization is to be achieved.  Nonetheless discussions are likely to stumble and potentially get deadlocked over the issue of historical responsibility. This issue of ‘burden sharing’ is hugely sensitive as it ultimately involves responsibility to give money, billions of dollars of it, needed for low carbon investment and in adaptation funding, especially in key areas vulnerable to the onslaught of climate change.

Developing countries will not vacillate over the need for comprehensive adaptation funding, and will not compromise on the need for this to be in addition to official development assistance (ODA). The EU’s negotiators recent written blunder, referring that they “cannot accept reference to ‘additional to’, and ‘separate from’ ODA targets” could gravely undermine discussions on this issue.

In addition to the issue of funding, developing countries will be pressing for a firm agreement on Reduced Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD), where large swathes of land covered by forests of high biodiversity have the potential to earn countries money by keeping forests standing. However, as with many negotiations at Copenhagen, issues need to be ironed out with regards to the details.  A major hurdle for REDD is corruption and mismanagement in the forestry industry in developing countries. For example this costs Indonesia, which has one of the highest deforestation rates, two billion US dollars a year, equivalent to its entire health budget as a Human Rights Watch report released on Tuesday indicated. Many feel the negotiations surrounding REDD are fundamental if Copenhagen is to achieve anything, and will be hoping there is not a ‘no deal’ on this.

I will be traveling to Copenhagen for the second week of deliberations to cover issues related to developing countries.

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